Knit to This
Knit to This: Isabel Wilkerson on On Being
“We all know in our bones that things are harder than they have to be.”
That’s just one insight in Krista Tippett’s rich and expansive live conversation with author and historian Isabel Wilkerson, of the many that hit home for me. Things are harder than they have to be, and the impediment to a better world for everyone is so deeply ingrained, like the grammar of our spoken language, that we are not fully aware of it. Just as we conjugate the verb to be by ear, or by heart, to I am, you are, he is, we sort our fellow humans according to unspoken markers of power and worth, of which we may be only barely conscious.
But there’s reason for hope: if we become aware of that underlying grammar, which Wilkerson identifies as caste, we can change the world. We can lay down this painful burden, if we can bring ourselves to acknowledge that it is there. Race is a big part of caste, but not the entirety of it; it’s illuminating to consider the role caste has played in one’s own life. I can certainly make more sense of some incidents that confounded me at the time, when I see them through the lens of caste.
I highly recommend listening to the Wilkerson/Tippett conversation on the On Being podcast. You can find it here.
The podcast brought me back to Isabel Wilkerson’s books. I’m listening to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration on audiobook right now, and it’s answering so many questions I had about changes in my midwestern city when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. I knew something big was happening, but it had no name and was not on the nightly news; in the perpetual present tense of childhood, I had no context for it. The writing is riveting, the historical research and individual narratives are compelling. Next up on my audiobook queue is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.
I am so grateful for Isabel Wilkerson’s frank, measured, and compassionate voice, and her matter-of-fact reporting of history that for too long has been ignored or swept away.
Although Wilkerson’s books are scholarly, they are also full of excellent storytelling, and I actually am knitting as I listen. Both books are bestsellers and award winners, and can be accessed from libraries and booksellers everywhere.