Soul to Soul

On June 27, Erika Washington, Executive Director of Make It Work Nevada, and I discussed the book: CASTE: The Origins of Ours Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. The book explains that while caste systems exist globally, it achieves its most violent manifestation in the treatment of American Blacks.

What is Soul to Soul?

Soul to Soul - Universal Ideas for a Brighter Tomorrow
This show is a free-for-all of positive energy that will include discussions about books, music, politics. books, food, COVID-19, oral interviews, books, and Las Vegas History. I will invite people from the community, all college and university campuses, businesses, and organizations for chats to connect hearts and souls throughout the city.

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Nevada System of Higher
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Good morning. This is soul to
soul, universal ideas for a

brighter tomorrow.

This show is a free for all a
positive energy that will

include book discussions, music,
politics, books, food COVID-19,

oral interviews, books, and Las
Vegas history. So this morning,

I am so honored to have Erica
Washington with me, Erica, as

most of you know, is the
executive director of make it

work Nevada. She is the mother
of three community activists and

a former journalists at the
center of a voice, that

newspaper that we miss so much.
Today Erica and I are going to

discuss cast cast is a book the
entire title is cast the origins

of our discontents about Isabel
Wilkerson. And we're gonna

discuss the book today is a
heavy book, we want you to

relax, we want you to just go
with us on this journey. So how

are you this morning, Erica?

I'm wonderful. I'm so excited to
be here. Um, I'm really, you

know, looking forward to this
conversation is just a delight

to be able to have these
conversations and to do it where

we are less than six feet apart.
So I'm so excited to be able to

see you and hug you. We take
those things for granted. And I

won't do that again.

That's correct. I won't either.
So yes, let's jump right in. So

cast is a book about America, as
it is juxtaposed with Germany,

Nazi Germany, and India because
of the caste system. So do you

think is too harsh, that we
actually discuss this country in

relationship with those two
places?

