On most weekdays, you can find me between the shoulders of Malcolm X and the gaze of Mahatma Gandhi. I have pictures of these legendary activists on two of the four walls in my campus office. When I stand at my desk, I sometimes think that X and Gandhi are overlooking my work and holding me accountable for my commitments to justice.
This pressure to critique the work I invest time, energy, and love into increased this week after finishing Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. While this phenomenal book does not mention Gandhi or X, it does discuss how the caste systems of India and the United States evolved. If there's one book you read in 2021, borrow, rent, download, or buy a copy of Caste.
Wilkerson’s book broadened my perspectives of race, life in the US, and the home country of my Indian colleagues. By sharing unknown details about American slavery, discrimination practices in India, and the Nazi-led Holocaust, this book helps you understand the roots of hate and the branches of inequalities that persist today.
What is caste, and how does it differ from race?
In an interview with NPR, Isabel Wilkerson offers this explanation, “I think of caste as the bones and race as the skin. And that allows us to see that race is a tool of the underlying structure that we live with, that race is merely the signal and cue to where one fits in the caste system.”
Understanding caste, the structural implications of artificial human hierarchies, can give you insight into the activism of Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, and others who continue their work today.
Popular images of Mahatma Gandhi include his hunger strikes against British colonial rule. In addition, we know him as an influencer of non-violent activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Words such as peaceful, courageous, and intellectual are often associated with Gandhi.
In deep contrast, many think of violence, black nationalism, and anger when they hear the name Malcolm X. Father, leader, and human rights champion are not often afforded to Malcolm X when discussing his influential roles. His reign in the Nation of Islam paints a distorted image of his legacy.
Sure, Gandhi and X had different methods of working toward freedom for oppressed people, but the central theme of resistance ran through their political actions.
I admire them for their commitments to justice.
Now, please hear me well. I am not comparing myself to Gandhi or X. Their activist shoes with spiritual laced shoestrings are too big to fill. However, I believe there's more that I can do to challenge injustices in this world.
My work provides solid contributions to individuals and institutions, but there are ways to improve. I can help more people. Through additional services, courses, and books I can extend my reach beyond the university's scope and the communities it serves.
What about you? Are there parts of you that believe you can do more? Take a moment and reflect.
Let’s remember the activism of Gandhi, X, and other great people who have sacrificed their lives to influence measurable and positive changes. We cannot afford to leave the growth, development, and redistribution of resources that we want to see in the hands of policymakers.
There's a movement in the US to remove critical race theory (CRT) from classrooms. Doing so would eliminate essential conversations about the contributions of X, Gandhi, and others who continue the struggle for freedom. Banning CRT is an attempt to discourage activism intended to impact today's discrimination practices with origins in caste.
In honor of Gandhi, X, and the potential for improved global communities, we must continue to explore strategies that make more meaningful contributions in education, healthcare, the judicial system, and other institutions arrested by caste. After 41 days away from Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram to examine my life’s priorities, I will return today and share this blog post. You need to also share this message with one person.