Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow. senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. (Just remember I'm looking through my prism which may or may not be the full story.) Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, January 8, 2022

My New Book Club - Caste


Nothing like starting out a new book club with a controversy. We, of course, didn’t know it was going to turn out that way when fourteen of us here at the continuum care campus got our first book to read over the holidays. Caste, The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson was one of the few books through the library's Book Club in a Bag program that was available on short notice. Most of the clubs have their books reserved months ahead so new clubs take what they can get.

I can’t find a short synopsis of the book other than the author “…examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.” In other words it’s about origins of racism. In shocking detail. A heavy topic to be reading, especially through the holidays and our discussion was preempted by an ominous email a few days ahead from our activities director telling us that our discussion group might be “lighter in numbers because of that. She went on to say:

I also know that this selection will bring about big feelings and possibly some internal conflicts that some may not feel comfortable sharing at this point. Understanding that we are a new community of new friends, I ask that those who do attend the discussion do so with respect for all attendees, recognizing that we all have different backgrounds and upbringings. I’m sure it goes without saying, but please utilize the time together to encourage a civil and considerate conversation. Be willing to explain your feelings, but also open to hearing others’ perspectives. In general, please strive to make others feel respected even if you disagree.”

Don’t think that email didn’t prompt everyone to be at our first discussion meeting. Only one person was missing, but the first person to speak was visibly angry and was quick to explain why she didn’t read the book. She had read some comments about the book that said the author was blaming poor Mr. Trump for all the racial tensions in the country. Say what? It wasn’t a political book and he was bared mentioned. 

I like the woman---a lot---but I couldn’t see letting someone who hadn’t read the book hijack the discussion with junk she’d obviously picked up on a right-wing political site. So I finally spoke up. “It sounds like that comment/review you read was written by someone who only read an out-of-context excerpt from the book and not the entire book because the author barely mentioned Trump.” 

She seemed hostile through out the whole hour and a half we were there, inserting questions like, "Did she bring up the fact that blacks sold blacks into slavery?" Did she bring up that other countries had slavery?" Typical deflection stuff to divert the conversation. She couldn't have been too upset by my discussion points because the next day she used her Auntie Mame voice from across the lobby to invite me to a party at her place. That was a relief because I don't want to alienate anyone here, especially funny and fun-loving her, and I was dreading the next time I ran into her.

At one point during book club I shared a quote I’d heard on CNN recently that went: “We need to change our vocabulary because words like ‘race’ have become weaponized for unspoken propaganda.” When I started reading the book I thought the author used the word ‘caste’ as a gimmick to set her book apart from others on the topic but by the end of the book, she’d made her case that we have a caste system here…especially when she quoted many scholars from the past century who were using the label ‘caste’ when they wrote about our slavery and Jim Crow eras. 

The book was shocking in parts, full of well-documented cruelty in the three major caste systems in the world---here in America, in India and during the Nazi regime. Probably the most shocking part for me was how in-depth Hitler and his men studied the segregation and Jim Crow laws of our country to help him come up with a plan to turn the German people against the Jews and others he deemed should be outcasts. The research that went into this book was mind-blowing and extensive and over a hundred pages were devoted just to footnoting sourced material. (496 pages in all.)

The bottom line is my book club is full of interesting people and I’m excited about it. We have two retired social workers in the group, two retired teachers, my neighbor the retired psychologist, one well-read and super smart guy and the others I don't know well enough yet to know their background. The art professor I’ve been fangirling picked a seat next to me and afterward said she enjoyed sitting at my table. (She's the one who asked The Church question in my last post.) You can probably see the stars in my eyes all the way to where you live. She's living up to the myth I've had built up in my head just from viewing her art at the resident's art show. She and her husband never had children so instead they took in refugees from war-torn countries who were getting settled in America---some remained life-long friends, some didn’t. So she had some thought-provoking things to share about the challenges they faced moving here. It’s pretty clear I picked an interesting person to fangirl. And book club is going to help keep my brain from turning to mush. ©

55 comments:

  1. Wow, what a book for a first gathering of the book club. From your comments, it sounds as if your choice of a place to live has been affirmed again, if your group could negotiate a discussion of that book without a major blowup. I've heard all those old saws about Black people being slaveholders, too, plus all of the others. I've heard it from family members, all of us descending from slaveholding ancestors. I've got the receipts from a great grandfather paying poll taxes. I know the story of my own father being brought to a lynching when he was eleven by his father, my grandfather. I've seen the photo taken at the lynching and scanned the faces of the young boys pictured, wondering if one of them is my father or my twelve-year-old uncle. I've heard the stories of how much better lives were for enslaved people than they were for them once they were freed, as if my own ancestors didn't make it as hard for them as possible when employing them as tenant farmers still under their thumbs. I'm afraid I might grow more heated than would have been wise in that discussion.