No, not at all. I think what
Isabel Wilkerson did in this

book was really unearth the
connections between all of these

things, because I I feel as
though a lot of times when we

talk about the enslavement of
black people in the United

States that it feels insular,
like, it was just here, like it

was just, you know, something
that happened. And then it

wasn't a part of a ripple effect
of what happened in other

places, and what other places
happen there. And how it was a

jump off point for the idea of
enslaving and having certain

human beings be less than
others. So I think it's a great

comparison. And I also think
it's unnecessary comparison,

because there's a lot of
conversation around what

happened in Germany and the
Holocaust. And it's always very

separate from from slavery. And
I think maybe because people

think we're so far apart from
each other. But the way that she

breaks it down that they
actually they were looking at

what America was doing as a as a
guideline. So I mean, I think

that that needs to be shouted
from the rooftops is like we

gave them and we by America gave
the blueprint for the Holocaust,

and for what happened to
millions of Jewish folks in Nazi

Germany, and in some of the
stuff they thought was too

harsh. So no one you know, we
talk about the Holocaust in a

way of How atrocious it was, and
people are ready to say that out

loud. And I guess it's because
Hitler's dead. And I don't know,

I, I, you know, would love the
answer as to why we are able to

look at the Holocaust and look
at what happened in Nazi Germany

as being so terrible, but at the
same time, look at something

that lasted even longer in the
United States, as it was just

something that happened. It was
just how people thought back

then I don't understand how they
how we can make such a

distinction that way. But
knowing that even in Nazi

Germany, some of the stuff that
they looked at that slave owners

did to oppress, enslave black
folks that they thought that was

weird and too harsh. Isn't that

something? So that's part of the
book that surprised me to no

end. I think the most powerful
one single sentence was when the

15 year old African American
Girl was asked toward the end of

World War Two. So what should we
do with Hitler? And her answer

was put him in black skin and
let him live in America. So I

thought that was Just so
revealing, and that someone as

young as 1516 years of age would
understand what is happening in

the two places,

because it's just it. I can
imagine in her life of saying

how your parents or
grandparents, your loved ones

around you, your neighbors are
constantly oppressed, I think

about Tulsa, and what happened
in what some folks call Black

Wall Street. But you know, just
really just a community tried to

live trying to thrive. And when
everything went down after the

fact, I was, I've been recently
listening to some podcasts

around, you know, what happened
in in the massacre. And one

particular one, it was new
information to me that many were

kind of hauled off into sort of
an internment camp, and they

couldn't leave unless they had a
white person to vouch for them

to say that they were okay. Can
you imagine being a business

owner owning something, and
thriving, owning your own home,

having children having all these
things, and you need somebody to

vouch for you as a person that
you could just walk around,

because your home has been
ruined? Your businesses have

been destroyed, so you have
nothing? So they put you in an

internment camp, they don't know
who you are, they claim, so they

just put you there for a while
before they can determine what

is going to happen to you.

But why does someone get to
determine what happens to me?

Well, they

just burned down your whole
village, your whole area of the

city, your Wall Street, your
Black Wall Street, they've just

burned it down. So yes, they can
make that decision. And they

did.

And that's the caste system.

That's the caste system. And

I think that, you know, that
main question around talking

about race or talking about
caste, I think that, if we put

it in the terms of caste, I
think it's actually probably

easier for folks to understand
what that is, because, you know,

at least in India, and and I'm
not advocating for anything, as

far as a caste system in India,
but at least they're, they had

some sort of through line of
that it was, you know, certain

jobs that you had or what have
you. And so you are in these in

these different little buckets
of, of society, whereas it was,

I mean, there's still skin color
issue, you know, in Indian and

everywhere, actually, anyone
with that can actually have some

melanin in them, you know, they
were taught that that was bad,

even though it's beautiful. And
it's, you know, it keeps us

safe, but to have have the
system set up the way that they

did, and in a lot of it based on
religion, as well, as opposed to

just being we snatched you from
somewhere, and you are less

than, and that's it. And that's
the final thing. And so, for me,

I think in reading the book,
which, which I told you was

hard, you know, I started the
book multiple times. And it's,

it's such an important book to
read. And it was such full of

information, but it was heavy,
like, not just physically, it's,

you know, she's had, she's got
she's got a bigger book, you

know, her first book is a lot
bigger. But this book made me so

sad. Like, literally, you know,
I have both the physical copy of

the book, and I got the audio
version, and I'm listening to

it. And I'm like, I am so sad.
Like, I don't know what to do

with this information. I don't
know how to properly just digest

it. Because it feels so
insurmountable.

It's hard to process.

It's really hard to process. I

can't imagine her writing this
book. I think it has taken the

10 years between books for her
to write this one. The research

is so wonderfully done. And like
you said a few minutes ago when

you walked in, it makes your
heart

it makes it my heart hurt. It
makes it heavy, because I I have

children. I love black children
that I want them all to grow up

to have the best that they are
able to do. And we tell our

children that and sometimes it
feels like a lie. Now, yes, we

have progressed in many ways.
But that progression even feels

like it's at the mercy of the
master that even having the

holiday of Juneteenth is at the
mercy of the master. They're

allowing us to celebrate
something that many of us have

been celebrating for many, many
years, of course, and now it's

opened up but they did it so
quickly. Without there's no

there's no back information, or
education around what Juneteenth

is it was just like it was sign,
bam, a lot of people got got the

day off. But you know, it feels
like we're getting permission to

celebrate.

So let's talk about what's
behind that because in this

book, she talks about systemic
racism. So let's talk about

that. What you do in make it
work, Nevada and all of your

community activism. Now, we've
had 400 years of systemic

racism. We're talking about
slavery, Jim Crow, up until

today. So what part of that do
you feel comfortable talking

about housing, criminal justice,
medical care, education?

