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Whiteness of a Different Color

Whiteness of a Different Color

European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race

Matthew Frye Jacobson

ISBN 9780674951914

Publication date: 09/01/1999

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Matthew Frye Jacobson

America’s racial odyssey is the subject of this remarkable work of historical imagination. argues that race resides not in nature but in the contingencies of politics and culture. In ever-changing racial categories we glimpse the competing theories of history and collective destiny by which power has been organized and contested in the United States. Capturing the excitement of the new field of “whiteness studies” and linking it to traditional historical inquiry, Jacobson shows that in this nation of immigrants “race” has been at the core of civic assimilation: ethnic minorities in becoming American were re-racialized to become Caucasian. He provides a counter-history of how nationality groups such as the Irish or Greeks became Americans as racial groups like Celts or Mediterraneans became Caucasian.Jacobson tracks race as a conception and perception, emphasizing the importance of knowing not only how we label one another but also how we see one another, and how that racialized vision has largely been transformed in this century. The stages of racial formation—race as formed in conquest, enslavement, imperialism, segregation, and labor migration—are all part of the complex, and now counterintuitive, history of race. Whiteness of a Different Color traces the fluidity of racial categories from an immense body of research in literature, popular culture, politics, society, ethnology, anthropology, cartoons, and legal history, including sensational trials like the Leo Frank case and the Draft Riots of 1863.


  • 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


  • 1999, Joint winner of the Ralph J. Bunche Award


  • Matthew Frye Jacobson is William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History at Yale University.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 1 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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