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

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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 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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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 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."

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    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 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 strategically shaped these programs to the benefit of whites. The result was that whites who had been mired in poverty had access to a fast track into the growing middle class in America. From the implementation of the G.I. Bill to FHA loans for homes, whites benefited from these programs precisely because blacks were restricted from accessing them. The cumulative affect of all this state-sanctioned privilege can be thought of as the original affirmative action. The vignette at the beginning with LBJ speaking at Howard is a great frame for Katznelson's empirical answer to this question: why didn't blacks benefit economically and socially from the largesse of the New Deal? The answer is that the New Deal was designed and implemented to not benefit blacks. You're welcome.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    succinctly breaks down how widely revered New / Fair Deal social welfare programs widened racial gaps in income, wealth, and education b/w white and Black Americans. Katznelson offers a clear and compelling answer to why Dixiecrats wielded such power within FDR’s coalition, by closely examining the origins and impact of the time’s key legislation, from the Social Security Act to the GI Bill. time and time again, he makes clear, Southern Democrats were willing to support federally funded welfare succinctly breaks down how widely revered New / Fair Deal social welfare programs widened racial gaps in income, wealth, and education b/w white and Black Americans. Katznelson offers a clear and compelling answer to why Dixiecrats wielded such power within FDR’s coalition, by closely examining the origins and impact of the time’s key legislation, from the Social Security Act to the GI Bill. time and time again, he makes clear, Southern Democrats were willing to support federally funded welfare programs so long as they disproportionately benefitted whites, kept Black people marginal, and were administered by racist local and state authorities; at least until the mid-‘40s, when organized labor ramped up efforts to organize Black workers across the South and demanded national policies that would benefit all workers, regardless of race. where the writer falters is in his turn to considering remedies to these wrongs, in so far as the policy-based solutions he proposes in the last chapter are modest and don’t reckon with how weak welfare has always been in America, compared to other wealthy countries.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    Affirmative action during administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman was exclusively white. This book is an excellent description and analysis of the ways in which the most powerful social programs of the 1930s and 40s were explicitly designed to exclude African Americans. Whether through drafting or application, Social Security, labor laws and the GI Bill failed to end the historic caste system and distribution of opportunity in the United States. The book also discusses access to e Affirmative action during administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman was exclusively white. This book is an excellent description and analysis of the ways in which the most powerful social programs of the 1930s and 40s were explicitly designed to exclude African Americans. Whether through drafting or application, Social Security, labor laws and the GI Bill failed to end the historic caste system and distribution of opportunity in the United States. The book also discusses access to education, loans, property ownership and military service. I knew a lot of this already (certainly not from anything I was taught in school) but this book pulls it all together very well.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    (The title alone of this book deserves a review and so here I give it). There are two key takeaways from When Affirmative Action Was White. 1. The New Deal was crafted with discriminatory intent. The New Deal was the most progressive series of legislation ever when FDR signed it to boost the economy after the Depression. It was responsible for the creation of a modern middle class and is the social bedrock upon which intergenerational wealth is founded in the United States. Social Security and the (The title alone of this book deserves a review and so here I give it). There are two key takeaways from When Affirmative Action Was White. 1. The New Deal was crafted with discriminatory intent. The New Deal was the most progressive series of legislation ever when FDR signed it to boost the economy after the Depression. It was responsible for the creation of a modern middle class and is the social bedrock upon which intergenerational wealth is founded in the United States. Social Security and the GI Bill are the most well known New Deal programs. Except: * Farm and domestic workers were excluded from Social Security and minimum wage until the 1950s, which accounted for 75% of African Americans in the South and a majority in the country. * African Americans were denied access to housing, education, and small business loans subsidized by the GI Bill after WWII because (a) they were discouraged from enlisting in the military in the first place and (b) localities were allowed to determine the requirements of the loans. This wasn't coincidental, and Ira Katznelson handedly shows how - from the design of the bills, shepherded through Congress by the powerful coalition of Southern Democrats, to each piece of legislation's decentralized implementation, which allowed states and municipalities to do business as usual, that is, Jim Crow. This allowed racial inequality not just to continue but caused it to become worse after the 1930s and 40s. 2. Affirmative action should be linked to historical causes. Affirmative action as it stands today only seeks to right individual or private acts of discrimination, but not ones that our local and national government were directly involved in. Support for affirmative action is low because the clarity and persuasiveness of the association between harms and remedies is rarely ever clearly established. Personally I can attest to this because as someone who enjoys and studied history, I completely missed the significance of the New Deal on racial inequality. I doubt I am the only one. Just recently I made a lofty assertion to a friend: "We identify more by race and ethnic group today rather than as Americans because the American Dream is no longer achievable for everyone". Well, that is not true. The American Dream has never been possible for everyone. The author proposes tax credits, one-time grants, or loan subsidies where it can be shown that one stands in a direct line of people left out or delayed in receiving the benefits of New Deal programs. This would not be permanent nor typical of how the government acts but to remedy a time when the government did act unjustly. Katznelson does not go into much more detail about remedies nor should he because the crux of his argument is that we as Americans first need to understand our history for this to ever happen. This period of history is important to understand as it shows that time and again public policy has been the most decisive instrument in dividing Americans along lines of race. If we give social capital to one group of people, European Americans, and do not give it to different groups of people, African Americans and other minorities, we cannot be surprised by the disparate outcomes over the years with regard to poverty, housing, schools, and the criminal justice system. Holding people only individually responsible for their actions is at best disingenuous, because choices are predicated upon the resources made available to communities. There is one cure for the aforementioned historical amnesia: education. We have to better understand our history as a country to make any progress when it comes to racial inequality. And if you haven't been paying attention lately, it's not just getting better with time. On that note, I am giving the book 4 stars with the caveat that it is not as accessible as (I think) it could be. It often reads in acadamese and probably would not fly for classroom reading in a K12 setting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pascal

