Race is often viewed as a predetermined feature, one that is fixed in biological terms. In reality however, "race" is not immutable or fixed in biology, but rather something that is fluid, historically relative, and socially constructed. As a result, "It has become Customary among academics to set words like 'race,' 'races,' 'Anglo-Saxons,' or 'whiteness' in undermining quotation marks" (Jacobson 9). The extent of the fluidity of race in America is apparent in the varying numbers of different races reported by scholars, ranging from two to thirty-six. The American ethno racial map- which indicates who is assigned to which pole- has changed dramatically in the early 19th century, resulting in the disappearance of whole races from conscious view, public discussion, and recent memory, while their descendents still walk this earth. In this essay I will explore the rise and fall of one of these "races" in American racial consciousness- the Jewish- Americans of the early 20th century- and its emergence as Caucasians.
[...] As Karen Brodkin argues in How the Jews Became White Folk, race is merely a façade “initially invented to justify a brutal but profitable regime of slave labor,” adding that “race became the way America organized labor and the explanation it used to justify it as natural” (Brodkin 75). Colonial landowners and planters did not know initially who their labor force would consist of. They experimented by attempting to enslave Native Americans, and by importing European convicts, along with African servants. [...]
[...] In addressing the final question of how Jews came to be white, one inevitably reaches another conclusion and thereby the second dimension of race: that race is not only a conception, but also a perception. Pre WWII Jews advanced cultural claims to whiteness through efforts to assimilate using mass media: films, radios, and TV's. Jewish movie moguls gave several varieties of ideal America by inventing a parallel Jewish universe and a bourgeois American whiteness different from both the East Coast ghettos they have fled and the old money whiteness to which they aspired (Brodkin 156). [...]
[...] The existence of anti-immigrant, and furthermore, anti-Semitic barriers confined Jews to a small number of occupations and excluded them from mainstream corporately employed professions. Prior to the early 19th century however, nearly all Europeans in the United States were more or less equally white. European immigrants who came from southern and central Europe, including Italians and Jews, assimilated, blended, and were treated as whites with a minimum of fuss. (Brodkin 54) The next logical question is what socio economic forces drove the Jews into their ethnic exile? [...]
[...] A widely held view at the time claimed that American nation was founded and developed by the Nordic and that a few more million members of the Semitic race are poured among us, the result must inevitably be a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing Mongrels”- Kenneth Roberts, Europe Leaves Home”. This view relied heavily on the newly established Eugenics movement, later forming the basis of the Nazi agenda, which relied on heavily biased intelligence examinations to establish the “feeblemindedness” of Eastern European immigrants. [...]
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