Cover: Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, from Harvard University PressCover: Whiteness of a Different Color in PAPERBACK

Whiteness of a Different Color

European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race

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Product Details


$32.50 • £23.95 • €29.50

ISBN 9780674951914

Publication: September 1999


368 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

14 halftones, 2 tables


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[Matthew Frye Jacobson’s] analysis of the European immigrant experiences, American racial classifications and ‘their fluidity over time’ is a valuable addition to the flourishing genre of ‘whiteness studies’ in the fields of labour and working-class history… Racial categories and perceptions, Jacobson argues, are cultural and political fabrications, reflections of power relationships in a society that has periodically needed to construct (and reconstruct) an ‘American’ and ‘white’ identity out of an increasingly polyglot European immigrant population… Whiteness of a Different Color is a subtle and sensitive exegesis and deconstruction of the immigrant experience in American culture.—John White, Times Higher Education

Jacobson builds a history of how the category of ‘whiteness’ plays in American history… His goal is to demystify, and the tone he takes does exactly that. Wry and often sarcastic, his bite is sharpened by his ability to pick out the dark, unintentional humor from his sources.—Willoughby Mariano, The New Haven Advocate

In this fascinating book, Jacobson traces the development of racial identity in America. Between the 1840s and the 1920s, racial differences and hierarchy between Anglo-Saxons and other white ethnic groups were given great significance. ‘White ethnics’ were generally considered as distinct and inferior to the original Anglo Saxon immigrants… [Whiteness of a Different Color] explodes the myth of the American melting pot. Jacobson demonstrates how white racial inclusion was inextricably linked with the exclusion of non-whites and, interestingly, how their widely-recognised whiteness is partly due to the presence of non-white groups…This is a thought-provoking account of an often overlooked topic.—Claire Xanthos, The Voice

Jacobson’s important book helps to fill an important gap in the literature about the history of European immigrants assuming different racial identities in the United States… Because of its broad sweep of history, Jacobson is able to reveal previously ignored ways in which anti-racism coalitions have succeeded without yielding to assimilationist ideology.—Louis Anthes, H-Net Reviews

Whiteness of a Different Color tells us about the varying, and inevitably failing, attempts to come to terms with the concept of ‘whiteness’, which, despite its vicissitude and inconclusiveness, was, and still is, one of the most important notions in American political culture… True to his ‘identities’ as historian and American Studies scholar, Jacobson’s sources are tremendously varied, ranging from novels, films, print journals, to legal records, colonial charters, and state constitutions… The book’s argument is most convincing.—Christiane Harzig, International Review of Social History

Jacobson has written a provocative, nuanced account of American race formation and especially of the way in which many American immigrants from Europe were cast initially as ‘nonwhites’ in the late 19th century… Using a variety of sources, including film and fiction, Jacobson concludes that whiteness is clearly a socially constructed category infinitely malleable as a political tool. This historical survey is highly recommended for all libraries.—Anthony O. Edmonds, Library Journal

Whiteness of a Different Color is nothing less than a powerful synthesis of American history. Viewing the U.S. through the prism of race, Matthew Frye Jacobson re-writes ‘immigrant history’ and, in the process, discovers the key to America’s past and future.—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Race Rebels

This groundbreaking book advances the study of white identity (both as category and as consciousness) significantly. It takes intellectual chances and makes the risks pay off.—David Roediger, author of The Wages of Whiteness

Whiteness of a Different Color offers an unanswerable demonstration that the historical whitening of European immigrants intensified ‘race’ as the marker of a white/black divide. Jacobson challenges at once the revival of the Caucasian racial category and the real inequalities to which it points.—Michael Rogin, Robson Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

Awards & Accolades

  • Co-Winner, 1999 Ralph J. Bunche Award, American Political Science Association
  • 1998 Best Book Award, Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association
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