Caste in America

I had a little shock of recognition when I read Toynbee identifying America (at least at the time he was writing) as a "caste society," with blacks having the analogous position of the untouchables. I recalled the milieu of my childhood, and the general idea of who one could marry. Best, of course, was another Irish-Catholic. But most Catholics were considered pretty good choices as well. (Puerto Ricans? Maybe not.) To marry a Protestant was going to be awkward: how to bring up the kids? Still, you wouldn't be disowned. Jews were even a bit more iffy, but still generally not "You are now dead to me" territory.

No, the one group beyond the pale for potential mates was African-Americans. Marrying a black person really could get you disowned in many cases. Of course it happened, but the couple in question would often have a very difficult time fitting into either social group.

And, of course, up through the 1960s and sometimes beyond we had actual laws trying to keep this caste structure in place. But growing up, I was taught that "caste" was something bizarre and backwards that Hindus had, certainly not something that existed in the US!

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