banking, employment, it just
goes on and on

the list doesn't end. I think so
and make it work in Nevada we

advocate for and with black
women around economic, racial,

reproductive and environmental
justice issues. So inside of

those buckets would include
affordable childcare, equal pay,

pay family, affordable housing,
maternal mortality issues. So it

covers all of the things, right,
because I believe that in order

for us to actually get to a
place of liberation and freedom

is that we have to attack them
all. At the same time, we can't

work on one issue. If we have
one issue, then you know, and

just all of a sudden, I say all
the time, if you have a mom who

is single, who is, you know,
being at at a low paid job, not

making, you know, a living wage,
which is anything under about

$20 an hour at this point. So
that's a lot of people. And

maybe they're able to get
affordable childcare great. So

they have affordable childcare,
but they're still not making

enough money to pay all their
bills, and then you add on the

cost of living just for an
apartment, or trying to buy a

home or anything like that, you
know, it makes it still

prohibitive. So you're still
struggling, right. And then you

add in, you know, if you don't
have paid leave, and something

happens, your child is sick or
you are sick, and then and then

you have to take time off, and
you don't have any sort of paid

time off, and then you get
behind, and then you end up

going to a check cashing place
and paying high interest. It

just goes on and on forever. And
it keeps you in that cycle. So

for us, we're always trying to
just tackle everything at once.

So if we're with a family who is
in that cycle, all of us are at

some level. But if you're at
that basic place where the child

care can throw you off, where if
you're stopped by the police,

and you're put in jail, and you
may be innocent, but you lose

the job, then you can lose the
apartment after a few days. How

do you start with the family?
What do you do first?

For me, it's all about
storytelling. I go back to my

roots of journalism. I love
listening to people tell me

about themselves. I love asking
questions. And I think it starts

with knowing that one you're not
alone, that this is a issue that

affects so many people, but we
sometimes we keep it to

ourselves, because no one wants
to have that conversation, say I

can't afford my rent, I can't
afford my car payment, you know,

I'm behind on this, you know,
that's like airing your dirty

laundry in in the streets. And
you know, that's not something

my grandparents would have,
would have allowed, just like

you keep your home stuff home.
But when we do that, we also

suffer in silence and in the
silos where people have made us

feel like it's our fault that we
can't afford X, Y and Z. But we

recently posted a meme, I think
on our Twitter, and we said what

if an employer hires you at
poverty wages, they want you to

be in poverty. So think about
that, think about somebody wants

you to be were in poverty, they
don't want you to have better,

they don't want you to be able
to not only make ends meet, but

also have ends overlap. So you
have some savings, so that you

can help yourself when there's a
safety net. So you can create

your own safety net, that's not
possible at eight, nine $10 an

hour. And it's not possible
without benefits, health care,

benefits, as well as paid leave
or pay sick days, any of that

having childcare options, having
that flexible schedule, if you

need to stay home with a child,
all of those things are

required. And I also believe
that when we talk to folks,

sometimes we have to convince
them that they they deserve

more. It's like, well, this is
what this job offers, or this is

just how it is it's like no, you
deserve to have those things.

It's not about having a college
degree or having a job with a

certain sort of salary. Just as
a human being you deserve to

have dental insurance. So you
can go to the dentist, we all

have teeth, don't we? And we
need them to survive because we

need to be able to eat so why is
it that some people get and

others don't? basic necessities.
And I think if we can get back

to that point, when we're
talking to people, tell me your

story, tell me what's going on.
Let's talk about what could be

better, what is the world you
want to live in look like?

So I love that idea. So you
know, I'm an oral historian. So

I love that idea. When we
started talking about caste, we

really didn't give a good
definition to our audience. So

we know that this is tied all
together with white supremacy

and anything other than that is
at a lower rung on the ladder.

Throughout this book, she gives
many definitions of what caste

is I'm just going to read one of
the short ones. Caste is the

granting or withholding of
respect, status, honor,

attention, privileges,
resources, benefit of the doubt

and human kindness to someone on
the basis of their perceived

rank or standing in the
hierarchy. And she has so many

other definitions but what you
just talked about when you sit

down with someone Who is going
through issues? You explained

exactly what it is.

I wonder if people, you know,
it's what this just made me

think about watching like, oh
period peace movies of like, I

think like The Princess Bride,
if you remember. And they were

peasants. And then there were,
you know, the royalty or what

have you. And I love the
Princess Bride, I watched it. I

don't know how many times as a
kid, I never thought about it.

But I never thought about myself
as a peasant. You know, as

somebody, you know, at the
bottom rank of anything, I was

just, you know, I'm kid living
my life, in Detroit or whatever.

