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When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America [Paperback]

by Ira Katznelson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 17, 2006 0393328511 978-0393328516 Reprint

A groundbreaking work that exposes the twisted origins of affirmative action.

In this "penetrating new analysis" (New York Times Book Review) Ira Katznelson fundamentally recasts our understanding of twentieth-century American history and demonstrates that all the key programs passed during the New Deal and Fair Deal era of the 1930s and 1940s were created in a deeply discriminatory manner. Through mechanisms designed by Southern Democrats that specifically excluded maids and farm workers, the gap between blacks and whites actually widened despite postwar prosperity. In the words of noted historian Eric Foner, "Katznelson's incisive book should change the terms of debate about affirmative action, and about the last seventy years of American history."

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When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America + The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rather than seeing affirmative action developing out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Katznelson (Desolation and Enlightenment) finds its origins in the New Deal policies of the 1930s and 1940s. And instead of seeing it as a leg up for minorities, Katznelson argues that the prehistory of affirmative action was supported by Southern Democrats who were actually devoted to preserving a strict racial hierarchy, and that the resulting legislation was explicitly designed for the majority: its policies made certain, he argues, that whites received the full benefit of rising prosperity while blacks were deliberately left out. Katznelson supports this startling claim ingeniously, showing, for instance, that while the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act was a great boon for factory workers, it did nothing for maids and agricultural laborers—employment sectors dominated by blacks at the time—at the behest of Southern politicians. Similarly, Katznelson makes a strong case that the GI Bill, an ostensibly color-blind initiative, unfairly privileged white veterans by turning benefits administration over to local governments, thereby ensuring that Southern blacks would find it nearly impossible to participate. This intriguing study closes with suggestions for rectifying racial inequality, but its strongest merit is its subtle recalibration of a crucial piece of American history. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Katznelson places into contemporary context the cause of racial inequity that is directly related to government policies, which are widely believed to benefit blacks but which have actually benefited whites. He eschews the more generalist focus on slavery and white supremacy as the causes of racial inequality and focuses on government policies of the New Deal and post-World War II distribution of veteran benefits. He identifies in a practical sense government policies, most of which appear neutral on their face, that were designed to restrict blacks and, in fact, impeded them from progressing commensurate with white America. The war economy and labor needs expanded opportunities for blacks and substantially reduced economic disparities. But postwar policies to promote home ownership and labor laws regarding minimum wages deliberately excluded blacks. Other policies providing the engine that produced today's middle class, including the GI benefits that financed college education, reinforced the discriminatory patterns. By connecting the dots, Katznelson provides the foundational basis that justified affirmative action for blacks, as the disparities are an outgrowth of government policies and practices. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393328511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393328516
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
84 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story of Hidden Prejudice September 25, 2005
As I read this book I was reminded of the Broadway play and subsequent movie '1776' about the creation of the Declaration of Independence. In the play the Southern representatives agreed to support the Declaration only if words prohibiting slavery were taken out. Politics is the art of compromise, and without the Southern states there would have been no Declaration. So slavery was left in.

In the time of Roosevelt the Southern politicians had enough clout to stop all of the New Deal legislation if it were made truly color blind. As is often the case, it took a politician from the affected states to force legislation through the Congress to right this wrong. Lyndon Johnson had been in long enough that he truly understood how to get what he wanted through the congress.

In this book, the author explains how nominaly racially blind legislation and programs were in fact deliberatly and subtly were able to exclude blacks from participation. He uses this to make a plea to eliminate poverty and inequality in America.
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70 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book is right on the mark October 4, 2005
Regarding the comments of Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Frantzman: yes, blacks may have been heavily represented in the military, but no, they were NOT able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to obtain Veteran's mortgage loans.

Due to legal restrictions, restrictive convenants, and general violence and protests, blacks in the U.S. in the 1940's and 1950's were limited to obtaining housing in only all-black neighborhoods, or in neighborhoods that were rapidly turning all-black. There has been much research done showing that the FHA and VA both participated in redlining, and refused to provide home mortgages in neighborhoods which were all black, or on the verge of becoming all-black.

Therefore, any black veteran who wished to purchase a home using his/her V.A. benefits would be severely restricted, by A) not being able to buy a home outside of a black neighborhood, where mortgage funds were readily available and B) being able to find a home in a black neighborhood, but not being able to receive mortgage money to purchase it.