    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.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Excellent book, should be required reading for old people that think racism is done and over with and can’t possibly have an effect on people’s lives today.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nikhil

    This book was underwhelming. The central thesis of this text is that racial disparities between whites and Black peoples in the US for a variety of outcomes (e.g., wealth, home-ownership, mortality, etc.) widened post-WWII due to a series of New Deal policies that, while race-neutral in language, were explicitly constructed or were enforced in a manner that was racially biased. This is not particularly controversial as a thesis, and is testable using empirical applied micro techniques. As Katzne This book was underwhelming. The central thesis of this text is that racial disparities between whites and Black peoples in the US for a variety of outcomes (e.g., wealth, home-ownership, mortality, etc.) widened post-WWII due to a series of New Deal policies that, while race-neutral in language, were explicitly constructed or were enforced in a manner that was racially biased. This is not particularly controversial as a thesis, and is testable using empirical applied micro techniques. As Katznelson is not an economist, however, he cannot provide data-driven analysis, and instead needs to provide rich narrative evidence. He fails to do so. Specifically, the text could have greatly benefitted from discussions (or anecdotes) that detailed how enforcement occurred for New Deal programs in the South. Indubitably these government agents were racist, but this text needs to provide evidence of that. How did these local officials behave? What tools did they use to discourage Black enrollment? Instead, Katznelson focuses on legal sources, statements by politicians, and newspaper records. He needed to broaden the sources he considered beyond these documents to include personal diaries, etc., that would have allowed for a more social history of the time period. The one chapter in which Katznelson includes more personal sources, the chapter on segregation in the army, is the best in the text. I also found Katznelson's framing of the book using Johnson's speech, Powell's legal doctrine, and affirmative action to be uninspired. Apparently, it is "a penetrating new analysis" to white people that the US government has operated in an explicitly racist manner for most of its history. This fact is unsurprising to anyone who has read any histories written by people of color in the US. The entirety of US history has been government sanctioned policies that amounted to affirmative action for whites. Why limit the analysis to the New Deal? Additionally, who cares about a legalistic defense of affirmative action (as offered in this text)? The courts turned away from their meager defense of racial justice in the late 70s and have not looked back. Meaningful economic gains for poorer Black peoples in the US are not going to come through the courts. This text may be useful to individuals who have limited knowledge of New Deal legislative history (e.g., the specifics of the Social Security Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Taft-Hartley Act, etc., and how these bills were passed). If you are familiar with these, you can likely pass on this text.

  8. 5 out of 5

    M- S__

    This book is an excellent survey of racial discrimination in the New Deal and Fair Deal programs. There are so many blind spots in American history between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Katznelson does an excellent job of highlighting how the great expansion of social programs and wealth of America after World War II specifically required the exclusion of African Americans to pass. A speech by President Johnson to Howard University serves to frame the b This book is an excellent survey of racial discrimination in the New Deal and Fair Deal programs. There are so many blind spots in American history between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Katznelson does an excellent job of highlighting how the great expansion of social programs and wealth of America after World War II specifically required the exclusion of African Americans to pass. A speech by President Johnson to Howard University serves to frame the broader discussion about our failure to support African Americans through the New Deal and also serves as a launch point for Katnelson's prescriptions for Affirmative Action programs going forward. I find his ambitions a little too small and wanting, but find the historical context he provides for the discussion necessary and incredibly valuable. I think this is a great read, but recommend it only on the condition that it not be your only read on the subject.

