ExcerptDespite 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.