Pillars of Caste: Endogamy

Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific social group, religious denomination, caste, or ethnic group, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships.  – Wikipedia

Endogamy is the third pillar of caste as enumerated by Isabel Wilkerson in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Wilkerson describes this pillar as “an ironclad foundation” or a “firewall.” When laws are enacted to prevent ethnic groups from marrying or having intimate relationships with each other, it enforces the concept of inequality. Endogamy has been used for centuries as a powerful legal means of keeping people of color below the dominant, white caste.

The practice of endogamy has powerful social repercussions. As Wilkerson noted, when there are no shared familial connections, people are less likely to feel empathy for the other caste. People in the dominant caste will not “have a personal stake in the happiness, fulfillment, or well-being of anyone deemed beneath them.” When endogamy is enforced, those in the dominant caste are more likely to see the lower caste as the enemy, as a threat, as not “our kind” of people.

Wilkerson wrote that Virginia became the first colony to prohibit marriage between blacks and whites in 1691. The majority of states followed suit, with some also outlawing marriage between whites and Asians or Native Americans. The Supreme Court overturned these laws in 1967 but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the state of Alabama repealed its law against intermarriage.

I recently read about Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose case was decided by the Supreme Court in 1967. Mildred Loving was a black/Native American woman and Richard Loving was white. The Lovings were convicted for breaking Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a law criminalizing interracial marriage. At their sentencing hearing, the trial judge said, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Although laws prohibiting interracial marriages have been repealed, the belief expressed by the trial judge still persists and not just among white supremacists. Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, wrote about what she calls “fear of a black planet.” She interviewed a member of the British National Party who fears that white people will become an ethnic minority in Britain. He “recommended” that she “get the hell out of this country” and go have kids somewhere else, connected to her own heritage. This fear of people of color (not just blacks) becoming more powerful is expressed as “taking back our country,” “preserving our national identity,” and in concerns about immigration.

Wilkerson is absolutely correct that interracial relationships lead to empathy and caring about the happiness, fulfillment and well-being of those considered as “other” in a caste system. The mixed-race little girl in the image is my adopted niece Maddie, now a college student. I have been blessed to have a Vietnamese sister-in-law and several mixed-race nieces and nephews. Every one of them deserves the same opportunities for happiness and success as my white family members.

Mixed-race relationships are not nearly as controversial as they used to be and that is a good thing, in my opinion. People should be allowed to love other people fully, regardless of skin color. But Eddo-Lodge opened my eyes to issues that come with mixed-race relationships. The increase in mixed-race marriages and mixed-race children “brings those difficult conversations about race and whiteness and privilege closer to home (literally) than ever before.”

Eddo-Lodge spoke to a mixed-race woman she called Jessica, who grew up primarily around her mother’s white family. For most of her life, Jessica didn’t talk to her family about race because she was raised in a “color-blind” way. Jessica’s family did not prepare her for what she would face in the world as a mixed-race person. Jessica’s mother never thought race was an issue for her because there were no racial incidents. But Jessica grew up feeling different because she was the only black child in class and lived in a white town surrounded by white family. I can’t help but think of my niece Maddie who also grew up in a white town surrounded by white family.

As an adult, Jessica is more conscious of race. She is more aware of and sensitive to the racism in her own family. She wonders why her family didn’t think about her needs as a mixed-race child. She wasn’t exposed to the Jamaican side of her heritage. Jessica believes that when white people are in interracial relationships, have mixed-race children, or adopt children of another race, they should be committed to being actively anti-racist.

As interracial relationships have become more accepted, I think it behooves all of us to be actively anti-racist and to have difficult conversations about race. The Almighty God created human beings in his image and He commanded us to love one another with no conditions. Proverbs 17:5 says, “whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker…” The same thing can be said for those who show contempt for people of color.

5 thoughts on “Pillars of Caste: Endogamy

  1. Our two younger daughters are Chinese. They were born there and adopted by us before they were a year old (two separate adoptions from different parts of China). They are adults now. As white parents, we knew we were bringing them not only across the globe but from a fairly homogeneous environment for them to a fairly homogeneous environment for us. We had all the tools in our toolbox to help them prepare to face what we knew they’d face. We worked with them, taught them, warned them, and loved them. But “preparing” for racism is not the same as staring it in the face, particularly the face of those you thought you knew. The older of the two shows little emotion but tends to stare back at it with a steely look. It in some ways emboldened her thirst for her identity. The younger of the two took the hits and internalized them. She would rather have denied her identity and was in no way happy about our work with her on that. Both are still works in progress but both now embrace their Chinese heritage. But it’s a tough and altogether continuing journey. When they hurt we, their parents, hurt. But we hurt differently because we aren’t the targets of racism. So the best we can do is empathize and love. Thanks for your posts over the past few months. They’re very well done and appreciated.

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  2. I was raised to never refer to people by the color of their skin. After all, I was told, we are not a box of crayons. My mother insisted that we identify people by an article of clothing they were wearing, the man with the blue shirt, etc. I am biracial. Searching for knowledge through interaction with persons from diverse cultures has always piqued my interest. Racism is a cruel as the grave. But I have met many people who share my enthusiasm for seeking others who are color blind. And guess what? We are happily fulfilling our humble lifestyles.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I live in a small, mostly white community where there are few opportunities to interact with people of other races or cultures. I am glad that your mother’s approach to race worked for you. Other people criticize whites for saying they are color blind because racism does exist. If you are white and you tell a black person that you are color blind, it may have the effect of shutting down any meaningful conversation about racism.

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      1. Yes, many people believe in the concept of Peter pays for Paul and Paul pays for all. Racism is a terrible dilemma that has existed since biblical times. But to be punitive–by criticizing those who appreciate the Creator’s diversity of humanity is a bullying tactic. Being color-blind says that I accept who you are without boundaries as long as there is respect in the relationship. I also listen to the content of the conversation and if their focus is only on the problem or blame then I remain silent. Some individuals thrive off of controversy and it takes astute observation and listening closely to determine if I can have a meaningful conversation with them. Although your physical interaction is limited you know what is in your heart and if that is “Love your neighbor” which includes everyone then you can be at peace. Enjoyed chatting with you. Thank you 😊

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