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How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America Paperback – October 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081352590X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813525907
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Brodkin (Caring by the Hour), a professor of anthropology at UCLA, synthesizes much recent scholarship to assess the shifting notions of race?and changing objects of racism?in the U.S. She points out that racial inferiority has been ascribed to waves of immigrants only when they were used as unskilled labor. She notes how "Jewish whiteness became American whiteness" after WWII, when Jews began to speak as whites and Jewish intellectuals "contrasted themselves with a mythic blackness." A self-described secular Jew situated in leftist academic circles, Brodkin somewhat awkwardly weaves familial reflections into her otherwise academic book. While intriguing, Brodkin's treatment is hardly exhaustive. She argues that her New York parents and grandparents "lived in a time when Jews were not white"; however, that focus on Jewish racial self-assignment obscures the somewhat murkier role of Jews in the South, as well as those who ran shops or provided social services in the inner cities of the North. She repeats her overall thesis?that racism and the construction of racial identity is the foundational principle of American identity and American capitalism?over and over, but her argument is no more convincing for all the repetition.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

paper 0-8135-2590-X How Jews came, during the last three decades, to be viewed, by themselves and others, as white (having previously been considered not quite white) is the focus of this equally interesting and flawed study. By white anthropologist Brodkin (Univ. of Calif., Los Angeles; Caring by the Hour, not reviewed) means not only skin color but also an ethnic-cultural identity (something connoted by such phrases as ``WASP'' and ``mainstream American'') as well as factors such as class and labor status. Through anecdotal, sociological, historical, literary, and other cultural material, she traces the decline of American Jews' working-class values, the loss of a distinctive language (Yiddish), the development of left-liberal politics, and general ethnic cohesiveness. Brodkin has some fascinating insights into the interplay between Jewish ethnicity and gender. For example, she observes that the stereotypes of the smothering Jewish mother and of the Jewish-American Princess may well represent Jewish men's projections on to Jewish women of their own ambivalence about assimilating into the materially alluring but often culturally and spiritually shallow postwar mainstream American culture. Unfortunately, Brodkin's perspective, which draws heavily on ``African American, neo-Marxist and critical race theory,'' neglects entirely or scants a number of key factors in the growing acceptance of Jews as full-fledged whites, such as the post-Holocaust rejection of the concept of a ``Jewish race.'' Brodkin also errs in other ways, such as romanticizing the degree of ``reciprocity'' (ethnic cohesion and mutual aid) found among Lower East Side immigrant Jews. While containing a great deal of interesting material from several disciplines, including popular culture, Brodkin's book ultimately is unsatisfying because it rests on too narrow a theoretical base and contains too many unwarranted generalizations. Thus, the author fails to sustain the view that the story of the Jews' successful assimilation into ``white culture,'' during an era of persistent discrimination against those who are now known as ``people of color,'' reflects something important about the role of race in American life. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 46 people found the following review helpful By ZombiKitty on October 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
Basically, the author's premise is that Jews have been seen as white at some points in history in the United States and as not-quite-white in others. Okay, fine --- my grandparents have told me about their experiences with those different perceptions. Brodkin then tries to illustrate these changing perceptions in her book. She is only partially successful. Her arguments, which are interesting, just never totally gel and she is prone to sweeping generalizations and massive amounts of repetition to get her point across.
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28 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Shona on December 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
Despite my low rating, I found this book to be very interesting and an important statement on the dual-identity that exists among Jewish-Americans. This book could also serve as an important resource to anyone who holds an interest in the changing social definitions of race & class during late 19th century/20th century America, and how the Jewish community fared amongst those changes. Dr. Brodkin did an excellent job at finding published examples to show this changing opinion of Jews. She also made a wise choice in choosing to zero in on one of the main factors of American mobility which is family economics. In this aspect, this book should find it's way to any reading list pertaining to Jewish-American social/class identity studies.

On the other hand, I am disappointed in the writing style and tone of this book; although she did seem to "warn" the reader of this beforehand in the Acknowledgments section when she admitted that when she began her research, she did not intend to write specifically about Jewishness. That statement sort of set the stage for a pretty incoherent collection of information that is loosely worked into the book's intended purpose. For example, in Chapter 1., she devotes pages to statistics and descriptions of racist policies the FHA used to keep Black people out of suburbia. Although this information is interesting, how does it relate to Jewish people? In a much smaller span, Dr. Brodkin could have demonstrated the FHA's discrimination and then move on to how that affected Jewish migration into suburbia. She does a similar thing again in when she goes into detail about inequality in skilled labor in reference to Mexicans and Black people. Again, interesting, but there is too much information about a subject the book is not supposed to address.
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41 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on February 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
Resubmitted on 2/5/3
Dr. Brodkins' book is a fair synthesis of post -War racial scholarship and theorizing. Her personal approach is entertaining and seductive but far from being a compelling story -even though there are many aspects of the book for one to like.
As well, one can hardly disagree with her main theme that racism and racial identity is the single most important basis of a healthy self-concept in the contemporary American way of life.

Moreover, one must take careful note of what she has to say about Jewish industriousness as being a critical parameter in the route to group success against all forms of chauvinism--including anti-Semitism, sexism and racism--although it was difficult to avoid the fact that she did jump over rather quickly the issues of race and anti-Semitism to get to her main menu item, gender.

All that said however, it was painful watching her finesse the issue of Jewish racism against blacks, both before and after the events directed against European Jews; and both before and after the "gender revolution."

One reason the war against racism (and sexism) cannot be won in the way the author suggests is that once a group is admitted to the club of "being white," or being allowed, in the case of sexism, to use "the flawed white male model," it already has learned all too well how to play the role of being superior to those still remaining outside those exclusive clubs. The real problem is that the illicit rewards, both tangible and intangible, in a racist and/or sexist society are so enormous that there is hardly any incentive to do otherwise.
That passive-aggressive racism and passive-aggressive sexism are at least as dangerous as their more overt and active counterparts is hardly a secret anymore.
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19 of 31 people found the following review helpful By "jfbtaylor" on November 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
The author's examination of the "myth" of Jewish upward mobility as being due primarily to hard-work and discipline and only secondarily to the decline of explicit anti-semitic prejudice is fascinating (although hardly controversial anymore.) What is more important is how the author leverages her experiences and Jewish experiences in the U.S. as a springboard to examine how ethnoracial identities and ethnoracial assignments affect the life chances of individuals and communities today. My strongest "disappointment" with this book is the feeling that it seems somewhat academic and far too short to do its subject justice.
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26 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book, like others in the area of whiteness studies, reconfigures the way we think about race in America. Brodkin turns the debate over affirmative action on its head. When Jews argue that blacks might learn from their example in order to achieve economic and social mobility, they forget that they themselves benefited from a "Euro-male affirmative action" implemented after World War II. Jewish mainstream success was thus a result of their acceptance as whites, and less as a result of hard work and determination. Through historical and theoretical exploration of race in America, Brodkin offers a convincing case for the social construction of race and indeterminacy of the category of "white." The book is just as provocative as the title. Books like these will force us to reevaluate how we think about race today and will provoke us to question certain logic guiding our social relations that seems obvious but in truth is not.
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