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Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race / Edition 1

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Overview

America’s racial odyssey is the subject of this remarkable work of historical imagination. Matthew Frye Jacobson argues that race resides not in nature but in the contingencies of politics and culture. In ever-changing racial categories we glimpse the competing theories of history and collective destiny by which power has been organized and contested in the United States. Capturing the excitement of the new field of “whiteness studies” and linking it to traditional historical inquiry, Jacobson shows that in this nation of immigrants “race” has been at the core of civic assimilation: ethnic minorities in becoming American were re-racialized to become Caucasian. He provides a counter-history of how nationality groups such as the Irish or Greeks became Americans as racial groups like Celts or Mediterraneans became Caucasian.
Jacobson tracks race as a conception and perception, emphasizing the importance of knowing not only how we label one another but also how we see one another, and how that racialized vision has largely been transformed in this century. The stages of racial formation—race as formed in conquest, enslavement, imperialism, segregation, and labor migration—are all part of the complex, and now counterintuitive, history of race. 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, including sensational trials like the Leo Frank case and the Draft Riots of 1863.
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Editorial Reviews

Michael Rogin
Whiteness of a Different Color offers an unanswerable demonstration that the historical whitening of European immigrants intensified 'race' as the marker of a white/black divide. Jacobson challenges at once the revival of the Caucasian racial category and the real inequalities to which it points.
The Voice - Claire Xanthos
In this fascinating book, Jacobson traces the development of racial identity in America. Between the 1840s and the 1920s, racial differences and hierarchy between Anglo-Saxons and other white ethnic groups were given great significance. "White ethnics" were generally considered as distinct and inferior to the original Anglo Saxon immigrants...[Whiteness of a Different Color] explodes the myth of the American melting pot. Jacobson demonstrates how white racial inclusion was inextricably linked with the exclusion of non-whites and, interestingly, how their widely-recognised whiteness is partly due to the presence of non-white groups...This is a thought-provoking account of an often overlooked topic.
International Review of Social History - Christiane Harzig
Whiteness of a Different Color tells us about the varying, and inevitably failing, attempts to come to terms with the concept of "whiteness", which, despite its vicissitude and inconclusiveness, was, and still is, one of the most important notions in American political culture...True to his "identities" as historian and American Studies scholar, Jacobson's sources are tremendously varied, ranging from novels, films, print journals, to legal records, colonial charters, and state constitutions...The book's argument is most convincing.
Times Higher Education Supplement - John White
[Matthew Frye Jacobson's] analysis of the European immigrant experiences, American racial classifications and "their fluidity over time" is a valuable addition to the flourishing genre of "whiteness studies" in the fields of labour and working-class history...Racial categories and perceptions, Jacobson argues, are cultural and political fabrications, reflections of power relationships in a society that has periodically needed to construct (and reconstruct) an "American" and "white" identity out of an increasingly polyglot European immigrant population...Whiteness of a Different Color is a subtle and sensitive exegesis and deconstruction of the immigrant experience in American culture.
New Haven Advocate - Willoughby Mariano
Jacobson builds a history of how the category of "whiteness" plays in American history...His goal is to demystify, and the tone he takes does exactly that. Wry and often sarcastic, his bite is sharpened by his ability to pick out the dark, unintentional humor from his sources.
H-Net Reviews - Louis Anthes
Jacobson's important book helps to fill an important gap in the literature about the history of European immigrants assuming different racial identities in the United States...Because of its broad sweep of history, Jacobson is able to reveal previously ignored ways in which anti-racism coalitions have succeeded without yielding to assimilationist ideology.
David Roediger
This groundbreaking book advances the study of white identity (both as category and as consciousness) significantly. It takes intellectual chances and makes the risks pay off.
Robin D.G. Kelley
Whiteness of a Different Color is nothing less than a powerful synthesis of American history. Viewing the U.S. through the prism of race, Matthew Frye Jacobson re-writes 'immigrant history' and, in the process, discovers the key to America's past and future.
The Voice

In this fascinating book, Jacobson traces the development of racial identity in America. Between the 1840s and the 1920s, racial differences and hierarchy between Anglo-Saxons and other white ethnic groups were given great significance. "White ethnics" were generally considered as distinct and inferior to the original Anglo Saxon immigrants...[Whiteness of a Different Color] explodes the myth of the American melting pot. Jacobson demonstrates how white racial inclusion was inextricably linked with the exclusion of non-whites and, interestingly, how their widely-recognised whiteness is partly due to the presence of non-white groups...This is a thought-provoking account of an often overlooked topic.
— Claire Xanthos

International Review of Social History

Whiteness of a Different Color tells us about the varying, and inevitably failing, attempts to come to terms with the concept of "whiteness", which, despite its vicissitude and inconclusiveness, was, and still is, one of the most important notions in American political culture...True to his "identities" as historian and American Studies scholar, Jacobson's sources are tremendously varied, ranging from novels, films, print journals, to legal records, colonial charters, and state constitutions...The book's argument is most convincing.
— Christiane Harzig

Times Higher Education Supplement

[Matthew Frye Jacobson's] analysis of the European immigrant experiences, American racial classifications and "their fluidity over time" is a valuable addition to the flourishing genre of "whiteness studies" in the fields of labour and working-class history...Racial categories and perceptions, Jacobson argues, are cultural and political fabrications, reflections of power relationships in a society that has periodically needed to construct (and reconstruct) an "American" and "white" identity out of an increasingly polyglot European immigrant population...Whiteness of a Different Color is a subtle and sensitive exegesis and deconstruction of the immigrant experience in American culture.
— John White

New Haven Advocate

Jacobson builds a history of how the category of "whiteness" plays in American history...His goal is to demystify, and the tone he takes does exactly that. Wry and often sarcastic, his bite is sharpened by his ability to pick out the dark, unintentional humor from his sources.
— Willoughby Mariano

H-Net Reviews

Jacobson's important book helps to fill an important gap in the literature about the history of European immigrants assuming different racial identities in the United States...Because of its broad sweep of history, Jacobson is able to reveal previously ignored ways in which anti-racism coalitions have succeeded without yielding to assimilationist ideology.
— Louis Anthes

Nathan Glazer
Race. . .Jacobson agrees, is a category that is 'constructed,' or. . .'fabricated'. . .for a purpose. . . .To exclude some and include others. . . .Race may be a matter of construction, but this construction in the individual and the collective mind is not impervious to reality and its vicissitudes. . . -- The New Republic
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674951914
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 736,385
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

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

  • Note on Usage
  • Introduction: The Fabrication of Race
  • The Political History of Whiteness
    • “Free White Persons” in the Republic, 1790–1840
    • Anglo-Saxons and Others, 1840–1924
    • Becoming Caucasian, 1924–1965


  • History, Race, and Perception
    • 1877: The Instability of Race
    • Looking Jewish, Seeing Jews


  • The Manufacture of Caucasians
    • The Crucible of Empire
    • Naturalization and the Courts
    • The Dawning Civil Rights Era


  • Epilogue: Ethnic Revival and the Denial of White Privilege
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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