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    1. My father witnessed a Klan lynching too down in Southern Illinois. We like to fool ourselves into thinking it's ancient history and has no baring on today but that's not really true.

      You are right, if my new neighbors could navigate this book discussion without a fight then we'll be fine with other stuff. The one person who didn't come I later talked with and she just didn't want to read about such a heavy topic and I can respect that. She's a Bubbly little thing that I call The Cheerleader and she's all about positive energy.

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  2. I think the book by Wilkerson will be a great one to study and discuss. I wasn't familiar with the author, but she has an impressive background. My gosh, when she was just 33, she won the Pulitzer for journalism. Betcha there will be plenty of opinions in your group. Years ago, I taught 5th and 6th graders and there were several books we used to study the Holocaust from a child's perspective. I believe those books probably impacted the kids more than any others we read. If people really seek the truth, and try to understand the human condition, it can produce lasting change. The other thing I remember from my days as a teacher, was the fact that there always seemed to be a few students who employed bullying as a tactic to gain power. Ironically, we see that same behavior used by adults, too. Jean, keep us posted on how the book study unfolds.

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    1. I guess it's a popular book in serious book club circles. It's not a book you'd say "I liked it" or "I didn't like it". It's more like a text book, a learning tool for a hard topic. But I'm glad we read it and now we're on to our next selection. We'll meet once a month and you can be sure I'll do reviews of the books and discussions. Blogger fodder is always a motivator for me to stay active.

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  3. Wow. I am adding this book to my ever growing to read list! I've been in that take what you can get from the library situation before. It sounds like you are meeting many interesting people along the way in your new journey.

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    1. Knowing you a little through your blog, I'm prediction this is the kind of book your 'social justice' side will find worth the time and effort to read. Hard going at times, but worth it.

      Yes, I'm finding lots of interesting people here and I'm taking the friendship thing slow and guarded in these early months.

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  4. "The more you read, the more you know..." People have to open their minds and their hearts and discussions like this certainly help. Sounds like a good reading group, Jean.

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    1. So true! I had to really study hard to be able to add some good content to the discussion but it was worth it.

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  5. This is one I need to add to my list. I've heard many remarkable things about it from a number of bloggers I respect. And she is a wonderful writer -- I've not read books by her but other print pieces. That was a pretty brave choice for a first meeting in Grand Rapids, not exactly the liberal capital of the world in thought or deed. I'm glad you, and hopefully others, kept the dissenter on track. I don't always read my book club selections but I'd never come to the book club and voice and opinion about it (or do anything more than ask questions and soak up the discussion) if I hadn't read the book. Yes, as someone said, if you can navigate a controversial one, you'll be fine with one less so.

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    1. I was by far not the only one who talked and made good points about what we read and we were all very respectful.

      We didn't really choose the book, it chose us by default. But I'm glad it did.

      I've been in book clubs before where I didn't have time to read the book but it was always a time retrain. I think to be in a club you should willing to reading things outside your preferred genre. but there is at least one in the group who only plans to read the light-hearted books.

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  6. Proud of you and the others for keeping level heads. I was envisioning a bit of
    a blood bath. Hopefully it opened some minds.

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    1. I'm surrounded by some pretty well-educated ladies. I was actually shocked to get that email from the activities director. I'm pretty sure she through there would e a blood bath.

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    2. News at Ten Headlines: Bloodbath at the New CCC Book Club's first meeting. Okay, so my Gallow's Humor couldn't resist, I'd buy tickets and some popcorn. In seriousness, glad only that one Woman was trying to stir the pot, and she didn't even read the book, hilarious and yet, not so surprising, low information people tend to be the worst!

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    3. I'm going to start calling them erroneous information people instead of low information.

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  7. The book club is sure to be the place you find your someone simpatico. Maybe more than one! Were there new faces there? Or did you recognize everyone?

    Poor Mr. Trump? Have people not noticed the bashing every president has taken? It's not a job for the thin-skinned.

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    1. No new faces, but I got to know a few people better than before because at lunch and dinner we don't talk deep topics. People come and go from those meal tables at different times.

      I always thought the same think when people feel sorry for Trump getting "picked on". All presidents do and he's been the thinnest skinned of them all.

