When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
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When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  248 ratings  ·  24 reviews
In this "penetrating new analysis" (New York Times Book Review) Ira Katznelson fundamentally recasts our understanding of twentieth-century American history and demonstrates that all the key programs passed during the New Deal and Fair Deal era of the 1930s and 1940s were created in a deeply discriminatory manner. Through mechanisms designed by Southern Democrats that spec...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published August 17th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published August 22nd 2005)
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Jun 10, 2008 Jill rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in issues of race, class, and justice
Wow. This wasn't the most exciting read style wise, but I was blown away by what I learned. I of course, knew about slavery, Jim Crow, etc, but this book outlined how African Americans were squeezed out of many federal programs that lifted many whites out of poverty, The New Deal, GI Bill (education benefits and loans for homes), and even social security and unemployment.

For example, social security and unemployment benefits were specifically engineered to cut out domestic workers and farm work...more
Tressie Mcphd
My new thing after reading this book was to add "when it was white" to the end of every discussion of social policy and institutions. I have a particular sense of humor.

So, the premise of the book is that what we have coded as "minority" programs in the U.S. -- welfare, affirmative action, food stamps, etc. -- are just the inverse of accumulated white privilege. Using the greatest expansion of social programs in our history - the New Deal - Katznelson details how political and cultural processes...more
Very crucial book that should be read by all. Details how Black Americans in large numbers were left out the most significant benefits of the New Deal. Including, Social Security, Minimum Wage protection, and the benefits of the GI Bill. This book should place the affirmative action debate in a better historical context since it illustrates only some of the few ways America bolstered the economic prospects of its White Citizens and neglected Blacks almost wholesale.
Sam Dancis
This book had a profound effect on how I view race and institutionalized racism. My friends and I constantly cite it when we get in discussions with other people about contemporary racism and racial inequality; and why it is the responsibility of the American government to institute policies that address these issues.
It's a must read for everyone, but especially high school and college students.
Sava Hecht
Wow. I was a bit stunned while reading this book. Not too surprised, but stunned nevertheless. No matter which side of the Affirmative Action debate you are on, I'm sure that this book will open your eyes.
This important work addresses a fascinating and extremely significant chapter in 20th Century history: As the result of a "Faustian compromise" with conservative Democrats, programs of the New Deal and post-WW II era were designed and implemented in a manner that systematically excluded African Americans from the broad stream of benefits from Social Security, the GI Bill, and many other government programs.

To my knowledge, no one before Katnelson has ever broached this subject. His history is t...more
Zullay Pichardo
From reading the preface, it appeared that the author's approach is to view the problem of affirmative action in a clear perspective and come up with real solutions. But this did not resonate throughout the book. It felt like it was missing something. I picked this book because many people are uncomfortable with the topic: it paints such a vivid picture of skin color, making people feel like they have to take sides. The problem with this is not only that it further widens the gap between black a...more
David Bates
In When Affirmative Action was White, published in 2005, Ira Katznelson makes the case that the American government should recommit itself to affirmative action policies. Rather than general racial preference policies justified by socio-economic disparities, he advocates programs that recompense provable discrimination in the administration of New Deal programs. The bulk of his work is a synthesis of historical scholarship on the development and implementation of federal programs in the Roosevel...more
This is an excellent read. If you want to understand the wealth gap between groups, it provides quite a profound historical account on how we have gotten here and provides names of legislators and policies that helped some and hindered others. It hurt to see how people can deprive one another to benefit a culture of hate and dominance.
Shawn Steele
Ira Katznelson in "When Affirmative Action was White" completely reignites the seemingly exhausted scholarship on affirmative action. Not only does he do this, but his argument is an entirely untouched concept, not just involving affirmative action but with the New Deal, general American race theory, and United States history. While hardly in and of itself an exhaustive account, Katznelson argues in a concise, clear and effective manner that knows exactly when to end.
Dan Gorman
Katznelson skillfully shows how the New Deal expanded democratic civil society for whites, but not for African Americans. He shows how both parties in Congress were guilty of using coded bill language to enforce the racial status quo, and how the Democratic Party in the South - which supported the policies put forward by our modern GOP - stymied civil rights for a long time. Katznelson also makes a compelling case that we still need affirmative action today.
Brett Linsley
If you consider citizenship a responsibility, or have a general inclination to fulfill civic duty in the US, this book is necessary reading. As John Conyers and several other African American congressman have indicated, reparations has little to do with throwing money at the black community - it's a matter of recognizing and acknowledging our nation's unbecoming history. This book is a great place to start.
S. Ann
This book is great for looking at all of the legalities involved in regards to the 2nd & 3rd expansions of Whiteness in the US. This book can be considered as dry to some with the legal language but it is a gold mine in regards to opening the eyes of the reader to how the White privilege was literally written into the law & how statism, racial rhetoric, & subtle racism came to be in America. A must read!
A great read in conjunction with Ta-Nehisi Coates's recent Atlantic piece on the case for reparations, this book details how public policy and national programs from the New Deal through the GI Bill—because of the undemocratic influence of racist Southern senators and acquiescent Northern ones—widened the gap between black and white Americans.
Apr 09, 2013 Noah marked it as to-read
In its larger structure, there wasn't a lot new in here for me (we covered a lot of the topics in a college course I took). But Katznelson has a clear moral vision, an eye for historical detail and a unique attention to the importance of Congressional politics. Highly recommended if you want to learn about the racism written into the New Deal.
Approachable and well-argued; while this book wasn't terribly prescriptive, it did make the argument that is rarely heard about what benefits non-minorities have historically received in the United States in comparison to those that are under threat for minorities now.
Lee Tyner
The authors writing style is near void of voice. Also, he beats every point to death by stating and restating it. It has some interesting content but I found the writing style to be miserable to read.
Really fascinating argument, and I enjoyed his ideas and how to remedy the problems of Affirmative Action now, but it got a little redundant by the end.
Charles Stephen
The chapters on the GI Bill were thought provoking and definitely expanded my thinking about how privileged whites have been in the U.S.
May 25, 2012 Mahad is currently reading it
reflects back on the ongoing story of white america's willful ignorance to live up to their humanity.
This is a must read. That's all I'm going to say about it. Pretty interesting.
this is really important.
Jul 13, 2014 Bill added it
Yes policy is in part responsible for the creation of the American middle class. We like to think it was just good ole American ingenuity and hard work, but actually the big bad government did proactive things that made us a middle class society(and is working hard to undo the last 30 years). Homestead act. NLRB. The GI bill. The VA and FHA. Even training programs in the military during the the world wars. And here's the thing. These all benefited almost exclusively white people and left out peo...more
Dash Williams
Dash Williams marked it as to-read
Jul 28, 2014
Susan Richter
Susan Richter marked it as to-read
Jul 27, 2014
Ashtyn Bell
Ashtyn Bell marked it as to-read
Jul 23, 2014
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