We continue our preview of the new (Summer) issue of the Claremont Review of Books with Eric Kaufmann’s timely review of Isabel Wilkerson’s celebrated Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Wilkerson is the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and, unfortunately, her book meets the moment. This is the book:
Wilkerson aims to awaken American blacks to the arbitrary caste hierarchy pressing upon them and to open the eyes of white oppressors to their unearned privilege. Forcing whites to acknowledge their bias and compassionately listen to the pain of African Americans, she believes, will free all Americans from the prison of caste once and for all. Wilkerson builds her case with vivid images and anecdotes, interlacing the plight of individuals with her own experiences of racism.
This is the moment:
That Caste was feted in leading publications like the New York Times (“an instant American classic”) and the Washington Post (“powerful, illuminating”), was picked for Oprah’s Book Club (“Magnificent. Profound. Eye-Opening. Sobering. Hopeful”), and is now slated to be turned into a feature film for Netflix tells us more about our cultural elite than about racial stratification. When it comes to race, smart people suspend disbelief to worship idols, dispensing with the usual standards of evidence.
I reviewed Ta-Nehesi Coates’s best-selling tract Between the World and Me for City Journal in “An updated racial hustle.”. I thought Between the Word and Me would have been more like it. I deemed the book worse than worthless and Kaufmann has supplied the proof in his research:
The defeatist outlook which Wilkerson’s book embodies disempowers blacks. In one study I conducted, black respondents who read a passage from Ta-Nehisi Coates, a leading purveyor of Wilkerson’s worldview, were 15 points less likely to say they could make their life plans work out than blacks who were not exposed to his hyperbolic narrative of white threats to black bodies.
Kaufmann finds Wilkerson’s book both demoralizing and, more to the point, intellectually wanting.
Kaufmann is professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the author, most recently, of Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities. His review is “Racism all the way down.”