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  8. I read...well, listened to actually...Caste last year. I agreed with the author on almost everything except for a couple of stories she told that I thought probably had more to do with the patriarchy than race. But I don't blame her for seeing everything through the race lense, though. People of colour have to deal with so much on a daily basis that white people are mostly oblivious to. Most of us have no idea how much privilege we are accorded, just by our outside appearance.

    Deb

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    1. I totally agree with you. All and all the author did a good job of presenting facts without leading you to a conclusion but a few times she let her own lens color (no pun intended) what she wrote. But it was a very few times.

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  9. Glad you spoke up. Hope others did too. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about the book. A lot of people don’t like hearing the truth.

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    1. All but three people had things to say about the book and related personal experiences. It as very even handed discussion except for the first five minutes.

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  10. How can someone who hasn't even read the book be allowed to voice her "opinion," much less keep inserting questions about what the author did or didn't include? Sheesh! I would think actually reading the book club selection would be a prerequisite to participating.

    I read Wilkerson's book "The Warmth of Other Suns" which follows three people who left the South for the North to escape Jim Crow laws during what is called The Great Migration. I need to go back and re-read it now.

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    1. I guess that book you read won all kinds of award, this one too.

      I wouldn't have spoken up if I hadn't read a book other than to say I'll just listen this time because I didn't have time to read it. It's pooer book club etiquette. But she was determined to get her ring-wing talking points in at the beginning.

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  11. Just like the question on your religious stance your bookclub is bound to throw up a whole range of problematic reactions. It is possible to remain calm and polite but it will be a heck of an effort to do so. I salute you for accepting people as worthwhile companions even if you don't share opinions.
    Religion is not so important here, we don't have that frantic God-bothering you have in the US but politics are horrendously divisive here too.
    A pest on all their houses!

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    1. None of us is ever right or wrong all the time. We have to learn to listen to people we disagree with. Not always easy but easier than fighting over stuff.

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  12. do any of my comments appear?

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    1. Yes, they all did. I moderate my comments so spam doesn't get through which means I can to come along and approve comments before they get printed. It should have you a message saying that but it's problem pretty small.

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  13. You continue to astound me! I'm not sure I could make it through the whole book, especially during the holidays. Then to be one of the first ones to speak up. So brave. I'm so happy your CCC is working out so well!!!1

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    1. Brave or stupid. I didn't know at that point what the others were thinking or feeling about that book.

      I had to sit down and read a quota of words every day because it wasn't an easy book to read. I found it curious, thought that one lady said she had to have Klean-x near by to read it. I would liked to ask her if that was her first exposer to reading about lynching and burning and beatings because I didn't shed any tears.

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  14. That may have been too heavy a read for an established Club, let alone the first meeting, first book, of a new one with people who are all 'new' to one another AND at the Holidays, whew! It was going to invite controversy and potentially be adversarial. Why anyone who didn't bother to read it weighed in with pure speculation and likely fueled by biased Media Sources is beyond me... she sounds like a shit stirrer, sorry, I know you like her and she's been Fun... but I sense a dark underbelly in that one masked by being a Good Time Good Ole' Girl who when she isn't firing the Bullets, will be providing them... they're around, and prone to High Drama, no Thanks. I think you handled a tough Read subjectively and well... Caste Systems and Dark History are never an Easy Read for anyone I would imagine. Crimes against Humanity and the worst people do to people is never easy to Process or confront.

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    1. Only time will tell. The party with wine should open up a new side of all of us.

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  15. Mu husband read the book & was SO impressed with it. He, also, was stunned at the history of Hitler's interest in American racism. Such a horrible human being. Anyway, good to see so many people are reading it.

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    1. I guess it's a popular book club selection...just not at Christmas time.
      What got me besides the evil of Hitler is that he not only studied our racism here in the States but that he was so sure he was doing a good thing that he documented his studies and didn't bother to cover it up that he was using them as a game plan to turn Germans against the Jews.

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  16. I'm glad it worked out so well. It sounds as if you are indeed in the right place...a blessing for you and for those of us who follow your blog. ❤️

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    1. Thank you for the blessing and I hope you have a great new year ahead of you.

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  17. It sounds as if you and your book club navigated this situation very well. What tired, tedious, sad talking points that woman put forth. She is in deep.

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  18. That book was hard to read but so important. The analogy to the caste systems of India and the Nazis are spot on. And like others, I didn't realize Hitler used our slavery/segregation system as a model. Ugh.

    Full points to you for responding to that woman. It grinds my gears when people comment on a book they didn't read. Not to mention coming in with right wing talking points. That said, I am envious of your book group...it sounds like a great mix of people who will be really interesting to interact with.

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    1. It's a good sign that we'll most of us are willing to tackle that big issues and come prepared for a meaningful discussion. Book clubs can be tricky sometimes.

