Monday, October 22, 2007

How Jews Became White Folks and What that Says about Race in America

The thesis for How Jews Became White Folks and What that Says about Race in America by Karen Brodkin, to be “I tell this story to show the institutional nature of racism and the centrality of state policies to creating and changing races.” (39) Brodkin is stating that it took for policies to be created and some races to be outcaste in order for other races to gain superiority as well as certain privileges over other races.

She starts off the article with stating her feelings about learning about the history of America and how even certain people within the white class was classified as being inferior to its own kind. She stated how her parents found this not to be much of a surprise because “they expect anti-Semitism to be part of the fabric of daily life….” (38) Brodkin did not believe that Jews got most of their success “due to [Jews] own efforts and abilities, reinforced by a culture that valued sticking together, hard work, education, and deferred gratification.” (38) Instead, she believed most of the success Jews obtained was to due to Affirmative Action. In other words, the privileges which one race was not able to obtain due to laws that were issued, entitled other races those privileges. In America everything was based on superiority and inferiority. In 1916, Madison Grant who was author of The Passing of the Great Race “popularized notions developed by William Z. Ripley and Daniel Brinton that there existed three of four major European races, ranging from the superior Nordics of northwestern Europe to the inferior southern and eastern races of the Alpines, Mediterraneans, and worst of all, Jews.” (40) Grant was saying that there is only one race which was superior to all other races and that was pure Nordics. Every other race was looked as to be inferior and lower class. Post World War II was when a lot of changes begun. New laws for housing and employment begun to surface but these laws applied to everyone of the white race which ultimately included Jews and other European immigrant groups which were once outcast as being inferior to upper class white. The newly created laws exile African Americans and caused them to have a much more difficult time obtaining housing as well as employment and sufficient education. Brodkin states how these new laws and programs which were created post World War II made it “that white men of northwest European ancestry and white men of southeastern European ancestry were treated equally in theory and in practice with regard to the benefits they received, was part of the larger postwar whitening of Jews and other eastern and southern Europeans.” (49) The benefits, laws, programs and privileges which were obtained by all whites including Jews brought them together more as a people. The privileges Jews obtained allowed them to further advance in America whereas the government only offered African Americans “cement boots of segregation, redlining, urban renewal, and discrimination.” (50) If it wasn’t for African Americans being discriminated against Jews might not have gotten their privileges so easily is what Brodkin felt.

Brodkin stated, “I want to suggest that Jewish success is a product not only of ability but also of the removal of powerful social barriers to its realization.” (39) I agree with Brodkin completely because throughout the entire article there was no mention of how Jews fought or protested against things they found to be unfair to their people. African Americans actually had to fight whether it was physical or verbal or non-violent to get the little “equality” we have today. Instead, Jews obtained much of their success due to upper-class Americans trying to keep African Americans from advancing and climbing the social, political, and economic ladders. Brodkin said that she and her brother now own their own homes whereas prior to World War II and all the privileges they obtained it would not have been possible. She said, “The truth is that affluence has been the exception and that real upward mobility has required massive affirmative action programs….” (50) In other words, someone has to be kept out of the circle in order for others to gain.

This article was interesting because it gave me the opportunity to learn about Jews. Upon reading this I realized that grade school, at least the one I attended, did not make much reference to Jews. I found myself doing a little more research about Jews and certain things Brodkin made reference to in this article so I could get a better understanding of what she was talking about. I found it interesting how Jews and other lower class European immigrants gained their acceptance in the United States by the government neglecting the same acceptance to African Americans.

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