In Karen Brodkin’s writing called How Jews Became White Folks she talks about how anti-Semitism played a part along with other discrimination toward immigrants in forming a perception of the Jews. Brodkin explains what the Jews went through before and after the war and how Jews were able to climb higher in class and were finally seen as white people and not just Jews. Brodkin’s thesis states that it took federal programs to create conditions in which Jews and other European immigrants could be recognized and rewarded while at the same time completely sealing off any opportunity for social mobilization for African Americans.
The point at which Europe was divided into inferior and superior races began with the large numbers of European immigrants that came to America and due to such a large amount of immigrants they were not easily assimilated. One thing that many white U.S. born Protestant elite feared was the mixing of races. Madison Grant stated that he believed that the cross between any of the three European races and a Jew was a Jew. (40). Grant also believed that race and class were one in the same and that the upper class was racially pure Nordic while the lower class came from the lower races (40). These notions from Grant and other scientist made people believe that Americans were white and that real whites came from northwest Europe. Therefore at this point, Jews and African Americans were still being discriminated against.
Changing views, after the war, on who was white made it easier for Euro-ethnics to become middle class (43). According to Brodkin, “The economic mobility of Jews and other Euro-ethnics derived ultimately from America’s postwar economic prosperity and its enormously expanded need for professional, technical, and managerial labor, as well as on government assistance in providing it” (43). Due to the abundance of jobs that needed to be filled, the Jews were able to step up and take a position in society that they had been previously denied. The passage of the GI Bill of Rights was a massive affirmative action program that aimed at and helped male, Euro-origin GI’s.
Due to the GI Bill, many white males that would previously not been able to obtain a college degree were granted the opportunity to go to college. Before the war, most Jews were part of the working class, however, after the war they were able to move up to the middle class due to their educational and occupational opportunities. However, by allowing white males to climb higher in society, it left white females and black in the dust. Black and white females were not experiencing all the benefits that the white males were after the war. Discrimination in the workforce, housing market, and educational opportunities made it hard for blacks and white females to experience what the white males were experiencing.
The Federal Housing Administration believed in racial segregation and therefore, did not allow the high quality housing that they offered for the whites, to be extended to the blacks. With the federal government behind them, virtually all developers refused to sell to African Americans (47). Through the process of urban renewal, the Jews and other working-class Euro-immigrants became middle class while leaving the blacks in the working class.
Therefore, in the end federal government programs were designed to assist demobilized GIs and young families while systematically discriminating against African Americans.
So did the Jews truly pull themselves up by their own boot strings to be a part of the middle class? Not exactly. Without the help from the federal government, the Jews would have had a hard time mobilizing as quickly and as well as they did. The government passed such things as the GI Bill, which created many opportunities for the Jews that allowed them to move up the social ladder. Also the Federal Housing Administration built affordable and nice housing for whites to live in while they did not provide the same services to the blacks. More so, VA mortgages would lend money to whites and would discriminate against the blacks. Therefore, the Jews experienced privileges because they were extended to the whites but discriminated against the blacks.
Overall, I found this reading to be interesting. I liked how she had it laid out and broken down into sections. It made this reading easy to follow and helped the reader know where she was going with each section. I also found it interesting in how the Jews were finally ‘accepted’ into society while discriminating the blacks in the process.