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Welcome, welcome, welcome to armchair expert I'm Dan Shepard. I'm joined by Miniaturist Maximus Maximus.


Now, Celeste, we're all things your Maximus M.S. and Middlemiss and Mike Middlemiss word.


Yeah, maybe a he.


It's rare that we record the intro immediately after we've recorded the guess. I kind of like it. I do, too, because I'm so passionate about her right now.


And when we hung up with her, you and I just geeking out on how awesome she was.


Yes, she's phenomenal.


Her name is Isabel Wilkerson.


Isabel is an American journalist and the author of The Warmth of Other Suns The Epic Story of America's Great Migration and her new book, which is phenomenal, cast the Origins of Our Discontent.


She was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism. Wow. I didn't know that.


You didn't know that. Well, we were talking to you. No, I'm glad I didn't know that I would have felt unified and threatened and didn't even mention that.


She also taught at Princeton. She lectured at Northwestern. That would have also had you on edge, right?


My God. Big time, too much. You would have been able to keep your cool. I would not be. But good news arm Cherrie's.


She kept her cool because she didn't know any of that stuff. I'm stupid.


Please enjoy Isabel Wilkerson. Now we get to do our favorite thing. Use our extra ad space for some businesses. We hope you will support. Monica, tell me about a black owned business you believe in.


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All right, here we go, people are super interested in Caste. How does the reaction from Caste differ from the warmth of other suns? Is it comparable or does this seem different? It's obviously a different context now from 10 years ago.


Yeah, that's for sure. I would say covid-19 changes everything. Obviously, I would be out on the road and instead, you know, I'm just in one spot. Yeah. I'd normally be out meeting with lots of people. And, you know, there's that, of course, in the larger scheme of things, this is nothing compared to the people who are suffering from it. So I don't want to even compare when it comes to that.


It's also 2010. They're not mass BLM demonstrations. The topic of racism is not every third interview. So I just imagine the timing of this is much different. Oh, for sure.


It feels like it was a different country. It was a quiet time by comparison. It was before Trayvon Martin. It was before Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, before Black Lives Matter, before Me too. Before I, Marbury and George Floyd. I mean, it's before so many things. That was 2010, 2010. It's kind of mind blowing difference. A decade makes it. Yeah, it should go without saying, but maybe it does.


And I would imagine how do I say this all that was happening. It's not like we've gotten more racist as a society in the last ten years. It just we were not seeing it as much and we weren't aware of it as much. You know, we are about to elect Barack Obama. So I think there was some optimism and stuff, but it was all still there. Right, because this is what your book explores, the infrastructure. The system was fully built.


We just weren't paying attention to it.


Well, so 2010 was the middle of Barack Obama's first term, 2010. He was elected in 2008. And it was kind of like the low, but the beginnings of the pushback that he was experiencing as well.


All right. With the birther movement, what's happening around that? Yes. Yeah, the Tea Party, all of that was bubbling forth. So it was this calm, but a storm was brewing. Yes, that was the era. Yeah.


Yeah. I think for all of us may be in my bubble. We were all feeling very optimistic. And this is all going in the right direction. I think it was also then terrifying for people who are afraid of that future. But maybe they weren't vocal or we couldn't hear them at that time.


I think they were operating at the margins. When you think about the Tea Party and the birther movement and a lot of people might not have been taking them that seriously because it seemed to be at the margins, but it ended up being far more significant a part of the country than people might have realized at the time. Yeah, and we now know.


So I just have a couple of quick questions because I have not ever gotten to speak to you. And this is a great honor. But the Warmth of Other Suns, which was your book from 2010, we keep referencing the epic story of America's Great Migration. This is just personal stuff I'm interested in.


You research that book for 15 years and I cannot imagine me harnessing drive for 15 years. I want to say it like you're 10. If I had even made it there, I'd be like I'm just never going to finish this thing. How did you keep your commitment of, you know, finishing that you interviewed a thousand people?


Yeah, the people I interviewed was the casting call and I was auditioning people for the role of being a protagonist. And so that was part of that. And that took like a year and a half just to narrow it down. They had to be the people who would best represent the story I was trying to tell. So I took a long time, had a chance to hear lots and lots of stories. You might say these were like my tour guides through the area that I was writing about.


I often say it took so long to finish the book.


Fifteen years that I say that if it was a human being of being in high school and having nothing to finish and be about to borrow your car to go somewhere. Exactly with the learner's permit.


But that book looked at three geographical routes that African-Americans took out of the south to the north. And I have a selfish curiosity being from Detroit. What drove that migration with those people seeking autoworker jobs or what happened there?


The migration began during World War One, and that was when the North had a labor shortage because the North had been depending upon cheap labor from Europe and with Europe at war. And that meant that the North couldn't rely on it because immigration came to a virtual halt. So they started to look for cheap labor because the war effort meant that there was a great need for labor, munitions factories and that sort of thing. So they actually went to look for cheap labor, cheapest in the land, which would be African-Americans in the South, many of whom were working for the right to live on the land that they were farming.


They were not. Even being a sharecropper for their sharecroppers, exactly, yeah, so that's how it started. And then once the people there who had always wanted to escape, I mean, they've been wanting to escape for decades, but they didn't have that window of opportunity where they could see that there could be a chance to actually make a life for themselves. So the first people who arrived actually in large numbers were recruited from the north in the succeeding generations.


We can see that the North wanted the labor, but did not necessarily want the people.


Oh, yeah, the history of Detroit, as I know it, is that we had a huge influx and that's when the birth of the suburbs started. Exactly. People started a mass migration out of Detroit. And we could also see that with migration from south of the Rio Grande where the labor is actually needed. Yeah, but the people, you know, that becomes an issue. So that's sort of an enduring issue when it comes to migration in general.


