Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White - The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs

Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White - The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs

5.0 4
by David R. Roediger
     
 

At the vanguard of the study of race and labor in American history, David Roediger is one of the most highly respected scholars in his field. He is also the author of the now-classic The Wages of Whiteness, a study of racism in the development of a white working class in nineteenth-century America. In Working Toward Whiteness, he continues that

Overview

At the vanguard of the study of race and labor in American history, David Roediger is one of the most highly respected scholars in his field. He is also the author of the now-classic The Wages of Whiteness, a study of racism in the development of a white working class in nineteenth-century America. In Working Toward Whiteness, he continues that history into the twentieth century, recounting how American ethnic groups that are considered white today, such as Jewish-, Italian-, and Polish-Americans, once occupied a confused racial status in their new country.While some historians have claimed that these immigrants were "white on arrival,” Roediger paints a very different picture, showing that it wasn’t until the 1920s (ironically, just when immigration laws became much more restrictive), that these ethnic groups definitively became part of white America, primarily thanks to the nascent labor movement and a rise in home-buying.From ethnic slurs to racially restrictive covenants —the real estate agreements that ensured all-white neighborhoods—Working Toward Whiteness explores the murky realities of race in twentieth-century America. In this masterful history, which is sure to be a key text in its field, David Roediger charts the strange transformation of these new immigrants into the "white ethnics” of America today.

Editorial Reviews

Jacqueline Jones
In waging those battles, native-born white Protestants seized on any number of social differences -- language, skin color, religion, cultural traditions -- to discriminate against newcomers from foreign countries. And yet, as David R. Roediger suggests in Working Toward Whiteness, people who identify themselves as white have constituted the largest, most powerful and ultimately most exclusive tribe of all. In this provocative but unwieldy book, Roediger argues that people of non-African descent could and did eventually work their way into "whiteness" -- thereby gaining admission to America's largest and most powerful tribe.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Too much recent scholarship "simply ignores the long, circuitous process by which `new immigrants' became `white ethnics,' " declares Roediger (The Wages of Whiteness), finding that the process in the early 20th century was slower and messier. Well-detailed examples include Greeks and Italians victimized by white mobs at the turn of the century (with the Chicago papers providing the parenthetical identification "Italian" in crime stories just as they did "Negro"). Jobs, Roediger finds, were often divided on lines that separated whites from European immigrants, but unions opened to European immigrants more readily than to blacks, Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans. Most significantly, he sees the oppression faced by Europeans as qualitatively different than that faced by other groups and goes into painful detail. Roediger hearkens back to the 1924 immigration restrictions, showing how they drove the "great migration" of African-Americans northward, thus rendering immigrants less "foreign" to some entrenched whites. Reinforcing that were the immigrant drive for home ownership, backed by New Deal-era restrictive racial covenants and laws against interracial marriage. While slow going, Roediger's book tills some major historical ground. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
America is a country of immigrants. Roediger (history, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class) points out that when people of many ethnicities came to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they arrived in a land already considered by their predecessors to be a specific kind of "white man's country." Roediger has written a carefully constructed and referenced book that traces how, and with what success, new arrivals blended into the "white" culture established by the original European settlers. Roediger has written a carefully constructed and referenced book that traces how, and with what success, new arrivals blended into the "white" culture established by the original European settlers. The book contrasts the receptions given to those identified as part of an ethnic group and those identified as a different race. "Ethnics" could assimilate, though it might take some time. But for those seen as of a particular "race" (which, argues Roediger, included groups like Jews and Mexicans), gaining recognition commensurate with that of "whites" came much more slowly, if at all. Roediger highlights the roles played by the policies of early 20th-century unions, federal and local courts, and then FDR's administration, in denying to Asians and blacks the privileges and rights granted to other immigrant groups who came to be considered ethnic whites. Appropriate for academic, specialized, or larger general libraries.-Suzanne W. Wood, formerly with SUNY College of Technology, Alfred Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A cogent analysis of culture and race in early 20th-century America that ranks with such classics as Grace Hale's Making Whiteness (1998) and Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (1999). Look around a grocery store, subway or church: many of the people we now think of as ‘white' would have been viewed as distinctly not white just a century ago. That's the premise with which Roediger (History/Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) opens his exploration of how fin de siecle immigrants to America negotiated race. Back in 1900, "Slavonic" and "Latin" were understood to be racial designations, just like "white" and "black." By 1950, that had changed; Jews, Italians, Poles, the Irish and other European immigrants were considered as white as Betsy Ross. How and why did this transformation take place? According to Roediger, many factors were at work. Immigrants who wanted to marry outside their ethnic group quickly learned that whiteness was crucial, since laws forbade dating and marriage between people perceived to be of different races. Second-generation immigrant kids defied their parents to become friends with children of different ethnicities. Roediger's title is a double-entendre: immigrants worked or strived to become white; and the jobs they held, as well as their participation in the labor movement, shaped their racial status. One of Roediger's most interesting arguments has to do with housing. Home ownership is an indicator of the extent to which immigrant groups had been accepted into mainstream, white American society, he acknowledges, but immigrants "did not so much ‘buy into' the American Dream of home ownership as help create it." They made significant sacrifices toown homes, and helped turn a house into a badge of success. Will foment new scholarly debates and bring the finest fruits of academic work to a broad audience.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465070732
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
05/30/2005
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.52(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.15(d)

Meet the Author

David R. Roediger teaches on the history of race and class in the United States at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is the Babcock Chair of History and of African American Studies. He lives in Champaign, Illinois.

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