"How Jews Became White Folk" by Karen Brodkin

Essay by jem0818 March 2006

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In her book "How Jews Became White Folk", Karen Brodkin examines the question of how Jews came to be regarded as White. She does this by first explaining how Jews were racially categorized prior to this time, and how they were considered to be inferior to the white race. Whiteness is and has always relied on continually renegotiated interpretations; that has more to do with ones social class rather than skin color. The argument that Brodkin presents is that the claim of whiteness are extended to certain races or ethnic groups at certain times, and that the past experiences of these groups cannot wipe away such indisputable social facts.

Brodkin believes that the only way to successfully assimilate into the United States is by becoming "white". What does it mean to be "white"? The history of the United States clearly "shows changing notions of whiteness to be part of America's larger system of institutional racism."

(Brodkin, 1994). Being "white" has its advantages, just as it has its downfalls; I guess you can say it is a double edge sword. To be accepted into the dominant class one may have to shed part of their identity; yet, the rewards for doing this are not what one expects them to be. Yet, what is interesting is how the shift of Jews from being categorized from racial other, to not-quite-white, to white shows us how race in the United States has been constructed.

She then goes on to insist that after WWII Jews had increasingly profited from the assortment of social policies set up to aid the rising middle class, like providing them with financial support to pay for their education and loans for houses from the Federal Housing Administration (Brodkin, 1994). She describes the G.I. Bill as ""the most massive affirmative action...