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Batavick: Call to ensure America remains America code for preserving our caste system | COMMENTARY

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and was reelected in 2012, some pundits declared that we had achieved a post-racial society — one in which people didn’t use considerations of race any longer, whether interacting with others or making key life decisions such as voting. Boy, they were wrong.

To many, Obama’s election was a sign of hope and change, but for others it signaled despair and desperation. They feared they were members of a losing team and that something had to be done to stop the erosion of their power and influence. We’ve now come to understand that this is a much more valid explanation for Donald Trump’s surprising election win in 2016. It can’t just be chalked up to Hillary Clinton’s unlikability or her failure to effectively campaign in key states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. It was the dawning sense on the part of white, Christian America that they were losing control and ceding authority to the growing ranks of Black, brown, and tan people.

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This is the thesis of a new, best-selling book by Isabel Wilkerson. In “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” she posits that our racial divide is more akin to India’s once traditional caste system than it is to old-fashioned racism. She uses this comparison to explain the recent rise of white supremacy and believes it is powered by a coupling of two fears: trepidation concerning people who represent “the other” and anxiety about losing a traditional and dominant role in American society. The fears are not necessarily tied to income level. Many “one percenters” are also having anxiety attacks about the tilting population scale, though if you’ve lost your job, it’s much easier to blame it on the waves of immigrants, both legal and illegal, crossing our borders or coming to our shores.

Wilkerson believes, “Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred; it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place so long that it looks like the natural order of things.” When you don’t automatically get into a certain college or club or your child doesn’t qualify for a “talented and gifted” program or you miss out on a job or promotion and you realize you’ve been bested by someone of color, anger, grievance and resentment grow.

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There’s also the petty annoyance that some feel when foreign languages are spoken around them or when they hear “Happy Holidays!” instead of the more traditional “Merry Christmas!”

This has been the subtext of the “Make America Great Again” movement. The “again” refers to a time when there weren’t so many people of color competing for a slice of the American pie. Watching the flag-festooned Republican Convention, I marveled at how this message was hammered home again and again. President Obama’s efforts to encourage more minority home ownership became “demolishing the suburbs,” a traditional white bastion. The “vicious, brutal riots” in Portland, Austin, Oakland, and Seattle (which by the way are happening under this administration) will soon creep out to suburbia under a President Biden.

The prez’s oldest son alleged that if Biden is elected, the silent majority “will be the silenced majority.” (Richard Nixon smiled from who-knows-where.) Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) bombastically claimed a Biden administration would “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.” Vice President Pence warned that “The choice in this election is whether America remains America.” Young activist Charlie Kirk upped the ante to include the United States and Europe when he called the prez “the bodyguard of Western civilization.” Note how this neatly amputates the cultures of those from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Kirk continued with, “This election is a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.” Yikes! Even apple pie and biscuits and gravy?

OK. You get the point. The GOP has drawn the battle lines in the culture war between castes, and this is going to be a nasty campaign as we fight about whose “way of life” is the most American.

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I’ll leave you with one hopeful piece of information. Wilkerson’s book tells us that India’s rigid caste system has been diluted by progressive legislation and streamlining entry of the lowest castes — the Dalits or “untouchables” — into schools, universities, and government jobs. Education and income, not color or religion or family lineage, have become the great equalizers on the subcontinent. We can hope.

Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at fjbatavick@gmail.com.

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