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Misleading: Oprah's Comments on Caste

Layne Radlauer Layne Radlauer
10th October 2020
Misleading: Oprah's Comments on Caste
Her statements have been misinterpreted (Getty Images).

The Claim

Oprah said that the “template for Nazi Germany” came from the American “caste system.”

Emerging story

Oprah currently has a web series called Oprah’s Book Club, where she conducts interviews with authors. In an October 9, 2020 interview with Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, she discussed hereditary class systems in America, Nazi Germany, and India. Many on social media said that she compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany.

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Misbar’s Analysis

The claims suggest that Oprah said that America has a caste system akin to Nazi Germany. These headlines are taking her comments out of context. Caste exploresthe 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." Racism and casteism do overlap, she writes, noting that "what some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system."

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Many claim that Oprah was saying that America has provided a framework for Nazi Germany’s racial hierarchy. However, her comments were misinterpreted. Oprah was referring to eugenics, which is, in essence, breeding people to promote certain traits.


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As one might imagine, eugenics is a central part of many racist ideologies including that of the Nazis. While the theory of eugenics originated in the UK, it was unfortunately popular amongst some Americans (although there were many critics). Some argue that it was Americans themselves who spread eugenics to Nazi Germany. They even publicly said that they were inspired by the sterilization program in California.

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