Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alch... Cover Art

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

By: Matthew Frye Jacobson (Author)



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Review

When we speak of race, we tend to categorize nonwhite people into rigid classifications--but how is whiteness itself determined? Yale American Studies professor Matthew Frye Jacobson looks at the American construction of whiteness out of its polyglot European immigrant population. In 1790, United States naturalization law granted citizenship to "free white persons"--which meant, mostly, those of Anglo-Saxon descent. Thus, Celtic-descended Irish immigrants were discriminated against. As the U.S. population became more culturally mixed beginning in the 1820s, with an increase in immigration from non-Anglo Europe, the nation experienced "a fracturing of whiteness into a hierarchy of plural and scientifically determined white races."

In other words, people who came from Poland, Germany, Italy, and Greece, as well as Jews from many nations, all became, by virtue of the "melting pot" ethic, "Caucasian" whites. But, as the graphically racist cartoons reproduced in the book show, the creation of whiteness was--and is--by no means an easy, continuous process. Jacobson details the political assault on white racism that culminated in the civil rights movement and cites the contemporary "revival and denial of white privilege" in the United States. Although he expresses doubt that a dismissal of white privilege will happen anytime soon, he does hope that in "recognizing the historical fabrication, the changeability, and the contingencies of whiteness, we might begin to look in a new way upon race, the power relations it generates, and the social havoc it wreaks." --Eugene Holley Jr.

Short Desription

America''s racial odyssey is the subject of this remarkable work of historical imagination. Jacobson argues that race resides not in nature but in the contingencies of politics and culture. "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.


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