But no, the migration unfolded in three beautifully predictable streams and Detroit was in the Midwest stream. So the East Coast stream was people from Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia up to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and on up and out.


Imagine that your own family history was a part of that migration. Yes, that's my family's migration stream. Then there was a middle stream, which was people from Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, primarily to get to Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago and Minneapolis, the whole Midwest. Then it was the West Coast Stream which carried people from Louisiana and Texas out to California. Even to this day, if you were to go to Detroit or Cleveland and you were to meet or talk to an African-American long enough, you would very likely find that their family came from Alabama or Arkansas and Tennessee and primarily Alabama.


My whole side of my family came from rural Kentucky, like poverty stricken Kentucky in search of a similar thing and found themselves in a community with all Southern Baptists.


It's kind of interesting how people will follow those same streams. And I think it's almost as if people independent of one another begin to hear that there is this opportunity, there's this break through, that they then all jump on and they all create this flood of people like these rivers of people, and then they carry the culture with them. And that's what creates these new cities. I mean, the cities are essentially the merger of all these different people coming together.




And not always coming together, sometimes pitted against one another, unfortunately.


Well, that's what I was going to say. And that's something I hope we can talk at length later. But I want to set up Caste, which is your new book, The Origins of Our Discontent. And I think it'd be first helpful to just talk about caste as a concept really quick, because I think a lot of us grew up in elementary school learning that India has a caste system and that we were born into a strata. And you are not allowed to transcend that.


I think even now we're aware that in China, if you're born in certain areas of China, you are expected to stay in that area and you need something very specific to allow you to travel to a city. And this is being monitored. So I think we have a notion of caste that's maybe almost medieval in origin, and we think that's one thing. And then we think we don't have anything resembling that. And through your work and upon closer inspection, you see all the markers of a caste system here.


Is that an accurate summation?


Oh, yeah, absolutely. In fact, I started using the word caste in the warmth of other suns. I mean, that's how I came to be aware of that word. I was tasked with having to make that era come alive for the reader, for the audience. And in doing so, I was hearing all the stories, as I mentioned before, in that 15 year period of time. And I and I became aware of aspects of that era that we don't hear about a lot.


And in fact, there are no references to water fountains and restrooms in the book, because that was first of all, every second grader learns that in February. So why would I spent 15 years. Yeah. To tell you what a second grader can tell you in March. So, no, I don't make much of those. But I do talk about the other aspects of what life was like for really anybody in that world. So in Alabama, where many African-Americans who ended up in Detroit were from, it was against the law for a black person and a white person merely to play checkers in Birmingham.


You could go to jail if you were caught playing checkers with the person of a different race. And that shows you the level of specificity and the investment in keeping people apart and keeping these boundaries fixed and secure. Right. I mean, someone had just seen a black person and a white person playing checkers together in some town square or something. And, you know, maybe the wrong person was winning or they were having too good of a time and they took the time to write that down is a lot.


I mean, checker.


Yeah. Yeah. Very, very lethal game, as I understand it, could lead to a revolution for sure.


Clearly, if you get double checkers or King's Corner Woop atomic bomb, you know, the entire foundation of Southern civilization.


Was it was that vulnerable? It was that vulnerable.


And you describe Casitas in the simplest terms, an arbitrary grading or ranking of human value in a society. Right. This assumes that we're not all born of equal value and that there are going to be things we can distinguish why people should or shouldn't have more or less value than others. And then there's many, many outcomes of that. Right. I'll let you list them. But I heard you list a tremendous amount of things that someone might not think of right away when you're not in the right cast.


Well, when you have an artificial grade and ranking of human value, then that assigns certain responses like we have been trained, we've been programmed to have a certain response. When we see a person who looks a certain way. I mean, if you imagine what the person in the C suite of Corp CEO looks like with the first image that comes to mind or someone who would be in that same corporation's mailroom or janitorial staff.


Yeah, exactly. So you can start to imagine that those are the roles that have been in place for longer than they have not been in place, in other words, for most of our country's history.


I immediately saw a bald, slightly overweight white male when you said, see you, OK, so the bald guy might not like that, could go either way.


But yeah, OK.


I you know, and again, as you say, we inherit this, right.


I didn't go out and decide to create an icon for a CEO, but somehow that's what I see. I didn't pick that.


No, that's actually what I mean by the programming. I mean, none of us chose to have this imagery be at the forefront just beneath the surface of the subconscious. I mean, it's just there we've inherited it from commercials and billboards and magazine covers and movies, movies with who is the first person to die in a movie is like the birth of a nation.


Is that what you're referencing? Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm just meaning like even in alien or something. I mean, like. Oh sure. In a lot of movies.


But if people don't know the history of cinema, Birth of a Nation is one of the very first movies people could go see. And there are Klan members riding horses. So, I mean, it starts at the inception. Just think about that, this seminal cultural contribution that that the country has made, that we all depend upon film itself and that the very first film was about the Klan and about the uprising of white people that I would define as dominant cast asserting their dominance after the Civil War.


Yeah, it was the first film.


And I got to say, I've been on a path of having been incredibly ignorant and then reading certain biographies that I was interested in, the person that I accidentally am picking up all this context. And I'll just say you kind of grow up learning we have this terrible history of slavery. But then this guy came along, Abraham Lincoln. He abolished that and we're kind of good. And then, well, then we realized that some civil rights were at issue.


But sixties, Martin Luther King solved that. So you kind of think all those things are over, or at least I did. You think it's something that were post.


And then I read Grant's biography and learned about reconstruction and learned that black voters were being murdered at polls. And I said, oh, OK. I guess it didn't end in eighteen sixty eight and it didn't end here and it's still not ended.


I often will have to remind people of the civil rights legislation of the sixties, the eighteen sixties. There are civil rights legislation called Civil Rights Acts of the 60s and early 70s. That's how long this effort has been to try to create a fairer society. We had that legislation and then made this tremendous regression after the civil rights movement of the eighteen sixties and then had nearly one hundred years of formal Jim Crow segregation, which is what I'm calling a caste system because of the hierarchy and the investment in keeping people in a fixed place.


