cover image How Jews Became White Folks: And What That Says about Race in America

How Jews Became White Folks: And What That Says about Race in America

Karen Brodkin. Rutgers University Press, $24.94 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-8135-2590-7

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. (Feb.)