My top 5 reactions (in no particular order) to Jacobson, M. F. (1999). Whiteness of a different color: European immigrants and the alchemy of race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
- "White" means "whoever we feel like admitting as a citizen of our country at this time, " (p. 22-31 and 234-236), much like how "low-status work" is "whatever work immigrants and women are doing." Humans are very good at redrawing boundaries for their own convenience and making it sound like it's (of course!) always been that way.
- Science is a very good social tool for conveniently rewriting social boundaries (p. 31-38) and thereby erasing inconvenient history. Why is it such a good social tool? Because it pretends that it's not a social tool -- it's all objective and stuff, it must be true!
- On that theme, I like this quote from p. 94:
What did "Caucasian" mean in the mid-twentieth century? What is the relationship between "white" on one hand, and "Caucasian" on the other? Although the categories "white" and "Caucasian" may have overlapped almost entirely, the idea "Caucasian" did accomplish something that the more casual notion of whiteness did not: it brought the full authority of modern science to bear on white identity... whiteness racheted up to a new epistemological realm of certainty... naturalizes both the grouping and the authority by which that grouping is comprehended... evokes a scientific certainty regarding its boundaries and integrity.
- I found the early 1900's thinking on racial mixing (p. 81) to be a disturbingly current description of some cultures my own lived experience has been... er, experienced within. The thinking was that if a child was born of mixed races, they were "degraded" to the "lower" race they were mixed from: white + Indian = Indian, white + Jew = Jew, white + Negro = Negro, and so on. I've heard phrases like "but then your children would be half black!" said in tones of voice that made it clear that your children would then be "beneath" you. I've also caught myself thinking things like "but then my kids would be half Asian (and half white)!" as if my racial heritage would be "dragging my kids down." Why would I do such a terrible thing to my children, giving them Asianness? And why do I say that as if it were a dreaded maternally transmittable disease? (But I'm getting into my own experiences/personal-reactions now, not the broader scholarly discussion...)
- Shouldn't our lived experiences be part of scholarly discussion? How do we dance that dance, constantly toe that equilibrium of shifting balance?