by Isabel Wilkerson

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Why, according to Caste, are Germans ashamed of their Nazi history but Americans aren't ashamed of slavery?

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According to Caste, Germans are ashamed of their Nazi history while Americans are not ashamed of slavery, because white Americans have been taught for hundreds of years to regard themselves as a separate caste from Black Americans.

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In Caste, Isabel Wilkerson argues that "racism" is too weak a term to capture the historic divide between Black and white people in America. This division should be viewed as something like the Indian caste system, in which one inherits a rigid, unalterable status from one's family. It is also an American invention, since immigrants to America thought of themselves as Igbo, Yoruba, or Ndebele rather than Black, or Irish, Italian, or Hungarian rather than white. It was only after coming to America that they were subjected to a crude binary social division.

According to Wilkerson, Americans remain unashamed of slavery because the caste system which separated Black people from white people remained rigid after the emancipation. White people who had considered themselves a superior caste were never disabused of that notion. America was such a powerful example of white supremacy in the mid-twentieth century that Nazi researchers from Germany went to America to study the subjugation of Black people, and American law was consulted in the framing of the Nuremberg Laws.

Although anti-Semitism was well established in Germany, American ideas such as the "one-drop" rule, that anyone who had a single Black ancestor among many should be classified as Black, proved too extreme for the Nazis, let alone ordinary Germans. Germans did not have a sense of caste superiority which allowed them to continue to discriminate after the war was over, in the same way that white Americans did after emancipation.

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