And then we had the civil rights legislation of the nineteen sixties, so a century apart. And now we're living in the aftermath of that. When you look at the long arc of American history, you can see these larger patterns of an effort to try to move toward a just fairer society with this regression that occurs afterward. Yeah, it may not be repeating, but it's certainly got some parallels.


Well, you make a great metaphor at the beginning of the book about something that happened in. Russia, which is these, I assume, reindeer carcasses or some kind of carcasses that had been infected with anthrax come to the surface because of some geological event and it releases anthrax. And now it's here again. It didn't go away. It was just sitting there waiting to be brought back to life. Right. And that's kind of the cycle wherein it gets brought back to life and comes out of the earth.


Thank you for mentioning that. That introduction, that opening was, you know, a lot of research went into being able to tell that. But yeah, I remember first hearing it, it was a side story, like it's just a little snippet on the news back in the summer of twenty sixteen. And as soon as I heard it, I just realized that is a parable right there for our times. It's a parable. So it's in the Siberian tundra.


They had this massive heat wave and it melted the permafrost. I mean, it sounds epic and dystopian when you first start the story.


I was like, how do they have a record of the last Ice Age regression? And then I'm like, oh, no, no, this is current.


OK, yeah, this is current.


This is in our era. Yeah. So it melted the permafrost and then came these reindeer carcasses that then melted. They had been buried in World War Two. They rise to the surface and then release anthrax, which then sickens thousands of reindeer. And then that gets into the food supply of the indigenous people. They get sickened with anthrax. I mean, it was just this massive moment that brings together global warming and pathogens generally.


Who suffers the most from all these mistakes? It's generally not the bald white CEO.


It's generally not the people who are making the decisions that lead to these outcomes. Yeah, and it also was happening at a time when there was greater rupture in our country over issues of race and identity. So all these things were coming together. And who knew? I mean, I had no idea that at the moment when this book would finally make it out, that we would be in the midst of a pandemic ourselves. Right now.


It's crazy. It is as crazy as it is now in India.


There's nomenclature for every strato. Right. So how would you break down the caste system in the US?


So therefore, Main Verna's in the ancient caste system of India and it has had to make adjustments over time as new people come in to their country. But it's primarily for Main Banas, Brahmins on top and quixotry of Isaiah. And then so and then outside of that are the outcasts known as the Dalitz. Then beyond them are the indigenous people.


Armonica padman of society.


I'm in a very high caste. How do I need all of them are thousands and thousands of subclass underneath each of them. So it's extremely complex. There's not a caste forecast analogue for each one, you might say it could be said, yeah, particularly because of the many thousands of cast. But generally in our country, it's viewed as a bipolar caste system, starting with before there was a United States of America Virginia colony, the English colonists arrived and they are obviously almost ill equipped to even survive there.


So they then turn to the indigenous people, but they then decimate their numbers and then drive them from their land and then they need to build this country. And so what they do is they turn to Africa and they begin to transport Africans to be enslaved. We all know that that's what happened. But in doing so, they were creating a hierarchy, a hierarchy in which the English colonists were the dominant group. By definition, they made the laws that determined what anyone beneath them could do, and they positioned at the very bottom the Africans that they were enslaving.


They restricted every single thing that that enslaved Africans could or could not do. They could not even they had no control over their bodies. They had no control over anything. It was not even against the law to kill an enslaved person. There were reasons for they were permitted to do that. And these things are analogous in their own way to the things that befell the people at the very bottom of the caste system in India, formerly known as Untouchables and now known as Dalitz.


And so in the United States, though, there were these two polls, the people who were at the very top, the dominant group, the English colonies, and then the enslaved people beneath, then over time, anyone who entered into this bipolar hierarchy had to find a way to survive and to navigate within this bipolar structure and with human nature being as it is, anyone who could in. Anyway, connect themselves with the dominant cast would do so, yeah, there was this desire to be as close as one could be, that's human nature.


But they also found that when they arrived, no matter how they might have perceived in the themselves they were assigned to what was a fairly new concept known as race, the idea of race, as people often will say nowadays, is a social construct. Color is a fact, but race is a social construct. And so when people arrive from Ireland or from Poland or from Hungary or from Lithuania or wherever they might have been coming from, they didn't perceive of themselves as white because they wouldn't have needed to meet back in Europe, where everyone pretty much had a similar skin color.


Skin color was not the primary identifier for who you were. You were Irish, you were Hungarian, whatever you were. And only when coming here where the identifier was based upon color, because color would then determine where you fit in the caste system, which rights and privileges you would have. And so that's where people they arrived. And while they may have arrived as Irish or Lithuanian or Polish or Hungarian, they were assigned to the category of white.


And then that's how race became real, how a social construct had real life ramifications. Yeah, there was a race theory, which is, of course, debunked by any biologist, which we've talked about a bunch on here. It's that couldn't be a worse distinguishing criteria because genetically it's just irrelevant how blind it up. There's really no genetic parallel to any of those classifications. But so it's a race theory, which is bogus, but then it becomes a practice.


Right now it's in practice, despite it being a bogus theory. Yeah, the word Caucasian is a totally made up word. It has no meaning. The word Caucasian grew out of the mind of an 18th century German physician who had this affinity for collecting skulls.


Oh, OK. I learned it as Caucasoid in anthropology.


Well, that's true. But before the word Caucasoid was actually applied in a pseudo scientific language, it actually came from this physician coming back out of Germany who collected skulls and the skull that he thought was the most beautiful happened to come from the Caucasus region. And he described that went as his as the most prized of his many skulls, the most beautiful of the skulls.


