An explanation for “Race is the skin, and caste is the bones.”

Racism has been widely discussed since many years ago and could be thought of as the earliest form of discrimination. However, Isabel Wilkerson says that there is another concept related to discrimination that appeared before racism. In her book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” she mentioned the concept of the “caste system.” The book was about African-Americans migrating from the South to the North in search of greener pastures. She intended to write about geography and location, but her research led her to writing about the American caste system.

Nevertheless, she released her very latest book this year titled “Caste.” In this book, she pours her sentiments on why she thinks America is operating under a caste system. She states that Race is the skin and caste is the bones, which arouses a lot of discussions and criticisms.

The statement “Race is the skin; caste is the bones.” According to Wilkerson means that caste evolved before Race. The caste system is the underlying structure formed in the past centuries and profiles individuals based on respect and access to resources. The caste system is an artificial hierarchy that an individual is born with because it was formed before America’s current generation was born. It is a structure that we live with, even though we may not be aware of it. Besides, Americans have been believing in it and have made it a culture. Hence the caste system symbolizes the rigid bones.

On the other hand, Race emerged after the caste system. According to her, it is a tool that determines where one falls or which hierarchy one falls in the case system. Therefore, it is the skin. It is more on the surface than the case system, which has sunk deep into Americans.


Wilkerson says that the case system is a grading that humans have created. It determines the standing and respect of an individual, benefits, and access to resources, beauty, and competence assumptions without their fault. For instance, African-Americans did not choose to stay unemployed or not to access housing easily. It is the caste system that has ranked them to the bottom. Were it not for the formed case system in the early years, no one could have thought of people of color always at the bottom. If the caste system ranked them equally to the whites, then racism could not have been evident in any way. Therefore, by saying that the caste is the bones and Race is the skin, Wilkerson tried to show how the caste system gave rise to a tool that dictates the position one holds in the caste system because of their color, called the Race.

What Appiah or Du Bois would think of this Idea

Both Appiah and Du Bois were sociologists concerned about African-Americans’ wellbeing considering the two were also African-Americans. In their writings, they were against African-Americans being discriminated against, and they sought to fight for their rights. They would embrace the Idea of Wilkerson. This is because Wilkerson has revived what was not talked about earlier in their days. They primarily sought to fight racism, but Wilkerson has enlightened that racism is not the problem with discrimination. This caste system not visible to many is the root problem. Since the two sociologists did not talk about the caste system, this could have been a better opportunity to find the starting point for fighting racism. According to how Wilkerson explains, to eliminate racism as a tool, the caste system must first be eliminated because it is the root of racism.

In an interview with Terry Gross, a presenter at Fresh Air, Gross asked Wilkerson how she views herself in the American caste system since she is successful as a journalist, has won many prizes, and has written useful books. Wilkerson answered that no matter her successes, even if she is considered the most successful African-American journalist, she will still be discriminated against. The reason being there is a caste that profiled people of color at the bottom no matter how successful they are. Therefore, Appiah and Du Bois would have gotten a better chance to uncover what American is hiding that Wilkerson has given light. This could have been their starting point to eliminate racism and redesign the graded grading in the caste system.

Whether this is Racial Eliminationism

This is racial eliminationism because the root cause of racism has been uncovered, and by uncovering it, it is easier to fight racism. From the example given in the above paragraph, if there were no caste system in America, racial discrimination, whether one is successful or not, could not be evident. But because the caste system is there, even if an African-American is above many Americans, their color will be used as a tool to profile them at the bottom because that is how the caste system they were born in grades them. Hence understanding the caste system could result in racial eliminationism.

What is to be gained from Thinking this way About Race

If Race is thought of as the skin and caste as the bones, racism will be eliminated in America. Even if the current generation may not be responsible for creating the caste system, it is responsible for restructuring it such that all people in America are graded as equal. An illustrative example that can be compared to this situation is a man who buys an old house. The buyer does not witness the house being built, but because he has bought it, he must make sure the house is in good condition because it has changed possession and has become his. Hence, if the house has a breakage, he must repair it. Likewise, because the American caste system has a problem of racism, it is only by restructuring it that racism will be eliminated. Therefore, thinking of the caste as the bones or the root of racism will help fight racism in America.

I personally believe that the Idea of Isabel Wilkerson could change how we think about people of color. It is not that they are incompetent; it is only that our forefathers ranked them at the bottom in the caste system. The caste underlies the infrastructure that undergirds the inequalities, injustices, and disparities that African-Americans live within America. Hence, as Americans, we should first restructure or eliminate the caste system so that racism can follow. If the caste system is favorable, there will be no basis for viewing African-Americans as inferior, and hence, there will be no racism.