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Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2006

    Required Reading on Race and Nationalism in Post-Civil Rights US

    Roots Too is the book Senator Edward Kennedy should have been holding up when he invoked his Irish family history on the campaign for immigration reforms. Beginning with the story of John F. Kennedy¿s legendary ¿return¿ to Cork in 1963, historian Matthew Jacobson provides a brilliant account of the ways the revival of immigrant pasts served as a new strategy for consolidating national unity in the post World War II era. In Roots Too, the author elucidates the cultural politics of ethnicity and nationalism that trouble the simple claim that the United States is a nation of immigrants. In a series of fascinating chapters that link debates over social policy with readings of films and literary texts, Jacobson shows how descendants of European migrants responded to the civil rights movement with a renewed assertion of their own ethnic particularities. By rejecting the longstanding ideals of assimilation into a single national identity, white Americans made Ellis Island a new symbol of US nationalism, precisely at the moment when African Americans and people of color laid claims to full citizenship and political autonomy. With the same insight and unflinching analysis the author brought to his prior studies of nineteenth century migrations and US imperialism, Jacobson provides a compelling picture of how the white ethnic revival reinstalled the systems of white cultural and political primacy in US society, while also appropriating the civil rights demand for a broader, pluralist vision of American democracy. Once again, Matthew Jacobson narrates complex social histories in engaging, perceptive prose, allowing readers to recover an understanding of immigration and race in the United States that, however familiar and close it is for us, we have been taught not to recognize. It is required reading for anyone watching the ongoing struggles over immigrant rights and immigration policy reform in the United States.

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