How Jews became white folks and what that says about race in America
Rutgers University Press
, 1998 - History
- 243 pages
We fashion identities in the context of a wider conversation about American nationhood, to whom it belongs & what belonging means. Race & ethnicity, class, gender, & sexuality are all staple ingredients in this conversation. They are salient aspects of social being from which economic practices, political policies, & popular discourses create "Americans." Because of all these facets of social being have such significant meaning on a national scale, they also have major consequences for both individuals & groups in terms of their success & well-being, as well as how they perceive themselves socially & politically. The history of Jews in the United States is one of racial change that provides useful insights on race in America. Prevailing classifications have sometimes assigned Jews to the white race & at other times have created an off-white racial designation for them. Those changes in racial assignment have shaped the ways American Jews of different eras have constructed their ethnoracial identities. The author illustrates these changes through an analysis of her own family's multi-generational experience. She shows how Jews experience a kind of double vision that comes from racial middleness: on the one hand, marginality with regard to whiteness; on the other, whiteness & belonging with regard to blackness. Class & gender are key elements of race-making in American history. The author suggests that this country's racial assignment of individuals & groups constitutes an institutionalized system of occupational & residential segregation, is a key element in misguided public policy, & serves as a pernicious foundational principle in the construction of nationhood. Alternatives available to non-white & alien "others" have been either to whiten or to be consigned to an inferior underclass unworthy of full citizenship. The American ethnoracial map - who is assigned to each of these poles - is continually changing, although the binary of black & white is not. As a result, the structure within which Americans form their ethnoracial, gender, & class identities is distressingly stable. The author questions the means by which Americans construct their political identities & what is required to weaken the hold of this governing myth.