Overview

In the 1950s, America was seen as a vast melting pot in which white ethnic affiliations were on the wane and a common American identity was the norm. Yet by the 1970s, these white ethnics mobilized around a new version of the epic tale of plucky immigrants making their way in the New World through the sweat of their brow. Although this turn to ethnicity was for many an individual search for familial and psychological identity, Roots Too establishes a broader white social and political consensus arising in ...

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ROOTS TOO

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Overview

In the 1950s, America was seen as a vast melting pot in which white ethnic affiliations were on the wane and a common American identity was the norm. Yet by the 1970s, these white ethnics mobilized around a new version of the epic tale of plucky immigrants making their way in the New World through the sweat of their brow. Although this turn to ethnicity was for many an individual search for familial and psychological identity, Roots Too establishes a broader white social and political consensus arising in response to the political language of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, whites sought renewed status in the romance of Old World travails and New World fortunes. Ellis Island replaced Plymouth Rock as the touchstone of American nationalism. The entire culture embraced the myth of the indomitable white ethnics—who they were and where they had come from—in literature, film, theater, art, music, and scholarship. The language and symbols of hardworking, self-reliant, and ultimately triumphant European immigrants have exerted tremendous force on political movements and public policy debates from affirmative action to contemporary immigration.

In order to understand how white primacy in American life survived the withering heat of the Civil Rights movement and multiculturalism, Matthew Frye Jacobson argues for a full exploration of the meaning of the white ethnic revival and the uneasy relationship between inclusion and exclusion that it has engendered in our conceptions of national belonging.

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Editorial Reviews

The Historian
The myth of Plymouth Rock has been replaced by the myth of Ellis Island; we understand ourselves as a nation of immigrants. This much has been broadly understood, and even exploited by moviemakers and politicians...But the origins of this development and its consequences for American racial and civic relations have not been as well explored. Roots Too fills this gap; it is an excellent introduction to discussions of contemporary American discourse on identity. Using a close and persuasive reading of historical, literary, cinematic, and political materials, Jacobson identifies the roots of this ethnic identification in civil rights-era black politics and considers its impact on liberal, conservative, and feminist politics.
— Cheryl Greenberg
Journal of American History
[A] tour de force.
— John D. Buenker
History: Review of New Books
Given the current intensity of the immigration debate in the United States, perhaps no book could be more timely than Roots Too. In this exciting new study, leading immigration historian, Matthew Frye Jacobson, argues that the white ethnic revival of the late twentieth century was about more than the individual rediscovery of one's "roots"...Roots Too speaks to many audiences but will be of most interest to scholars of immigration and ethnicity or of late-twentieth-century American culture. For the former audience, it is among the most thought-provoking works in recent years and could potentially reshape the field.

— David J. La Vigne

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674039063
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 496
  • File size: 622 KB

Meet the Author

Matthew Frye Jacobson is Professor of American Studies at Yale University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Beyond Hansen's Law

1. Hyphen Nation

2. Golden Door, Silver Screen

3. Old World Bound

4. The Immigrant's Bootstraps, and Other Fables

5. I Take Back My Name

6. Our Heritage Is Our Power

7. Whose America (Who's America)?

Coda: Ireland at JFK

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • 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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