I’m sure they think they’re being clever.

By “they” I’m referring to the as-yet-unidentified clods who have been leaving nooses in Amazon’s under-construction Windsor, Connecticut fulfillment center. If, through some modest number of degrees of separation you’re acquainted with any of the perpetrators, please disabuse them of their self-image.

You also might consider taking advantage of the $100,000 reward Amazon is offering. And you might take a moment to admire Amazon for deciding to halt construction until the case is solved. This was not a low-cost/maximize short-term profits decision.

Hats off, and ask yourself if you and your company would have been willing to do the same.

But … who could possibly resist this? … someone might consider explaining to Amazon’s construction management group that they can get a terrific deal on surveillance cameras on Amazon.com (or, because they’re a one-time client and fine group of folks, on bhphoto.com).

In trying to understand just what the hell is wrong with these people you might be tempted to read Caste: The origins of our discontents (Isabel Wilkerson, 2020). Wilkerson’s premise is that the racial disparities and related social issues here in the U.S. exist because we (whoever “we” is) have structured our society as a caste system (no surprise there given the title).

Neither racism nor classism are the lead story, although they play important supporting roles.

You might be tempted to read Wilkerson’s tome, but I’d advise against it, because of two irritations and two major failings.

The irritations come first because they are, after all, irritating:

(1) Wilkerson writes about current events as if they’re being studied by some future high-school students who were, until encountering her book, completely ignorant of the events of the past few years; and

(2) she writes as if she’s paid by the word. By my informal assessment her average page contains just about enough information to fill a simple declarative sentence.

The major failings?

The first: Wilkerson treats caste as if the American colonies invented it out of nothing that came before. The fact of the matter is that the American caste system Wilkerson decries has its origins in the European system of aristocracy our early leaders came from.

I would, by the way, love to read an explanation of how a Europe ruled by the Roman Empire evolved into a Europe dominated by a hereditary ruling class. I know that it happened but don’t know how it happened, and I’m pretty sure this story is essential to any understanding of a posited American caste system.

The second major failing is one every employee who has ever escalated a problem to his or her boss will recognize. Our prototypical employee’s boss doesn’t and isn’t supposed to offer to fix the problem. The boss’s script reads, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”

You won’t find solutions in Caste.

But while this is a major flaw, it’s hard to be too critical about it. After all, if there were any simple, easy solutions to American bigotry we probably would have figured them out by now.

Meanwhile, I do have to give Wilkerson some credit. Her central thesis, restated, points out that, in our society at least, many of us need someone or group of someones to look down on. The idea that this need underlies much of the racial and ethnic bias in this country – that they are consequences and not root causes – is worth exploring.

I doubt your workplace is festooned with nooses, and that’s assuming your organization even has physical workplaces in its post-COVID-19 configuration.

But it isn’t at all unlikely that many of your colleagues share the need to have some identifiable group to look down on, and might have fewer inhibitions about sharing their choice than they used to.

The best way to deal with this if you hear it is to be prepared – to know in advance what you’ll say so you aren’t caught off-guard.

Bob’s last word: In the end, none of this is particularly new. The issue of caste overlaps the equally nasty, and probably more pernicious issue of stereotyping, covered, for example, here: “And, yet again, it’s the culture,” KJR, 6/8/2020.

In my admittedly unscholarly opinion, if you want to do your part in combatting bigotry, challenging stereotypes and the need to sort people into groups wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Bob’s sales pitch: KJR and its predecessor, InfoWorld’s IS Survival Guide, has covered a wide range of topics over the past 25(!) years. The Archives page itself continues to wait for the plug-in vendor to release a version compatible with WordPress 5.7.2, but you can still use Search to access the entire collection.

So if you need KJR’s advice about anything, please take advantage of its archives. That’s what they’re there for.