And then he was measuring facial proximity and he had the golden rule of how far your nose should get out in your chin and all in your eyes.


Yeah. And so on the basis of that, he assigned himself as part of the same group as the Caucasus, the Caucasian skull that he had. And then over time, that word was applied to all white people. Interestingly enough, at the end of the 19th century, early 20th century, the American immigration laws began to restrict people who were coming from anywhere outside of northern Europe. And thus that meant that actual Caucasian people were not permitted to be citizens because they did not fit the new adjusted definition of a word that had started from a mad scientist mind anyway.


Oh, my goodness. Yeah. Oh, my good. Interesting history.


Yes, man. Germany cannot catch cannot catch a break in the history of race.


But what is astounding, Monaca, that you say that is like it becomes really clear how many people can be affected by just a couple of doofuses. Right? I mean, when you just track down, let's say, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, you can track modern day terrorism as a ripple effect of two bozos. You know, that's what makes life so scary, is that one person can can have some some erroneous science upon which a whole worldview is built.


You could track it down to just a few people, you know, but if enough people are willing to buy into it, that's how it becomes real. If they're incentivized to if that gives them the proof for which they receive more than other people, then it's they're very incentivized to believe in that. Yeah. So I think we all would maybe know that as Italians entered, as Irish entered, they were lower than the Anglo Saxon and then they moved up.


Right. There was as you say, there's all these different variations within the two Polar's of black and white. What would you say is the modern day breakdown of what we have in the country?


It changes over time because I look to what have the laws stated. So the laws stated that, as you described, people from Eastern and southern Europe were viewed as outside the formal and original definition of who was white in this country. That means. People who are actually Caucasian did not fit the definition of that 1924 Immigration Act because they were not from northwestern Europe. So there are gradations within the dominant caste. And then over time, other people have from other parts of the world have made it into the United States, have migrated into the United States.


And they are what I would consider to be the middle class if they do not fit that either poll. This is all a social construct. It's all a creation.


The fact that they came from a nation state, which is only one hundred and fifty year old concept to begin with, like it's all it's all brand new. And we're filing everyone into these rivers based on this new invention. Yeah.


So the middle castes have changed over time because they would have been EIRIS and the people who were outside of Northern Europe would have been considered middle class when the country had fewer people from outside of Europe or Africa. But as people have come from other parts of the world, they enter into this bipolar system and they have to figure out how are they going to navigate. In the early 20th century, the nineteen twenty four Immigration Act, there were people who were from parts of Asia in particular, who are petitioning for citizenship because they had been in this country for four decades.


And then with the 1924 Immigration Act, which suddenly also being excluded and they were appealing partly because many of them were close to the Caucasus Mountains. People talked about there was a Japanese man who petitioned the Supreme Court because he said, my skin is lighter than white people. I'm whiter than white people. And he lost because they then changed the definition to make it not just skin color, but European origin. I mean, all of this was being in some ways made up on the spot.


And this is where it gets into the systemic nature of it that I don't know that everyone fully grasp, which is these are now written into laws and these will find their way to courts and they will ultimately be enforced by law enforcement. So the impact is baked in and you can't really fight against it.


And then also the laws are in place for long enough. Then they become part of the framework for thinking they become part of the received assumptions about who belongs where in a society who is viewed as American and who is viewed as not worthy of being seen as American, who comes to mind when you think of an American gets embedded in these laws that essentially were restricting who could be American in nineteen twenty four and and how we still live with that. It also showed how race was created in the country, because if you began to assign people or to put people in a certain group, and then those people are encouraged to see themselves a certain way and then they intermarry, then that's how the white quote unquote white race was created as a people from all over Europe who might not have seen themselves as having anything in common before then came together and were encouraged.


And then that's how you get what is called a melting pot, but primarily one that was focused on one group in particular, and then others as they came in. They also had to have what I described, the middle class, the people who did not fit on either pole and over time have been in some ways used as buffers between these two poles. It's a very fraught, intrinsically divisive framework for understanding how the groups have been pitted against one another over time.


Very sad.


I hate to compare us to dogs, but I'm going to I don't know if you've had a lot of dogs and you take it to a trainer and they say, well, you know, if it's an alpha, it's going to be kind of fine and steady. If it's super submissive, it's going to be fine. It's these middle pack dogs that are going to fight the whole time you own them because they're just so struggling to figure out that much more grey area between the two poles of even like canine society, you know.


Yeah, well, it purposely creates a sense of insecurity on almost everyone's part because everyone has got to figure out how to navigate in a society where a lot of these things are unspoken but real. You know, everyone knows that these things are real, but they're unspoken. And you have to figure out how you're going to manage in that.


Stay tuned for more armchair expert, if you dare.


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So some of the things that you detail about the cost of being in a different hierarchical zone is benefit of the doubt. Yeah, and when you said that, I was like, wow, there's so much in that. And I can just see myself role playing in my head and how different my benefit of the doubt would be for different people. I see a lot of this stuff personally through a socioeconomic lens simply because I grew up in a largely white, almost exclusively white area, but huge income disparity and watching how the poor people got treated, how often they were pulled over on the side of the road when they were out of the car, when they got pulled over.


All these things that I witnessed that if you were poor, you're going to be a much different time in my town, even if you're just going about your business. The cops, we're going to assume you were drunk or they were going to assume this and be someone in the fact that, yes, the alcoholism rate was higher in the poor neighborhoods. So it's all it's so dense and complicated, but that's the thing I witnessed kind of firsthand. And so, yeah, benefit of the doubt.


If the guy was in, you know, had no shirt on and torn up jeans and he said, I didn't take that pack of cigarettes, I'm not going to believe him the same way I would believe the fat, white, bald guy in a suit. Yeah.


