ArtsQueens University Charlotte

Author Isabel Wilkerson Visits Queens University Of Charlotte

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson recently visited Queens University of Charlotte to discuss her latest book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” Wilkerson offered a profound and insightful exploration of the unspoken caste system, calling it an “invisible scaffold” that has shaped America and continues to affect our lives today. 

For 35 years, the Learning Society of Queens has brought notable experts, like Wilkerson, to Queens and the broader Charlotte community to provide new perspectives, inspiration, and transformative leadership that extends the reach of a liberal arts education far beyond the classroom.  

“Education is a powerful tool in dismantling the artificial barriers that divide us,” said Queens University President Dan Lugo. “My hope is that by gathering tonight and learning together, we can be catalysts for continued conversations and increased participation in dismantling these barriers. In the spirit of Isabel Wilkerson’s work, we can listen to understand rather than defend, and recommit ourselves to empathy and unity.” 

Wilkerson began her talk by tracing the history of caste in America, from its roots in slavery and Jim Crow to its modern-day manifestations in areas such as health care, education, and the criminal justice system. She discussed the pillars of caste and explained its rigid hierarchy of social groups based on birth that are often difficult to escape.  

“When I do this kind of work, I think first and foremost about the people in my family lineage whose faces I will never see, and whose names I can never know, those who had the fortitude to survive the Middle Passage,” said Wilkerson. “Everything I do is propelled by the thought of these people who suffered unimaginably and how their suffering means something, and that’s what my work is all about.” 

Examining the ways in which caste has shaped the American experience, Wilkerson explained how caste is a fundamental problem in American society that has prevented us from fully realizing the ideals of equality and opportunity.  

Wilkerson emphasized the importance of working together and recited the theory of the butterfly effect in which one small change, like the flutter of a butterfly wing, can have tremendous impacts across the globe. She urged the audience to familiarize themselves with the stories of our past, to recognize patterns of injustice and inequality, so that we can identify them and create an environment where everyone, regardless of caste, has the opportunity to thrive.  

“Our country is facing real challenges, and we shouldn’t waste our time or energy on false divisions,” said Wilkerson. “This is why I advocate that we recognize what divides us so that we can overcome that which divides us.”  

Wilkerson’s talk was met with a standing ovation. Audience members were deeply moved by her insights and her powerful call to action.  

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