Check out the book "From the Tenements to the Taylor Homes: In Search of an Urban Housing Policy in Twentieth-Century America" to see that what I am saying is correct.
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60 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOT A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD YET September 29, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a thoughtful and well-documented antidote to libertarian and conservative propaganda. It shows exactly how racial discrimination permeated every layer of public and private life in both North and South -- and lasted well into the 1970s. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and during legal racial segregation, especially under the GI Bill of Rights, whites -- especially men -- benefited immensely and blacks were either denied benefits or prevented from getting them by local bureaucrats.

This is proof that we have barely begun to correct the effect of racial segregation on generations of Americans. White men benefited from quotas in the past. They want to lose no priviledges. Libertarians and conservatives want to keep those advantages for themselves and deny fair competition to all those against whom they discriminated in the past. Color-blind policies now simply perpetuate the unfairness of a color-segregated past.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Welfare State for Whites May 25, 2008
By Ving
This book provides valuable statistics comparing white and black economic status in the Depression era. Its strength is its documentation of how New Deal programs (and the GI Bill of Rights) had a disparate impact on whites and blacks. It describes how legislative provisions crafted by Southern Senators, and administration by Southern local officials, meant the African-American workers (often forced to labor as domestics or in agriculture) received far less generous support from the federal government than their white counterparts. Less direct aid, fewer contracts, lack of access to mortgages, non-coverage by the Social Security Act, fewer opportunities to attend universities, meant that the federal government was actively exacerbating the racial economic divide for much of the 20th century.
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47 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Affirmative Action For Whites--You'd Better Believe It. September 1, 2005
I don't know what Mr. Frantzman was smoking, but here's a quote from the book. In New York and New Jersey, "fewer than 100 of 67,000 mortgages insured by the GI Bill supported home purchases by nonwhites."

It has been an easy mantra of the Right that government should not be involved in social engineering after the white majority has drunk so generously from the public trough.

80% of small business in the US were begun with equity loans from the GI Bill. Plumbing companies, carpentry shops, dentists, truckers.... African Americans had no access to that wealth creation. None.

Now people like Mr Frantzen pretend that everyone competes on a level playing field. But all he has to offer in support of his contention is rhetoric not facts.

Get the book!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Using for Class April 17, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Using this for my African American Studies course that I teach. Students tend to parrot back cliches they have heard about Affirmative Action never knowing what it is or the reason it was developed. Most of my college students are under 25 and they just did not live during segregation and outright prejudice - this puts AA into perspective. Great seller!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars This missing piece of history changes the whole picture
This book confirms in detail something I had a vague inkling of, something I "should have known". Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mark Segall
5.0 out of 5 stars AFTER 400 YEARS, THE TRUTH ABOUT U.S!
As an AfAm man, I'd just about given up on EurAms facing the heinous history of white supremacy.
Although Katzenelson confines himself to only the most recent undeniable... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Lowell "RaceMan" Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars Paper copy
I actually bought the paper copy of this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent condition it wa end. Read more
Published 9 months ago by David Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book
One of the best books on race in America ever written.
Professor Katznelson has performed a great service for the nation.
Published 10 months ago by Eddie Jackson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book Needed For Every Household
If this book If this book was in every household, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, we would hesitate to be judgmental and/or prejudice and racist. Read more
Published 11 months ago by MO
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-Rounded Approach
I like the true history of affirmative action and how it shaped America. This is a pragmatic look at a very controversial topic.
Published 12 months ago by Linda Edwards
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking book
The book is extremely well-written, and the sources are very well documented. Without question, the federal government chose for a couple of decades in the 20th century to... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Robert Muniz
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad quality
The product is with no cover and in a very bad condition ... I was not expecting this quality otherwise I could have changed my order
Published 15 months ago by Sara Nemeh
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read & Informative
I like to read books that tell the truth, and this book fits the bill. My only complaint is that at page 140 he starts editorializing. Read more
Published on October 13, 2010 by Big Sistah Patty
4.0 out of 5 stars making the middle class white
Katznelson's historical review of how legislation has been implemented from the Great Depression's New Deal to Johnson's Great Society is an eye-opener for its detail, and for... Read more
Published on February 5, 2010 by Tucker P. Farley
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