HOW JEWS BECAME WHITE FOLKS AND WHAT THAT SAYS ABOUT RACE IN AMERICA

paper 0-8135-2590-X How Jews came, during the last three decades, to be viewed, by themselves and others, as —white— (having previously been considered —not quite white—) is the focus of this equally interesting and flawed study. By —white— anthropologist Brodkin (Univ. of Calif., Los Angeles; Caring by the Hour, not reviewed) means not only skin color but also an ethnic-cultural identity (something connoted by such phrases as “WASP” and “mainstream American”) as well as factors such as class and labor status. Through anecdotal, sociological, historical, literary, and other cultural material, she traces the decline of American Jews’ working-class values, the loss of a distinctive language (Yiddish), the development of left-liberal politics, and general ethnic cohesiveness. Brodkin has some fascinating insights into the interplay between Jewish ethnicity and gender. For example, she observes that the stereotypes of the smothering Jewish mother and of the Jewish-American Princess may well represent Jewish men’s projections on to Jewish women of their own ambivalence about assimilating into the materially alluring but often culturally and spiritually shallow postwar mainstream American culture. Unfortunately, Brodkin’s perspective, which draws heavily on “African American, neo-Marxist and critical race theory,” neglects entirely or scants a number of key factors in the growing acceptance of Jews as full-fledged whites, such as the post-Holocaust rejection of the concept of a “Jewish race.” Brodkin also errs in other ways, such as romanticizing the degree of “reciprocity” (ethnic cohesion and mutual aid) found among Lower East Side immigrant Jews. While containing a great deal of interesting material from several disciplines, including popular culture, Brodkin’s book ultimately is unsatisfying because it rests on too narrow a theoretical base and contains too many unwarranted generalizations. Thus, the author fails to sustain the view that the story of the Jews’ successful assimilation into “white culture,” during an era of persistent discrimination against those who are now known as “people of color,” reflects something important about the role of race in American life.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8135-2589-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Rutgers Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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