But in the end that's sort of in
that in when we look at that

hierarchy. When we look at caste
system here in America, we are

all peasants. We are all at the
anyone who is not, you know, in

that 1%. Basically, we are all
peasants, and we're doing the

work to help keep them afloat,
which is why so many people made

so much money during the during
a COVID-19. And other people are

on the streets.

So this, her first book that
we've mentioned several times

now was the warmth of the sons.
And it's about the great

migration. Part of that great
migration came right here to Las

Vegas, some to Los Angeles, some
to New York, Chicago, all kinds

of places. But most of us don't
know that we write here, a part

of that great migration that
starts during World War One. And

it progresses into the 1970s
people trying to get away to

have a better life. And that's
what it was all about. So in her

book, she talks about a person
who comes here, she talks about

Jimmy gay, I don't know if you
remember who he is, but he came

here as a mortician educated.
But when he got here, he was not

allowed to become a mortician
could not take the exam. first

black person to try to take it,
he had to wait nine years.

Eventually, someone where he
worked part time said, if he

doesn't take the exam, no one
else will pass it because that

person was on the board. So we
see it is not just the South, we

see it all over the country.

I remember back in my Sentinel
voice days, I had opportunity to

interview so many great people.
I think that is the reason why I

am in the position I am in is
because I had those

opportunities to soak up and
learn so many things, because I

moved here a little over 13
years ago. And I'll be honest, I

didn't know anything about Las
Vegas, and certainly not about

black, Las Vegas. And that
there, there were so many issues

of segregation. When you learned
about segregation, you think

it's only in the south. And I
interviewed both Dr. Ruby

Duncan, and then also Marian
Bennett, Reverend Marian Bennett

before he passed away. And I
remember talking to Reverend

Bennett. And he said that when
they moved here he was he was

kind of shocked at how how poor
it was, and you know, didn't

have inside toilets and things
like that. He was like, where

did I just come to where like I
came from better than this, like

this is supposed to be better.
And so I wonder I made that

connection in the book around
immigrants and immigrants coming

here. And it's a long way to
travel by boat, or however, to

come here and have this idea of
what America is and then get

here and find out that it's not
what we thought it was, but then

still playing the game that it
is more than what it is and that

whole American exceptionalism.
And I feel like there are so

many immigrants that are non
black immigrants that came here,

you know, and they lost who they
were because they they conformed

into the caste system so that
they could have this power and

they and it wasn't and it was
not for nothing that is

traveling across this this new
into this new world and leaving

everything behind whatever what
have you to come over here and

find out they were going to be
treated crappy too, because they

weren't from the Caucasus
mountains or what have you. They

were Sicilian. or what have you
that at some point, they got to

be white, because it was better
for them. And it gave them what

they need it to make it worth
their while, I think to come

here, but at the same time, I
wonder it's like, but you lost

who you are, you really didn't
lose who you were in order to

have some sort of power and what
is this power really done for

you?

Well, we come here for a better
life. And so we have different

definitions for that. But that's
that's the reason that the

migrants all come here.

Yeah, I think Ruby Duncan also
told me that when she came here,

she, you know, she just you
know, she didn't want to work in

the fields anymore. And you
know, it wasn't it, it felt like

a great idea to be able to come
here and work in the hotels, it

sounded very glamorous at some
point, not knowing that people

were going to treat her the way
that they did. She probably had

some expectation, but not to the
extent that it was and so it was

almost like starting over and
having to fight for the same

some of the same stuff that she
had just left.

Exactly. And Ruby is a good
example of this book and exactly

what we want to talk about Ruby
He had an accident, where she

was working in the kitchen of
one of the popular hotels here,

someone had allowed some oil
cooking oil, it spilled on the

floor. So when she came into
work in the morning, it was

there in a puddle. She didn't
see it because she had trays of

food. And she slipped down and
she broke her hip. And as you

know, now, Ruby has never
actually recovered from that.