  9. 4 out of 5

    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. 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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steph

    Great analysis of the racist history behind many programs and policies in the U.S.. Recommended for anyone looking for a breakdown of that at an intro level. If the book just stuck to that, I'd add 1-2 stars. However, his policy ideas going forward do not go far enough, and his criticism of large scale cash reparations was unnecessary. The book quickly dismissed mass cash reparations in favour of smaller cash reparations tied to specific programs' racist histories, without engaging in why many a Great analysis of the racist history behind many programs and policies in the U.S.. Recommended for anyone looking for a breakdown of that at an intro level. If the book just stuck to that, I'd add 1-2 stars. However, his policy ideas going forward do not go far enough, and his criticism of large scale cash reparations was unnecessary. The book quickly dismissed mass cash reparations in favour of smaller cash reparations tied to specific programs' racist histories, without engaging in why many argue that mass cash reparations would be fair. The book also approaches colorblindness as an ultimate goal, which is not helpful to say the least.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Danielle W

    I was a little worried that this would be outdated and yet, sadly, it's still very relevant and a good starting point for discussing discrimination and oppression today. I was a little worried that this would be outdated and yet, sadly, it's still very relevant and a good starting point for discussing discrimination and oppression today.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shay Akil McLean

    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!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This book outlines how African Americans have been excluded from many of the programs aimed at raising the lives of US citizens. For instance, they did not benefit as a group from New Deal and GI Bill. It also shows how affirmative action, which has become so synonymous with African American life was never so at its origins. Recommended reading.

  14. 5 out of 5

    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. 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Teehan

    Valuable, historically grounded argument about the way white supremacy (though the author doesn’t necessarily use that framing) was built into the new deal and GI bill in formal and informal ways. I was put off by the lionization of LBJ and scotus/political institutions themselves shaped by white supremacy as a framing for moving forward. I found the conclusion unpersuasive and inadequate even on the terms of the book itself. Definitely good factual background on the institutionalization of whit Valuable, historically grounded argument about the way white supremacy (though the author doesn’t necessarily use that framing) was built into the new deal and GI bill in formal and informal ways. I was put off by the lionization of LBJ and scotus/political institutions themselves shaped by white supremacy as a framing for moving forward. I found the conclusion unpersuasive and inadequate even on the terms of the book itself. Definitely good factual background on the institutionalization of white supremacy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    A short and well-argued book that seeks to reframe the way we think about AA. Katz argues that we usually begin our histories of AA in the 1960's when government programs started to encourage, and sometimes require, quotas or race-conscious admissions to universities, gov't employment, etc. This framing, Katz argues, ignores the fact that for the preceding 3 decades, gov't benefits and largesse flowed overwhelmingly to whites but not to African-Americans. This was AA for whites. This process coul A short and well-argued book that seeks to reframe the way we think about AA. Katz argues that we usually begin our histories of AA in the 1960's when government programs started to encourage, and sometimes require, quotas or race-conscious admissions to universities, gov't employment, etc. This framing, Katz argues, ignores the fact that for the preceding 3 decades, gov't benefits and largesse flowed overwhelmingly to whites but not to African-Americans. This was AA for whites. This process could go back a while: Khalil Gibran Muhammed points out that Progressive Era reforms were not directed toward African Americans in northern cities because of racist beliefs about black criminality and inferiority. However, starting with the New Deal makes sense because it was the beginning of probably the most activist period of US gov't in US history. The New Deal coalition needed the votes of southern Jim Crow legislators to get anything done, and those legislators used their influence to shape New Deal policies in 2 ways to prevent African-AMericans from benefitting in ways that would shake up the southern political/economic system. First, they included riders on things like the Social Security Act Wagner Act for protecting unions that barred groups like agricultural and domestic laborers, even food processing/packaging workers, from the benefits and protections of those acts. Second, they required that federal largesse be distributed by state and local authorities so they could be denied to blacks. Similar processes repeated themselves throughout the next 2 decades. Segregation in the armed forces meant that whites received vastly preferential access to job training, compared to blacks who were shunted into dishwashing and other menial tasks. The GI Bill, federal housing loans, the Fair Deal, and other postwar programs were also far less available to African-Americans. After the New Deal and WWII helped the US economy recover, these bills combined with unprecedented postwar economic growth to create one of the biggest and most widely distributed surges of wealth in US history. African-Americans gained something out of many of these programs, especially military service, but the gains of whites were immeasurably larger. These gains swelled the wealth gap and essentially helped create a new white middle class while leaving blacks behind. So when LBJ (a speech written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, btw) gave the commencement address to Howard University in 1965, he was right to point out the black poverty was a white creation, but he omitted (in an otherwise brilliant speech-I recommend it highly) the role of the federal government in creating this largesse. Drawing on the thought of Justice Lewis Powell, Katz argues that this history of preferential gov't action on behalf of whites should increase our willingness for gov't social programs that are available to everyone but target black poverty in particular. I liked his concluding arguments a lot, but I kind of missed the gist of them. He argued that reparations were not a great idea: too imprecise and vulnerable to demagoguery. However, he adds an important principle and deeper historical understanding to our conversations about the gov't role in redressing past injustices. I would have liked him to go more into FHA policies post WWII, but that can be found at length in the Color of Law by Rothstein.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karl