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  19. An interesting example of caste systems was the highly complex social organization of Louisiana in the days of what were called Quadroons, Octaroons, and so on. I could be wrong, but I think I recall that Hitler used the 'one drop' theory in designing his own horrid systems.

    I will say this in defense of your book club member who brought up blacks enslaving blacks. That's quite true, and the repercussions still are emanating through several countries. Freed slaves who returned to Liberia set about enslaving tribal peoples from the bush, and the resentments only grew over time. The bloody coups and civil wars there were based in that division between "Americo-Liberians" and tribal peoples. Interestingly, that was more a caste division than a racial division.

    On the other hand, Liberian women played a huge role in bringing that violence to an end. If you ever need to make a film recommendation, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is available on Amazon. It's the story of how a coalition of Liberian Christian and Muslim women dressed in white, proclaimed themselves dedicated to a true peace, and took on the monstrous dictator of their country. It's so good I bought the DVD, and watch it from time to time.

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    1. Another good example of why more women should be in power today.

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  20. A book club can be fun. Hopefully it will end up being a fun thing for you all to do.

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    1. My book club doesn't always have to be fun to be worth the effort. I want to work my brain. I can read on my own but reading with a deadline and knowing I'll have to discuss what I read makes a difference.

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  21. Hello from someone on the other side of the world who used to read your blog when Cooper was with you. I thought I'd comment so you know I'm lurking here and reading the blog with interest. I noticed that Levi left this world in March 2021, which is when my dog Penny also died. The day after she died, the vets closed temporarily and the lengthy lockdowns began in Victoria (Australia), and I've always thought Penny's death changed the world, lol. I'm glad to have rediscovered you and I'll be reading your blog with interest, but probably almost never commenting. However, I did wonder if your bookclub ever reads light-hearted stories. I really enjoyed 'The Thursday Murder Club' and its sequel.
    Catherine

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    1. I remember you and Penny! Sorry to hear about her passing. Her going did change your world, so you were right! I still miss Levi.

      Our book club is brand new so we haven't gotten the opportunity to read only two books but 'The Thursday Murder Club' has been mentioned for he future. Here, our library system has what the call 'A Book Club in a Bag' which is 12 books they loan out as a group and all the clubs in town have to reserve them. (100s of titles.) We could buy or borrow books on our own but in a retirement place that's not as popular a choice as the Bag. Sometimes we'll have to wait for the more popular books to be available since we are new and haven't gotten our reservation list made yet. Next month we're suppose to do that.

      Welcome back! I'll check to see if you're still blogging.

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  22. Caste is one of the most transformative and important books I've ever read....I see the world differently and have a depth of understanding I never had before. And some people will never see anything but from their own perspective, with defensive "what about-ism" being the only analysis they can conjure. Grrr.

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    1. Unfortunately the people who could benefit the most from reading this book will never do it.

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  23. We need to have discussions like the subject of this book, over and over again. We become immune to the news and avoid discussions about subjects that affect our world. A fiction book will be a walk in the park after this.

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    1. The people who need the discussions the most are the ones who won't have them. The ones who need to to read a book like that, won't do it.

      The book we're reading now is partly set in Nazi Germany and doesn't look like a piece of cake to discuss either. I think it's going to be a while before we're able to get something light to read.

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  24. This is the kind of meaty reading I love for a book club (even if challenging for a first meeting!). One of the books I was assigned to read as a sociology major in college was *Caste and Class in a Southern Town.* The book used a close-up look at one town to examine the difference between class systems and caste systems and to explain why we have both in the US, with race forming a caste system of inequality. It tells you a lot about the impact this book had on my thinking that I can still remember the title 55 years later!

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    1. I can believe that. This is a book I won't forget. Call me naïve but 'caste' was just a term I never would have applied to America before reading this book.

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  25. Sorry I'm so late, but I'm reading Caste right now, so I had to comment. I'm nearly halfway through it, and I've been so shocked by it I keep thinking "Nothing can shock me now", and then she does. It has certainly changed the way I look at things, and feelings of shame are part of that. I remember my cousins calling Brazil nuts "n***** toes", and not understanding my mom's reaction when I called them that (I was probably 6 or 7), she made me promise never to say that word again (and it wasn't "toes"). And I, too, was horrified that Hitler used the US's example to treat their "untouchables". I'm not really proud to be an American right now.

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    1. What I am not proud of about our country is that there are so many people who deny that the Holocaust happened or who think that slavery was somehow not so bad because "other countries did it too."

      I remember Brazil nuts being called the N word too, when I was a kid.

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