Well, thank you for picking up on benefit of the doubt, because it's much bigger than just the phrase. I mean, the benefit of the doubt is one of the reasons why we see all these videos about some people sitting at a coffee shop like Starbucks in Philadelphia and someone calls the police on them. They're waiting for a friend and someone calls the police on them. They were not given the basic benefit of the doubt that would have been accorded to other people who were sitting at a Starbucks waiting for a friend or about black women in the hospital system not being given the benefit of the doubt that their pain was real and that a white woman was, which is totally documented.


And we know a much different outcome in what they're prescribed.


Absolutely. How that one phrase spreads and percolates throughout society, often catastrophic effect, because if you're going to frivolously call the police on an African-American as the case of the guy who was a birdwatcher in Central Park, who is concerned because there was a dog loose and he mentions it to the dog's owner and then she calls the police on him, I mean, that could be a dangerous situation for a black person. And you're calling the police on them on the basis of you're not giving that person benefit of doubt that would be accorded someone else.


And that's one of the many ways that these boundaries can be assigned to or enforced on people on the basis of the benefit of the doubt that's perceived that they deserve.


Now, this is not my opinion, but I know for certain many people will be listening to it and going, well, hold on a second. It would be illogical to assume that if we know a certain group of people has a higher crime rate, it would be illogical and dangerous to not acknowledge that. Right. So the let's say the police in my town with the poor white guys, they know there in way more domestic dispute calls, they have this justified suspicion of them.


How do we address that?


Well, the examples that I've given you are people who are not in the middle of committing anything that's close to the appearance of a crime. These are just ordinary people going about their day. One guy that I that I make mention of in the book, there's so many examples. But one guy, he's a business guy is a marketing executive who's just trying to get into his condo building in St. Louis. And he's open the door and a woman blocks him from getting in the lobby.


She blocks him from getting into the lobby of his own condo building in St. Louis. Now, she's not afraid. She actually follows him. He has a key. So she gets you open the door. She follows him on to the elevator. So it's not fear. She's not fearful of a potential black criminal. She is responding to a sense that he is out of his place. In her view, he doesn't belong in the building. She's not convinced that he lives there and she's policing him herself.


Yeah, I'll go further. There is implicit in her world view that she will be protected in this scenario.


So when the cavalry arrives, they'll believe her, that she'll be protected because why else would a woman challenge a man physically unless she felt so safe, guarded by the system?


And so he actually to protect himself, knowing the dynamic that was at play there, he began to record this on his phone because he knew that he could be in danger should this go any further. She actually followed him all the way up the elevator onto the floor where his apartment was and followed him to the point where he opens this door and closes the door and she's standing there in the hallway, still trying to convince herself or to assure herself that he actually belongs in the building right now.


At this point, he maybe stole the key from you know, he had a key. That's weird. He must have stole that somewhere. She's just having to constantly recalibrate. Wow. He knows what floor the lead lives on. That's weird. But that was what was happening in our adventure, but that's how embedded the assumptions are there, so embedded that to all evidence, to the contrary, the subconscious assumptions are calibrated to such a degree that they will override rationality.


Rational thought.


Yeah, we get in these confirmation bias loops. We get info that's saying we're wrong. And we've got to figure out another explanation because there's no way our gut is wrong. We just have to keep working it the formula until it fits how we feel inside. Yeah. So a benefit of the doubt, which is a great one to shine a light on.


And then I think access to resources is a little more well known unless I'm wrong, and that I think people understand some of the barriers.


Well, like Flint, for example, this has been going on since twenty fourteen. Flint has been dealing with this. We know that a lot of the toxic waste dumps will often be near places where marginalized people are living. I mean, where are they going to go?


I'm sitting right now in Michigan, so I'm currently 50 miles from Flint and I'm also 15 miles from Birmingham. And I can promise you that there would not be a six year water crisis in Birmingham. It would not possibly exist, would be unthinkable.


In addition to the idea that the food deserts tend to be in the areas where marginalized people are more likely to live. There may not be a supermarket, but there's a payday loan business there. So these are the ways that access to resources are very much front and center. I mean, you can see that in any any neighborhood you can go to.


Could you break down a couple of examples of assumptions of competence? Because I think that's a really intriguing area to think about.


This is sort of a related story that brings together benefit of the doubt and competence and assumptions about who belongs where. What I experienced when I was a national correspondent at The New York Times in Chicago, I had made arrangements to interview all these people for a pretty routine story. So I call them on the phone and they they knew to expect me. And all day I'd been interviewing these people and everything had been fine until I got to the last interview.


At the last interview, I showed up at the establishment. It was a retail establishment, small. It was a quiet hour of the day. So there weren't lots of people there. There actually was no one there except for the store clerk who told me that the manager was not there yet, but that he would be there any minute. And this is the person I was to be interviewing. So a few minutes later, this man walks in and he's in a hurry.


He's clearly flustered. He's running late. And the clerk tells me that I should go up to him because this is the man that I'm there to interview. And so when I go up to him, he waved me away. He says, oh, I can't talk with you right now. I'm getting ready for a very important meeting, very important interview. And I said, I think I'm that person. I have an appointment with you. He said, no, you don't understand.


I said, I'm Isabel Wilkerson with The New York Times. I'm here. And he said, well, how do I know that?


How how do I know that?


And I said, well, we had an appointment. And it's you know, it's supposed to be a few minutes ago, we had an appointment. I'm here. You have the notebook.


He's like this woman attacked poor Isabel and took her day calendar, somehow absconded with our date calendar for Isabel is somewhere crying for help.


So so he says to me, well, do you have a business card? And it just so happened that it was the end of the day. And I mean, people even used business cards now anymore. At least I don't know. But it has been all day that I've been interviewing people. He was the last of the day. And so I said, I'm sorry, I'm actually out of business cards, but I'm here. I have the notebook ready to interview.


