A major reevaluation of relationships among Blacks, Jews, and Irish in the years between the Irish Famine and the end of World War II, The Colors of Zion argues that the cooperative efforts and sympathies among these three groups, each persecuted and subjugated in its own way, was much greater than often acknowledged today. For the Black, Jewish, and Irish writers, poets, musicians, and politicians at the center of this transatlantic study, a sense of shared wrongs inspired repeated outpourings of sympathy. If what they have to say now surprises us, it is because our current constructions of interracial and ethnic relations have overemphasized conflict and division. As says in his Introduction, he chooses “to let the principals speak for themselves.”
While acknowledging past conflicts and tensions, Bornstein insists on recovering the “lost connections” through which these groups frequently defined their plights as well as their aspirations. In doing so, he examines a wide range of materials, including immigration laws, lynching, hostile race theorists, Nazis and Klansmen, discriminatory university practices, and Jewish publishing houses alongside popular plays like The Melting Pot and Abie’s Irish Rose, canonical novels like Ulysses and Daniel Deronda, music from slave spirituals to jazz, poetry, and early films such as The Jazz Singer. The models of brotherhood that extended beyond ethnocentrism a century ago, the author argues, might do so once again today, if only we bear them in mind. He also urges us to move beyond arbitrary and invidious categories of race and ethnicity.
The tutelary genius of this book is Edward Said in his kindest moments. The principles affirmed throughout are interpretive generosity and ethnic hybridity. Bornstein's book reminds us that empathy and compassion are as essential in scholarship as they are in life.
Bornstein's embrace of a more humane vision of the world that transcends narrow group loyalties may strike some readers as sentimental or somehow out of keeping with a serious work of cultural history. But the purpose of this book is to argue that we have little hope of overcoming the differences of the present unless we have a much better grasp of the differences of the past--as well as a grasp of those bonds of fellowship in the past that have escaped our attention because of our own impoverished views of ethno-racial identity.
To a culture and community bedeviled by identity politics, sectarian horrors, racial and ethnic wounds still festering, Professor Bornstein tenders robust, free-range scholarship and abundant humanity as correctives to the record of, heretofore, disparate tribes. The Colors of Zion is the bounty of a life's work and study: an alternative text for academics and common readers alike, which examines the connections between famine, middle passage and holocaust, and upholds the voices--literary, visionary, bygone and new--that profess we are all in this together.
Like the figure of Wisdom in the Bible, George Bornstein has prepared for us a powerful measure of discernment. The Colors of Zion is a dazzlingly new yet ancient testament to the quest for home as shared by African Americans, Jews, and Irish over the last century. This is a book for the ages, one we need now more than ever.
[Bornstein] demonstrates a nuanced knowledge of literary and popular culture around the themes of race and race relations to bring these three groups together. He wishes to celebrate their connections, which were often forged under duress...This book is a humane account of the cultural connection that did so much to shape U.S. life today.
The book is a fascinating intellectual experiment...In our multiethnic Barack Obama age, The Colors of Zion holds deep implications for where multiculturalism has been and where it could go.
A book that commands attention and invites interpretation...The sheer weight of [Bornstein's] evidence--nugget after nugget of ethnic convergence and harmony--cracks the fashionable hegemony of identity politics...The Colors of Zion is the product of impressive erudition.
Bornstein marshals a remarkable and diverse range of materials, and the analysis ranges from literature, song and racist sociology to public policy, university admissions practices, and the rise of ethnic publishing. The narrative is often revelatory: a swift succession of memorable case studies challenges reductive notions of black anti-Semitism, Jewish racism or Irish belligerence.
In this fascinating and persuasive study, Bornstein...demonstrates that over the 100-year period between 1845 and 1945, the cooperative sympathies among Blacks, Jews, and Irish were deeply rooted and strong and that these areas of cooperation overshadowed the real differences and tensions that existed among these groups...His project recovers a broad and historical record of what Blacks, Jews, and Irish themselves said and did rather than imagining their reactions and then projecting them from the present back to the past...Bornstein's brilliant comparative and transatlantic study compels us to rethink the relationship among races and the ways that we can learn from the examples he discusses in such luminous detail.
Bornstein offers a fascinating study of three diaspora populations whose paradigmatic similarities have coalesced into cultural hybridity. Jews, blacks, and Irish defended each other in juxtapositional fashion, and in his interpretations Bornstein reveals mutual resistances to discrimination and adaptations in literature and entertainment.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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