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Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race

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Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race Cover

ISBN13: 9780674951914
ISBN10: 0674951913
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

America's racial odyssey is the subject of this remarkable work of historical imagination. Matthew Frye Jacobson argues that race resides not in nature but in the contingencies of politics and culture. In ever-changing racial categories we glimpse the competing theories of history and collective destiny by which power has been organized and contested in the United States. Capturing the excitement of the new field of "whiteness studies" and linking it to traditional historical inquiry, Jacobson shows that in this nation of immigrants "race" has been at the core of civic assimilation: ethnic minorities in becoming American were re-racialized to become Caucasian. He provides a counter-history of how nationality groups such as the Irish or Greeks became Americans as racial groups like Celts or Mediterraneans became Caucasian. Jacobson tracks race as a conception and perception, emphasizing the importance of knowing not only how we label one another but also how we see one another, and how that racialized vision has largely been transformed in this century. The stages of racial formation--race as formed in conquest, enslavement, imperialism, segregation, and labor migration--are all part of the complex, and now counterintuitive, history of race. Whiteness of a Different Color traces the fluidity of racial categories from an immense body of research in literature, popular culture, politics, society, ethnology, anthropology, cartoons, and legal history, including sensational trials like the Leo Frank case and the Draft Riots of 1863.

Synopsis:

America's racial odyssey is the subject of this remarkable work of historical imagination. Matthew Frye Jacobson argues that race resides not in nature but in the contingencies of politics and culture. In ever-changing racial categories we glimpse the competing theories of history and collective destiny by which power has been organized and contested in the United States. Capturing the excitement of the new field of "whiteness studies" and linking it to traditional historical inquiry, Jacobson shows that in this nation of immigrants "race" has been at the core of civic assimilation: ethnic minorities, in becoming American, were re-racialized to become Caucasian.

Synopsis:

Co-Winner, 1999 Ralph J. Bunche Award, American Political Science Association

Synopsis:

erican Political Science Association

Description:

Includes bibliographical references (p. [283]-323) and index.

About the Author

Matthew Frye Jacobson is Professor of American Studies at Yale University.

Yale University

Table of Contents

  • Note on Usage
  • Introduction: The Fabrication of Race
  • The Political History of Whiteness
    • “Free White Persons” in the Republic, 1790–1840
    • Anglo-Saxons and Others, 1840–1924
    • Becoming Caucasian, 1924–1965
  • History, Race, and Perception
    • 1877: The Instability of Race
    • Looking Jewish, Seeing Jews
  • The Manufacture of Caucasians
    • The Crucible of Empire
    • Naturalization and the Courts
    • The Dawning Civil Rights Era
  • Epilogue: Ethnic Revival and the Denial of White Privilege
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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Ashley Bowen, September 30, 2011 (view all comments by Ashley Bowen)
In "Whiteness of a Different Color" American Studies scholar Matthew Frye Jacobson argues that, “the contest over whiteness" its definition, its internal hierarchies, its proper boundaries, and its rightful claimants" has been critical to American culture throughout the nation’s history." His source material for the argument is extensive and pulls from a wide variety of fields including court cases and legal history, popular culture, literature, the history of science/pseudo-science, and even the marginalia in a library book (see 271). Jacobson outlines three major eras in the history of whiteness: the period beginning with the nation’s first naturalization law in 1790; the period of massive European immigration from about 1840 to 1920; and the period after 1920 when whiteness was “consolidated” and a racial binary established. Jacobson examines race as a social and political construct that uses the language of science to appear “natural.” In so doing, he underscores the ways in which race is not just an intellectual “conception” but is also based on “perception." The strongest metaphor that Jacobson employs in the book is race as a kind of “palimpsest” on which culture and social structures inscribe, partially erase, and re-inscribe racial identities and their associated traits.

Jacobson further explores the contingent nature of race by discussing the relationship between whiteness in urban centers, with their nascent working class, and whiteness in the west, where settlers of all ethnicities were pitted against a savage “other.” The regionalism of race, combined with its fluidity in zones in which competing national priorities butted up against each other, was something that I think I intuitively knew but had not seen explored in such depth. I wanted to read more about how individuals navigated those changing racial identities, i.e. how did someone moving from New York experience his “increased whiteness” on the frontier?

Although Jacobson touches on the role that European Fascism and the Holocaust had on American ideologies of race, a greater discussion of the post World War II intellectual context may have added depth to his argument. The fact that eugenics was not an anomaly in the early 20th century (87) but ceased to be a political force after the atrocities in Europe came to light is an issue worth exploring in greater depth. This shift would have required a major realignment of racial epistemology and a sustained confrontation with the extreme outcomes of a society obsessed with race. Jacobson does not discuss how the category Aryan, perhaps the whitest of the Caucasian race, became politically and morally charged after World War II. It is possible that the civil rights movement and need for a binary black-white racial axis trumped any efforts to problematize whiteness.

Finally, a note about this book that does not relate to the text itself: I read Whiteness of a Different Color over several days in a variety of public settings. Although I frequently read in public, this book elicited more comments from strangers than my typical reading material. After reading about the “ethnic revival” that Jacobson discusses in the epilogue, this interest from strangers struck me as particularly interesting (276). Everyone who asked me about the book would probably be classified as white or Caucasian and, while I cannot presume to know their motivations, these strangers’ interest in it could speak to the lack of American discourse about whiteness, ethnicity, and sense of belonging to the “Nordic” or “Anglo Saxon” power structure.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780674951914
Author:
Jacobson, Matthew Frye
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Location:
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Subject:
United states
Subject:
United States - General
Subject:
Minority Studies - Ethnic American
Subject:
Emigration & Immigration
Subject:
Ethnic Studies
Subject:
Race awareness
Subject:
Racism
Subject:
Immigrants
Subject:
Race discrimination
Subject:
Race
Subject:
Whites
Subject:
European Americans
Subject:
Ethnic Studies - General
Subject:
Ethnic Studies-Immigration
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
NASA/TP-1999-208691
Publication Date:
September 1999
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
14 halftones, 2 tables
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 14 oz

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » European American
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » General
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » Immigration
History and Social Science » US History » General
History and Social Science » World History » General

Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race New Trade Paper
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Product details 368 pages Harvard University Press - English 9780674951914 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , America's racial odyssey is the subject of this remarkable work of historical imagination. Matthew Frye Jacobson argues that race resides not in nature but in the contingencies of politics and culture. In ever-changing racial categories we glimpse the competing theories of history and collective destiny by which power has been organized and contested in the United States. Capturing the excitement of the new field of "whiteness studies" and linking it to traditional historical inquiry, Jacobson shows that in this nation of immigrants "race" has been at the core of civic assimilation: ethnic minorities, in becoming American, were re-racialized to become Caucasian.
"Synopsis" by , Co-Winner, 1999 Ralph J. Bunche Award, American Political Science Association
"Synopsis" by , erican Political Science Association
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