There's no one else here. I'm going to interview you. And he said, well, I'll need to see some ID. And I said I shouldn't have to show you I.D., we should be interviewing right now. This is a waste of time. I shouldn't have to show you I.D. So I give him the idea, give him my driver's license. And he looks and he says, you don't have anything with The New York Times on it. And I said, we are supposed to be in the middle of an interview.


I'm here to interview you. And he said, I'm sorry. I'm going to have to ask you to leave. She'll be here any minute on the.


No, I mean, you have so generously. Oh, my God.


The whole at the last half your story in my head, I was saying, well, fuck you, partner. I'd be happy to report this to The New York Times.


The story wasn't about that. It was just a quiet little, you know, like a routine story. It wasn't supposed to turn into something like that. I ended up leaving and I just was stunned by what was it that just happened. And I'm still trying to figure out, like, how did that happen? I ended up writing the piece without him because it turned out it wasn't necessary for him to be in it. It would have been nice.


I would have liked it. And of course, he would have been a beneficiary of that. And I ended up sending him I sent him the article with the business card after I finished it.


Oh. Oh, God. I wish I would have been there when you open that up. So yeah. Yeah. So that was what I did. But the reason I mentioned that is because this is an example of how everyone's really harmed by it in ways we may not realize. I mean, if you multiply that times, you know, thousands of transactions on a given day and hundreds of thousands of businesses, then you can realize how miscommunication may be occurring.


Missed opportunities are happening. People are thrown by the odd interactions of assumptions and stereotypes that just are toxic and they are disruptive and they hurt everybody. This is a guy who wanted to be in it. He wanted to be in it so badly that he he told me to leave. Well, and I'm going to go further. You're already at the apex of everything you could have transcended. Right? So you're already representing The New York Times. I'm assuming you're dressed smartly.


Yes. You're speaking in the manner that they would desire. You know, everything's been done right. And you can't shake that. You can't transcend that.


And that's why I make a distinction between class versus class and race. So I will say that caste is the bones, race is the skin, and class is the accents, the diction, the education, the clothing, the kind of things that we can change about ourselves in order to move up or to reposition ourselves. And so I often say to that, if you can act your way out of it, it's class. But if you cannot act your way out of it, it's cast.


Oh, interesting.


So that's the distinction. Will you repeat that? So if you can act your way out of it, it's class. If you cannot act your way out of it, it's cast. There's nothing more that I could do.


So then clearly African-Americans are most obviously the ones that can code switch. You can do all that, but you couldn't have done anything there. So that would demonstrate caste. Yeah. Who else are we putting in that category? I would say females, right?


Yes, absolutely. And that's why I use the word caste to focus in on the infrastructure that is underneath all of it. Because caste is not only about race, it's about gender. It's about immigrant status. It's about the physical manifestation that is a signal to the subconscious of anyone we might meet as to where you belong, what is expected of you, where you presumably do not belong. And since I've been talking about this book a lot of times, if there is a O'Collins show, I often will hear from someone who's Latin next, who will say that they went someplace and someone assumed that they were the maid.


They were actually, say, a customer of a shop, but they were assumed to be the person working at the shop and were expected to provide a service to another customer because they had to be someone who was on staff working there at the shop, someone to go get them the merchandise that they wanted. But the people would get angry when they did not respond appropriately because they expected them to be someone to serve them. So it would apply to many groups.


Well, I've asked someone if they work there and the person was offended. I can't even remember of what ethnicity they were. But of course, I'm immediately embarrassed. And so as soon as I'm embarrassed, I'm now very defensive. And I'll start building a case for why this was a very innocent mistake. Yeah, that's I feel like human nature to some degree to get defensive.


This is the programming, though, because where do those ideas come from? Where do these stereotypes and assumptions come from? They're coming from some place. Yeah, coming from our society. And the society trains us to presumably who belongs where, what the roles are.


Well, and that's why I really, really like the emphasis of your book, because it's not enough to just. Be right or to have the moral high ground, I think we also have to understand how humans act and respond to new information, and I think it's incumbent upon us to head off things that would just take us down the wrong road that we don't want to be on. It wouldn't be productive. So I think really delineating the difference between systemic racism, what that means is that we all grew up in this system that has laws, that has courts, that has police, that has a class that hires, that has incarceration rates.


It has all these things. I think it takes a little bit of the onus off the human when they hear that. So because I do think many people are hearing systemic racism, everyone in America is racist and then they're fighting back against that, understandably, because they certainly don't think of themselves as racist. And I think an argument of no, no, no one saying anything about you. We're saying that this system is creating, as all systems do, an outcome and we can kind of measure this outcome.


And it's pretty black and white. It's clear we know what the incarceration rate is, what the sentences are. We know what life expectancy is. We know all these things. So we know what the outcome is. And we have to acknowledge the system produces that outcome and the system has to be examined and tinkered with. Your analogy is fantastic. We all inherited a house. Yes. And the house was not built to code and it's fallen apart.


And no one hears fault that the house is a piece of shit. But it's all of our responsibilities as the dwellers of this home to refurbish it.


Yeah. And that there actually is a responsibility that each of us has to recognize the programming and to take responsibility for reprogramming ourselves to recognize the programming and reprogram ourselves. And that's something that each individual person has to do and also to know the history. So you'll know how we got to where we are.


Will you just tell me really quick?


I just found this fascinating situational elevation, situational elevation that has to do with when people are in the subordinated cast and they enter or visit a place where they are still. Visibly from the a case where, for example, an African-American who goes to South Africa, for example, and if they go there as I have, and you will find yourself elevated because you look like the people who are subordinated there, but because you come from the outside and because to get there, you're successful.


You then are elevated and not recognized. And you may not if you're not aware of it, if you're not thinking this through, you will start to believe that you actually truly deserve to be elevated. But actually what's happening is you're being used as a foil to affirm or justify the subjugation of the people in the society you just moved to, because people will say, well, look, if this person could go and do this, this and this, then what excuse do you have?


