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“How Jews Became White Folk” by Karen Brodkin Essay

In her book “How Jews Became White Folk”, Karen Brodkin examines the question of how Jews came to be regarded as White. She does this by first explaining how Jews were racially categorized prior to this time, and how they were considered to be inferior to the white race. Whiteness is and has always relied on continually renegotiated interpretations; that has more to do with ones social class rather than skin color. The argument that Brodkin presents is that the claim of whiteness are extended to certain races or ethnic groups at certain times, and that the past experiences of these groups cannot wipe away such indisputable social facts.

Brodkin believes that the only way to successfully assimilate into the United States is by becoming “white”. What does it mean to be “white”? The history of the United States clearly “shows changing notions of whiteness to be part of America’s larger system of institutional racism.” (Brodkin, 1994). Being “white” has its advantages, just as it has its downfalls; I guess you can say it is a double edge sword. To be accepted into the dominant class one may have to shed part of their identity; yet, the rewards for doing this are not what one expects them to be. Yet, what is interesting is how the shift of Jews from being categorized from racial other, to not-quite-white, to white shows us how race in the United States has been constructed.

She then goes on to insist that after WWII Jews had increasingly profited from the assortment of social policies set up to aid the rising middle class, like providing them with financial support to pay for their education and loans for houses from the Federal Housing Administration (Brodkin, 1994). She describes the G.I. Bill as “”the most massive affirmative action program in American history” (Brodkin, 1994). What we need to take into consideration is that these social policies were not extended in the same proportion to African Americans and Latinos. Both groups were denied loans to buy their houses and when they were approved for a loan, they would be approved for lesser amounts; therefore restricting them from living amongst “whites”.

While Jews have in fact been successful in assimilating into the white America, others have not been successful. One example of this is Latino immigrants, not because they don’t want to but rather it comes from bad past experiences. They are expected to assimilate, but at the same time they are denied legal status and even worst they face the change of being deported at any time. In addition, what many fail to understand is the Latinos, especially Mexicans and African Americans have a much different and unique role within the United States, quite different than Jews or Italians will ever have.

To begin, those of us with Latino blood in us have a history that in one way or another originates from this land, something that no white person can claim. As a conquered people we will always remain a threat to whites. African Americans on the other hand were brought by force from another continent only to become slave labor and although their roots are in Africa; this is the only land they have ever known. How Jews Became White Folk does an excellent job at making the reader reflect these unique roles that we have had to take with our society, I would have wanted for Brodkin to elaborate a little more on the definition of whiteness. We can only make that conclusion on our own.

Works Cited:

Karen, Brodkin (1994). How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

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