By Mackenzie Kurtz

Caste as a cap

– I wanted to create a piece to represent how we as Americans – whether knowingly or subconsciously – wear the caste system every day with little resistance.

Through this class, I have learned that the caste system is inescapable, it is something that is looming over our heads and used against us in different aspects of life depending on our own position in the caste system.

The Balaclava I have crocheted is broken up into four parts to represent the four sections of the class;

1. Reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson 2. Three days of class with Dr. Tallapragada, Dr. Brown, and Dr. Saewitz 3. Three days in Washington D.C. 4. Reflecting when its all over

Each color incorporated in the Balaclava represents an emotion that I felt or expressed during that part of the class. 7 colors are used to show 7 basic human emotions –

Joy  –   Yellow

Sadness   –   Blue

Anger   –  Red

Disgust  –   Orange

Fear   –   Purple

Darkness   –   Black

Hope   –   Pink

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson – Top of Balaclava

There were countless emotions felt while reading this book, but I wanted to simplify it down into 7 basic emotions.

I used 6 colors for the top of the balaclava – purple, red, orange, blue, pink, and yellow.

At the beginning of the book, I was fearful of the past, and for what I was about to learn. As I continued to read, the fear turned into anger. Anger towards everyone contributes to the oppressive caste system. Along with that, I felt disgusted and sad mostly while reading about slavery and the Holocaust and the relativity of the two.

The end of the book gave me so much hope, as you can see the pink and yellow at the outside of the top of the balaclava. I am hopeful for the future and what I can do with my newfound knowledge gained from Caste, and happy that I have read the book and was going to be learning more about the caste system within the next few days.

Three Days of Class – Middle of Balaclava

The middle of the balaclava consists of 17 rows to represent the three days spent learning in class with each of the three professors.

The first thing we did on the first day of class with Dr. Tallapragada shares the meaning behind our names which were powerful and gave me a lot of joy and hope for what I was about to learn and experience through this course. The rest of day 1 was spent learning about the caste system in India and its relativity to the caste system in the United States.

The second day with Dr. Brown was about African American History and slavery, which filled me with sadness and anger to hear his real-life experiences with racism and the caste system in America as a black man. By the end of day 2, I was hopeful after learning what I can do with what I have learned to better future generations – as you can see the pink in row 9.

Dr. Saewitz taught us about the Holocaust on day 3 and we had the honor of hearing a real Holocaust survivor in an interview. Hearing Dr. Saewitz’s story of seeing her family name in a Holocaust Museum in Poland filled me with anger and disgust. Hearing the Holocaust Survivor share her story filled me with darkness and fear. It was very intense and emotional to hear her story. By the end of our 3 days of class, I was extremely hopeful for the D.C. trip and the future. It took me a couple of days to process all of the information.

Washington D.C Museums and Monuments – Neck Part/Ribbing of Balaclava 

The ribbing of the balaclava represents the time spent in Washington, D.C.

On the way to D.C and my first introductions with my classmates filled me with hope and I started to become inspired by the people around me.

On day 1 in D.C., I went to the Holocaust Museum. As you can see, there was a lot of darkness and sadness felt as I toured this museum. The stories of Nazi Germany were impactful and made me viscerally emotional.

Day 2 we discussed what we had seen the day before and related topics, processing what we had learned as a class. We also visited the MLK Jr. Monument this day. This was very inspiring and made me hopeful for our projects and the future in general.

On the final day, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture. On the balaclava, this starts at the purple shown in the picture on the right. The beginning of the tour was fearful and dark. Learning about how the slaves were brought to America was extremely upsetting and dark. As I continued, I was visibly emotional while learning about the history of African Americans in the United States. It is important to learn about the dark history of America in order to not forget. The end of the museum gave me hope as they displayed the successes of American Americans present day.

By the end of this trip, I was hopeful for the future, even more than when we arrived. I left with a feeling of gratitude and inspiration.

Reflection and Processing – Trim of Balaclava 


As you can see, the trim of the Balaclava is pink in the face area and yellow in the bottom trim.

As I reflect on the past three days and process the information, I felt extremely hopeful for the future. The hope that I can share what I learned and hope to learn more.

I wanted to conclude the balaclava with yellow to show the joy I feel as I reflect on the week spent with this group and everything leading up to it. The knowledge gained and the friendships that formed are irreplaceable.

I have learned that it is imperative to talk about the caste system in order to dismantle it.

I need to use my own privilege as a white, upper-caste person to speak for those in the lower castes who do not have a voice as I do. As well as educate the people around me to carry on this information and knowledge.

As I continue through life, I want to constantly be checking my privilege and using it to propel people without it. It is a constant process of learning, unlearning, and relearning.