You the people who are subordinated in our country here and the same goes for if someone comes from from another part of the world to the United States, joins this hierarchy, and they actually look similar to other people who are subordinated. And as a result of it, to get here, you have to have resources to get here. You often have more education to get here. You may know multiple languages and be very accomplished. So that person then experiences situational elevation because they can be used as a foil against the people who are here already.


African-Americans, for example, who do experience higher unemployment rates, who live in food deserts, who go to segregated schools, that have less funding and all of those things. And this can be used against them to say, what's wrong with you? We have someone who's come in from someplace else and look how well they're doing. And so this is a request, actually, to people who are from other marginalized groups to be aware of the dynamic that happens in a caste system in which the caste system will use whatever means there are to justify the pre existing hierarchy and will use people to affirm that.


I mean, same thing happened with, say, Irishwoman earlier, going when Iris arrived or Italians arrived, they would use the same stereotypes. And to say these other people have done well, why? What's wrong with you? What's wrong with this group?


When I argue with people, that seems to be a common hallmark where they'll go, well, look, the Irish did it, the Italians did it all go further. I learned in in geography class that 50 percent of all second generation Mexican Americans are middle class. So they'll go, oh, they're the Italians of today. And I think it discounts what you're saying, which is there's a caste. So those people are, for whatever reason, allowed to transcend.


But there's other factors at play that has not allowed that because the African-Americans are the bottom of the pole.


Yeah, you could argue that it's necessary that they transcend it's necessary to have some groups that will be in the position to justify the bottom placed position of the people who have been assigned to the bottom from the beginning, while at the same time those people at the bottom are being disrupted in their current day as they're sitting at a Starbucks waiting for a friend, because that's a reminder and it's a justification for what we may see happen to George Florida, to Brianna Taylor or to Ahmad Aubury, as long as the society and the caste system can point to those who come in and been seen as exceptional, even being encouraged to be exceptional to justify the circumstances of those who are at the bottom, it could be argued that you need to have people in the middle who serve as a buffer and serve as an exception to prove the rule of those at the bottom.




So so we have an example. We'll look at Barack Obama. OK, yeah, great. It all boils down to Chris Rock's greatest joke ever, which is like, yes, he lives in a neighborhood. He's the best comedian of all time. He lives next to the best rapper of all time. And then between them is an average white dentist, the dentist. You can you can you can get there if you're the best ever at one thing.


Sure. But weirdly, when you're talking about it, I'm immediately reminded of Lennox Lewis, the heavyweight fighter, because he had that British accent. And when he would come here, even the way the commentators would talk about him like he's the professor of boxing, there was like this all this elevated stuff. And I think it was kind of situational elevation, which this British accent, for some reason, it did something bizarre to everyone's opinion of him.




It's just this idea that the caste system has been in place for four hundred years and we've grown so accustomed to it. You could say that our minds have been subconsciousness, have been reshaped to expect certain things. And as you were mentioning about the confirmation bias, we will look to affirm what we have already been told. And it takes a tremendous amount of data. And in. Other than what we have been exposed to, to get us to break free of what we think we know, I think that's really key.


I don't think a lot of Americans understand immigration in general and that it is very hard to come to this country. It is not easy to come to this country. Hassan Manaj has this wonderful special where he says that he's like people think you can just, like, slip right in. It takes eight years to come here and you have to be getting a PhD. You have to be contributing to the sciences. There's all these levels that I think most Americans just think, yeah, people are just coming here and they're just getting in and it's fine.


It's very hard. So, yeah, the level of, quote, talent that comes in from other countries is very high. And then it leads, you know, it's a trickle down effect to their kids and their kids and their kids. It's not just this thing of like, well, these people are doing it. Yeah, they're doing it because they came to get PhDs. Like that was the only way they could come if they didn't have them already.


Actually, if they did. Exactly. At this point, probably. Yeah. Yeah.


Well, and I'm just now, as you're saying, that Monaca thinking what disrupters Indians are in general. Right. Because you're Brown and then you're yet associated with higher education. Yeah. What a bizarre group for us to slide into this fucked up arbitrary system.


Right. It doesn't even fair. It's like, no, no, you're brown. You should be over here. But you're my doctor. That's I'm confused.


Well, that's why they really like when they own gas stations, right? Because it's like that makes more sense to me. A brown person is associated with the gas station. They don't even really know, like, those people own like ten gas stations and are millionaires.


But yeah, exactly. You know, they're just like, yeah, they're categorizing based on skin color, really.


Ultimately, that's what you're saying, because that is an example, too, of how the caste system can recognize and rely upon the positioning of people, but still wanting them to stay in a fixed place. You know, the idea of the people who own hotels and as long as you're in something of a service industry, that's a comforting place or even as programmers are engineers and that's my mom, my dad.


But then to be CEO, to be someone who is actually in charge and running things, that's where you could say there's a glass ceiling that begins to, in my view, affect many people in what I would call the middle class in this country, because a lot of it is determined by what you look like. I mean, what you look like is sort of the signifiers to presumably how a person should be perceived. I mean, of course, the idea of people who are questioned and questioned and questioned about where they're actually from to answer the question in, say, Phoenix or Cleveland is not acceptable, you have to say like, well, you have to justify that the from where you from to justify one's existence as an American in this country.


I mean, that's why I think we have a long way to go in getting people to let go of these assumptions and stereotypes so that everyone can be who they're intended to be there. Also, I just want to speak to the pressures on immigrant children who are expected to be the physician, the lawyer, the engineer. That's like if there's nothing else, there's nothing else. And yet I get so much joy out of seeing Indian comedians in particular, because that's a way of breaking free and being able to say, no, this is who I am and I should be able to be who I am, not what society says I should be, not what the immigrant status should put me under pressure being.