And that's why she started
advocating for women welfare

rights, because the culinary
union nor the hotel, stood up

and gave her what she deserved.
So she had to go on welfare, and

she made it work for herself.
And

you know, people say welfare,
like it's such a dirty word,

instead of what it's supposed to
be. It's supposed to be a as

part of the social contract that
we will take care of each other

when something happens. So when
someone has an accident like

that, they should have the time
to recover and still be able to

take care of themselves and
their kids. Because there are

very few people I think that
just like, don't want to work

that don't want to do anything.
No one wants to live that way.

But it's a matter of what are
the opportunities available? And

then and how can I get a hold of
those opportunities and get the

tools that I need so that I
can't have upward mobility.

And we we think of people as so
they call us lazy, if we have to

go on welfare. These are women
who picked cotton in the south

in the hot sun. And I'm not just
talking about the 80 pounds that

I could pick, I'm talking about
100 200 pounds of cotton per

day, you have no idea what
that's like,

I don't even pick 80 pounds.

They wanted to send me out of
the fields because I couldn't do

enough. But that's what it's
like. And then you come here and

someone calls you lazy, right?

Right. I just listen, this goes
back to me saying about the book

being so heavy, because how do
we move past these systems that

have been created and not just
created, but then built upon.

And every law all of these voter
suppression laws that have

sprung up over the past few
months? This is all just more

building blocks into the caste
system of saying, Who has the

right to live? Who has the right
to have an opinion and to vote?

Where do we even really start to
like dig down and break that

down into to not existence? I

guess. So we're running out of
time. So let's I want to ask a

few questions. I have a stack of
books beside my bed me to that.

I know reading about five at a
time just trying to get through

some of them. What are some of
the books that you think we

should read? Anything special?

Well, I mean, The Warmth of
Other Suns is certainly one of

the books on my shelf. There are
so many hands on the freedom

plow is also really good man, I
should have wrote down a list

because I'm gonna miss a lot of
good ones I think song and a

weary throat, I have to find the
the author, I can't remember the

author of that one off the top
of my head. I'm reading some

books about midwives right now
Alabama, Alabama midwife,

because as everything else goes,
you know, we were sort of we

were the ones helping to bring
life into this world. And then

all of a sudden, people just
weren't allowed to be midwives

anymore. And we lost a lot, I
think with that. So that's been

really interesting for me to
read, man. They're just so many

I should have wrote down some.
Jodi Picoult is actually one of

my favorite fiction authors. I
like her too. Yes. And that book

is called, I think small things
want something small things. I'm

gonna cheat. But that is a great
book about realizing how your

race matters. In in in when you
have a quote, unquote, made it

in a certain way. Yes.

That shows you what white
privilege is, even though you

think you've made it. We have
another book here on campus by

AB Wilkinson. It's about mulatos
that everybody should read. And

then we have another one called
Jumping the room, the broom, by

Tiger Perry. And it has all of
that research. So the research

behind this book that we're
talking about today in the

research behind those two books
that I just mentioned, talks

about slavery and what it was
like a bees book starts by

talking about the owner of this
woman cutting off her ears. And

it just made me scream as I'm
starting the book is just so

powerful. I think, Oh, the Jodi
Picoult book is small. Great

thing. That's it. I want to make
sure I get that right. But it

was it's fiction, but it's the
world definitely. So there's

just so many like I I am
obsessed with buying books, even

if I can't get through them all
at one point At some point, I'm

gonna have time and I just want
them available.

Well, we have to stop. I'm sad.
Yes. I just want to thank you so

much for being here with me
talking about this book talking

about our city. And even though
we talk about all of these kinds

of books, we know that there is
hope. Am I right? Yes, I

told you, I'm trying to get
there. I'm trying to get there.

I keep hope I you know, I can't
do this work and not have hope.

But there are some days and some
readings that I do that make

that hope really, really hard
to, to lift up higher, but we

have no choice. I have children.
You know, hopefully my children

will have children and and will
we they will do better, there

will be better. So and I
appreciate being here. I'm so

thankful that you asked me. I
sort of fangirled out when you

asked me so hopefully I come
back again one day. I'm super

excited to have this
conversation with you. Thank

you.

Wonderful. Thank you so much,
Erica,

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