The Price of White­ness: Jews, Race, and Amer­i­can Identity

Eric Gold­stein
  • From the Publisher
November 10, 2011


Despite all of the eco­nom­ic and social ben­e­fits white­ness has con­ferred upon them, [many] Jews do not feel the kind of free­dom white­ness is sup­posed to offer — the free­dom to be utter­ly unself­con­scious about one’s cul­tur­al or eth­nic back­ground. In fact, many Jews at the turn of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry seem par­tic­u­lar­ly con­scious of the way that being seen as white dele­git­imizes their claim to dif­fer­ence as Jews.

The Begin­nings of The Price of Whiteness

By Eric L. Goldstein

The Price of White­ness grew out of sev­er­al encoun­ters I had in grad­u­ate school while study­ing Amer­i­can and Jew­ish his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan. Much of what was dis­cussed in Amer­i­can his­to­ry sem­i­nars focused on race, and I grew very aware of how dif­fi­cult it was to present myself as a Jew, or to try to talk about Jews as a dis­tinct group, in a set­ting so focused on the cat­e­gories of black” and white.” Ulti­mate­ly I real­ized my dilem­ma was not unique, and that Amer­i­can Jews had been strug­gling for more than a cen­tu­ry with the ques­tion of what it meant to be Jew­ish in a black and white world.

Since the work of his­to­ri­ans is ground­ed in the past, we don’t often get to do the excit­ing field­work of an anthro­pol­o­gist or ethno­g­ra­ph­er. Aside from a few expe­di­tions to Atlanta, Chica­go, and Los Ange­les, most of the research for my book was done in soli­tude in the read­ing room of the New York Pub­lic Library. Still, I feel I was priv­i­leged to meet many inter­est­ing peo­ple along the way — the char­ac­ters that emerged from the dusty pages of books and news­pa­pers I was read­ing. From the Jew­ish nota­bles who fought for decades over whether Jews were a race” to the urban youth who exper­i­ment­ed with jazz and oth­er aspects of black cul­ture, these fig­ures became the vehi­cles for explor­ing the ques­tion I had set out to answer. 

Discussion Questions