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When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America Paperback – August 17, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0393328516 ISBN-10: 0393328511 Edition: Reprint

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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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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Customer Reviews

One of the best books on race in America ever written.
Eddie Jackson
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.
John Matlock
That type of affirmative action would look a lot more like the affirmative action described in Mr. Katznelson's book.
Robert Muniz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 94 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on September 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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73 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Laura C. O'Neal on October 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ving on May 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
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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60 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Stella Mather on 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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tucker P. Farley on February 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 linking the way legislation that looks universal was implemented through states rights to benefit whites and not blacks.
The control of Congress by 17 southern states intent on maintaining racist states' rights segregation made every decent piece of legistation including the GI Bill a boon for white folks and an impediment for African-Americans. Thus affirmative action for whites, of the books's title, was a result of a nearly invisible operation over and over; IN ORDEWR TO GET ANY LEGISLATION PASSED, CONCESSIONS HAD TO BE MADE TO THE SOUTHERNERS WHO CONTROLLED COMMITTEES AND THUS LEGISLATION. Because of their one-party white rule in their states, they had seniority in national legislatures, so they had control until Johnson, part of the southern bloc, broke rank during the civil rights struggles.
This is a must-read book for its historical documentation of how white working class peoiple benefitted and african-american working class people were denied.
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