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

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9780393328516: When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
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A groundbreaking work that exposes the twisted origins of affirmative action.

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 specifically excluded maids and farm workers, the gap between blacks and whites actually widened despite postwar prosperity. In the words of noted historian Eric Foner, "Katznelson's incisive book should change the terms of debate about affirmative action, and about the last seventy years of American history."

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About the Author:

Ira Katznelson is Columbia University's Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History. Having served as president of the American Political Science Association, he is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is also the author of Fear Itself and When Affirmative Action Was White.

From Publishers Weekly:

Rather than seeing affirmative action developing out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Katznelson (Desolation and Enlightenment) finds its origins in the New Deal policies of the 1930s and 1940s. And instead of seeing it as a leg up for minorities, Katznelson argues that the prehistory of affirmative action was supported by Southern Democrats who were actually devoted to preserving a strict racial hierarchy, and that the resulting legislation was explicitly designed for the majority: its policies made certain, he argues, that whites received the full benefit of rising prosperity while blacks were deliberately left out. Katznelson supports this startling claim ingeniously, showing, for instance, that while the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act was a great boon for factory workers, it did nothing for maids and agricultural laborers—employment sectors dominated by blacks at the time—at the behest of Southern politicians. Similarly, Katznelson makes a strong case that the GI Bill, an ostensibly color-blind initiative, unfairly privileged white veterans by turning benefits administration over to local governments, thereby ensuring that Southern blacks would find it nearly impossible to participate. This intriguing study closes with suggestions for rectifying racial inequality, but its strongest merit is its subtle recalibration of a crucial piece of American history. (Aug.)
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