The other thing I wanted to say is that when it comes to certain immigrant groups, particularly Nigerian immigrants and Indian immigrants, because they arrive in this country so incredibly well educated, better educated than most Americans that they will ever meet is a fact. And also they will have advanced degrees and they will know multiple, multiple languages. They will have traveled better and more widely than many, many Americans they meet. And yet they still have to fit into our force to fit into this pre-existing hierarchy.


And then their success could be used against them. Because then now what I hear saying is that because they do well financially, it's often said that they make more money than the average white person. So clearly white people, white Americans are actually not faring well or are suffering because this other group is actually doing better than they. So this is how. Yeah. So this is how it all adjusts itself to maintain the hierarchy to begin with. And my goal is to get everybody to be aware of this, to be aware of what is happening, at least if we're aware of it, we can see it for what it is and then begin the work of dismantling.


The hierarchies that are so destructive to all of us. This is going to be a dangerous one. I'm going to start by owning that. This will sound very white lives matter. And I'm nervous of that. But I also feel very compelled because as you so pointed out and I have witnessed so firsthand, it's always the people with the least amount of resources that are fighting the hardest against each other. And it very much frustrates me. And it's and it serves the hierarchy to be pitting these poor white people against poor black people.


And to me, what I see, I think the right. So these militia guys that were going to kidnap the Michigan governor, right? Yeah. They arrested all the guys and then they showed where they lived. And I think for people on the right, that was somewhat of an explanation for why they feel so disenfranchised. Right. They're clearly living in extreme abject poverty. And the left was like, oh, how dare you try to justify a kidnapping and everything?


And I said, look, I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for the shootings in Chicago because they understand the cycle of violence. I understand that the life expectancy is half of what mine is. I understand that the incarceration rate is going to be five times and that the whole dynamic of life there is different.


I have great sympathy for that. You know what aces are, right? Adverse childhood experiences where you experienced trauma. And we know if you've got above six out of the nine, that you have a very predictable path. Right. You're not going to achieve any educational status. You're going to have a higher rate of alcoholism. You're going to die much shorter. And I think what unifies these groups so much is this incredibly high rate of ases in the African-American community and the poor white community in the Latin community, that all these folks that are dealing with this extreme trauma are going to have this kind of predictable course.


And I think all people with eight of nine aces deserve a lot of sympathy and a lot of help. And I feel like there's a much broader coalition to be made among all these groups that are experiencing such a different life than, say, I am in America. I think what unites all these groups is, is that now your explanation of caste definitely takes the wind out of that argument. And I understand how in that you can't act your way out of it.


And certainly the poor white people with lots of aces could act their way out of it.


Yet I want to see some coalition that really everyone's getting fucked. That's below X amount of dollars and it's serving and perpetuating this system. And I'm heartbroken. That trumps their best fucking voice. I don't like that. I wish that there was some movement that was. No, a lot of people are getting fucked and a lot of people are growing up without opportunity. And a lot of people aren't getting the benefit of doubt. And collectively, we need to address this.


I actually think it's bigger than these arbitrary populations we've assigned. I just wonder what your thoughts are on that. If that these people have way more in common and it shouldn't be the group that's fighting the most, it should be the group that's bonding together the most to say this thing is not benefiting us. This system is not working for all of us. And there's a ton of us. Well, as long as a group has been told for so long that this is the one thing that elevates them and the one thing that they can believe in, that well, put them in a higher position than a group that's been assigned to the bottom for so long, then that's a hard thing to break from.


There's no white entitlement. They agree. There's a lot of like, wait, what the fuck? How could I be poor?


I'm supposed to be the boss and a greater resentment of that reality. But it's a misplaced resentment because the resentment is not toward the people who are in position to make life better for everybody. It's directed toward those that they've been told are their rivals that they are in competition with. And one of the things I want to say is that going back to the migration that led to all the cities that we talked about is that to me, one of the great tragedies in American history is that the people who are arriving to these cities in the United States, the northern cities in the 20th century from Southern and Eastern Europe or from Kentucky, as you described in your family's story or from the from Alabama sharecroppers, black sharecroppers, all those people arrive to the big cities.


Many of them had never been outside the counties into which they had been born or the land that they were from. They were far, far often from their families. They were trying to make a go of it in a forbidding environment, factories and subways and traffic and all these things that they're trying to manage and raise families. They were the same people. They were the same, right. They were all the same. They were all facing the same challenges of trying to make a go of it and forbidding new places.


They were trying to get situated, some of them not knowing all of the culture and the ways of managing and not even some of them not even knowing the language. And still trying to make a go of it, and then what happened is that the ways that the institutions were set up is that they pitted one group against the other, submitted to join unions, and some were not permitted to join unions. Some were permitted to move into neighborhoods where they could get a mortgage for their homes.


And others were redlined out of that or restrictive covenants kept them from it. Others were rewarded for moving out into the suburbs with more people who looked like them, even though they originally might not have seen themselves as somewhat of people who presumably look like them but came from a different originating country. These were the same people. And it's the society. It's the caste system that separated people into castes based upon what they look like as opposed to what they really had in common, which was their basic humanity of people trying to make a go of it far, far from home.


And that's one of the great tragedies of our country. And we're still recovering from that. Still recovering.


Yeah, well, I really, really recommend everyone read your book. We had interviewed Chelsea Handler last week and she's, like, loving it and singing his praises everywhere she goes. So Amy Schumer does as well.


Yeah. Thank you. Yeah.


So I just started it and I already love it. You're just a fantastic writer. All the wonderful information and research aside, you're just a beautiful storyteller. So it's such an easy read and it's really enjoyable and the message is so important.


Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoy that. Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Yeah. I'll talk to you in ten years. Well, three.


Thank you. All right. And if you could just flash your ID so we know we interviewed the right person, that would be all right.


Thank you. Bye bye.