Response to Karen Brodkin’s “How Did Jews Become White Folks?”

Karen Brodkin’s “How Did Jews Become White Folks?”


This essay explains the real causes of how Jewish Americans emerged as a middle-class but African Americans did not. These causes include government discriminative actions after the Second World War which gave privileges to the whites and barriers to the blacks, thereby lifting the white Jewish up to middle-class, whereas the African Americans formerly of the same working class could not level up due to government restrictions, lack of support, and deliberate ignorance on racism against the African Americans.

My responses to the questions

1.      Question: How does Brodkin’s discussion of the construction of Jews as white impact on your understanding of the social construction of race and ethnicity?

Response: Brodkin’s example of the racial transformation of Jews as white confirms the theory that race is a socially constructed order to face the challenges of a particular period. Jews, as of the early 1900s, were categorized as inferior to the Nordic race even though both belong to the European ancestry. However, after the Second World War, the social fabric changed, America had become economically stronger with a strong middle class and the government and the public sympathy to the sufferings of Jews created legal and social opportunities for them, the most important being equated with other Caucasian ethnicities. In my view, the economic, social and political factors intermingled with each other and shaped each other and all these intertwined conditions create racial definitions. Another example in the essay would be the expulsion of the Chinese from the U.S in the last decades of 19th Century, and close door policy against Asians and most Europeans especially Jews in 1920s which was the era of Great Depression. The availability of resources in a period plays a large role in shaping the conceptualization of race.

2.      Question: Are there groups in our society that are currently viewed as people of color that you think will be eventually viewed as white? Which group of color that you think will eventually be viewed as white? Which groups are these? What do you think will bring such a change?

Response: There could be at a time in the unforeseen future that either Native Americans or East Asians or both could be viewed as “whites” in the U.S. However, it depends on many socioeconomic conditions such as availability of economic resources, social class changes and their influence on the politics, and vice versa.

3.      Question: What are some of the institutional barriers that currently exist in our society that prevent changing notions of race?

Response: For example within the U.S, the U.S census categorizes race into six different types. Many other forms that are filled for jobs, applications all require to explicitly mention about your race identity, mostly out of the six categories: White/Caucasian, African American, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islanders, and Some Other. Moreover, the government actions and media responses to the suspects of terrorism who are indeed generalized by their racial identity create a sense of racial discrimination to the general public. Globally, the notion of race is also based on the national identity, and geographical positions. So, as long as there are national entities which we can identify with a particular race or ethnicity, the notion of race or ethnicity related to these entities would not be easily alterable.

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One Response to “Response to Karen Brodkin’s “How Did Jews Become White Folks?””

  1. cpostler Says:

    Excellent anlysis and synthesis of the information.