Yesterday afternoon I dropped a clear plastic lid for a bottle of water onto the tile floor of our bathroom. I scanned around and couldn’t find it. I crouched down to look more closely. Still nothing. I had heard it hit the floor so I knew it had to be somewhere down there. As I continued searching, I thought, “When I find it, it’s going to seem so obvious that I won’t be able to unsee it or imagine how I missed it.”
Upon that thought, I paused in my search and glanced at the bathroom counter where Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents was sitting.
I realized reading this book (and so many others that teach a fuller, more complete story of American history than most of us learned in school) is similar. Once I have learned the details of history that have led us to where we are today, I can not unsee them. I can not imagine how I didn’t know it all before.
Reading about the way laws were created and social orders maintained in the early years of white settlement in this country makes it clear how hard those in power worked to solidify that power and ensure that people they viewed as subordinate remained that way. Reading about lynchings and white militia groups that used violence, torture and threats to hold on to power and realizing how very recent this is in our country’s history is proving to me how wide and deep are the gaps in my knowledge.
The more I read and listen to learn about events and people in our history that I was never taught in school, the more I can see how deeply entrenched our racial hierarchy is and how much work is needed to move toward a just and equitable society.