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Written by on February 4, 2021

Story by Chuck Tackett


Author “Caste: The Origins of our Discontents” Isabel Wilkerson – “They (Non-White immigrants) faced the painful dilemma of either rejecting the lowest caste of indigenous African Americans or making common cause with those who fought so that they could enter the country, to begin with.”

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s as a child, pre-teen, and as a teenager, I always had this weird sense of being Black was juju. I had noticed that it seemed other people of color were not as reviled by Whites as my race was.

I was raised in an all-Black Catholic Church and grade school. Catholic grade schools are from 1st grade to 8th grade. Our high schools are from 9th to 12th grade.

At the end of my 7th grade, the Archdiocese closed my Church and school and merged us with another Church/grade school in the hood. Like clockwork, about 98% of the White congregation moved away. My last year in my new grade school, there was only one white kid in my class. As a pre-teen, when they closed my all-Black Catholic church/grade school, it was during the summer of 1968. I read our Catholic Archdiocese magazine. In that magazine, there was a report. It referred to my former Church/school as missionary work.

I felt an uneasiness in my pre-teen gut, especially when I read their report on the Kansas City, Kansas Latino Catholic churches/grade schools I never recalled the term “missionary work” labeled to them. Being referred to as “missionary work,” made me wonder whether the Bishop of our Archdiocese looked at us as the Blacks being portrayed in 1930s era Tarzan movies, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Margaret O’ Sullivan. It was then that I began to realize Blacks were much more despised than my other Non-White brethren. They were not seen as a threat, in my opinion, in that particular era.

Recently, openly Gay MSNBC news anchor, Jonathon Capehart, reminded me of those times. I had to smile. I was more intuitive at that young age, during those more so-called innocent times, than I thought. Mr. Capehart addressed how Vice President Harris’s mom, Kaymala Gopalan, who is from India, dealt with this type of American caste system.

Jonathon expressed. “In her brilliant book ‘Caste: The Origins of our Discontents,’ Isabel Wilkerson explored the entrenched system racial hierarchy in the United States, that put Black Americans way at the bottom.

She writes about the race to get under the White tent of how the American caste system is an “all or nothing” gambit for the top rung.

Wilkerson writes that this was especially true for immigrants, who learned to keep their distance from Blacks, lest they find themselves cast in the lesser rung with them.

Wilkerson argues that, for immigrants of color, a choice had to be made. Many of these immigrants were only able to come to this country as a result of changes brought about by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Changes like the end to the race-based quotas that outright banned Asians, Indians, and Arab immigrants, signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

According to Wilkerson, Immigrants of color found the painful dilemma of either representing the lowest cast of indigenous African Americans, or common cause with those who fought, so that they could enter the country, to begin with.

For Shaymala Gopalan, there was no dilemma. She was 19 years old when she left her family in southern India in 1958 to pursue a doctorate at UC Berkley. She quickly found herself marching in Civil Rights demonstrations and becoming rooted in Oakland’s Black community.

It was at those marches; she met her husband and where their two daughters were baptized into politics to public service.

The oldest daughter is Kamala Harris, now the Vice President of the United States.

In her 2019 memoir, ‘The Truths We Hold,’ Harris makes a statement about her mother that is even more powerful, in light of what Wilkerson wrote. 

Harris writes. ‘My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud, Black women.’

Harris went to Howard University, the brightest beacon of America’s historic Black universities and colleges.

There she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha – “SKEE WEE!!!” The first Black sorority in America.

There she cemented her identity as a proud Black woman.

Harris wrote ‘That was the beauty of Howard. Every signal told students that we could be anything– that we were young, gifted, and Black, and we shouldn’t let anything get in the way of our success. At Howard, you could come as you were, and leave as the person you aspired to be. There were no false choices.’

And this brings me back to Shaymala Gopalan. For as much as we celebrate Vice President Harris, we should be in awe of her mother. A woman who Harris says chose, and was welcomed to, and enveloped in the Black community.

That is what makes Harris’s ascension more powerful to me and more remarkable for our nation. At a time when America openly rob bed Blacks of our dignity and treated us as unworthy of respect. Gopalan chose us, and it was a choice that, decades later, would help change America, save America.”

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Reader's opinions
  1. Starla Carr   On   February 4, 2021 at 8:52 pm

    I enjoy Chuck’s Chat so much. This article is so important in these times. The immigrant stories are important.

  2. Cecilia   On   February 12, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    Thank You for this article….VERY, Very, very WELL STATED and APT…I was, just last night, in a space of well-meaning, multi-racial, anti-racist organizers, who lamented over choices of non-BlCk POC immigrants who try to “pass” in every way that they can….even as white and POC anti-racist activists, they were empathetic and sympathetic to POC‘a internalized racism…AND…their own racism.

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