    I read this book because I respect Glenn Loury and he uses it to teach his undergraduate class on race and inequality at Brown University. My impression is that that is the appropriate place for this text. It is a good text for people who do not know the story of Southern segregation, Progressive agitation, and the complicity of FDR and the Democratic party with this oppression from the 1910’s to the 1960’s. I have no doubt there are a great number of people (likely a majority) to whom these fac I read this book because I respect Glenn Loury and he uses it to teach his undergraduate class on race and inequality at Brown University. My impression is that that is the appropriate place for this text. It is a good text for people who do not know the story of Southern segregation, Progressive agitation, and the complicity of FDR and the Democratic party with this oppression from the 1910’s to the 1960’s. I have no doubt there are a great number of people (likely a majority) to whom these facts would be new. That said, the “penetrating new analysis” of this books appears simply to be labeling de facto and de jure discrimination against blacks to be the same as affirmative action for whites. Yes, the laws were setup so that predominately white professions could unionize while predominately black professions could not. Is that affirmative action? Given that the purpose of the unions was to exclude blacks, I would call it plain old discrimination and segregation. Minimum wage laws, Social Security, GI benefits, were all set up to privilege whites and oppress blacks. I think calling it affirmative action, then as now, obscures the reality of what it really is. How nearly every aspect of the New Deal was crafted and controlled by Southern racists, however, is a story that is important and must be told. Where I would gig this book is that it actually understates the extent to which these policies were bad for blacks (and really, for everyone else too). It skips over how FDR’s emphasis on raising prices by promoting scarcity ensured a labor surplus, prevented the recovery, and ensured the poorest remained poor. Relief from this poverty went disproportionately to whites, while black leaders were cowed by the understanding that without the Democrats they wouldn’t even receive as much as they do. In this, I think this is an inferior book to Amity Shlae’s “The Forgotten Man”, which tells the stories of the Depression and its effects on particularly the Southern blacks with a rigor I haven’t seen elsewhere.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tomi

    This is a short but eye-opening book, and the history it details is both important and fascinating. Katznelson makes a persuasive case for affirmative action as a corrective for identifiable instances of government intervention on behalf of white Americans, rather than as a generalized apology for racism. In doing so, he also highlights the effectiveness of those social programs - the GI Bill, Social Security, etc. - thus providing encouraging evidence of the types of benefits that more aggressi This is a short but eye-opening book, and the history it details is both important and fascinating. Katznelson makes a persuasive case for affirmative action as a corrective for identifiable instances of government intervention on behalf of white Americans, rather than as a generalized apology for racism. In doing so, he also highlights the effectiveness of those social programs - the GI Bill, Social Security, etc. - thus providing encouraging evidence of the types of benefits that more aggressive policies could create. On the downside, the book does read like a scholarly paper or textbook, with academically-welcome but not exactly riveting deep dives into the likes of the Taft Hartley Act making it a slow read at times.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    Well researched book published in 2005 with many examples from past hundred years that show how federal and state policies gave whites access to the economic opportunities that fueled the accumulation of wealth (social security, home loans, the segregation of the armed forces until after WWII, the GI bill, school funding and admissions policies, housing policy, urban policy -that is, decisions to build highways to divide whites from blacks in cities that were headed toward integration). I wish y Well researched book published in 2005 with many examples from past hundred years that show how federal and state policies gave whites access to the economic opportunities that fueled the accumulation of wealth (social security, home loans, the segregation of the armed forces until after WWII, the GI bill, school funding and admissions policies, housing policy, urban policy -that is, decisions to build highways to divide whites from blacks in cities that were headed toward integration). I wish young people today would read this book. Much of the discussion about race and racism today seems overly personal to me, focusing more on the evil may lie in peoples' hearts -- rather than on demands that could be aimed at overcoming past, present and future injustice.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    it took me a little less than a year to read this because the writing can be a bit dry, but there is so much good information in there that is vital to understanding racial inequality in America ... i mean, tl;dr: social welfare was/is for white people!!! also appreciated how it illustrates how the way affirmative action is currently argued (i.e., in terms of admissions to elite universities, maybe upper-middle class jobs) is way too narrow a view. what about housing? social security? etc etc etc it took me a little less than a year to read this because the writing can be a bit dry, but there is so much good information in there that is vital to understanding racial inequality in America ... i mean, tl;dr: social welfare was/is for white people!!! also appreciated how it illustrates how the way affirmative action is currently argued (i.e., in terms of admissions to elite universities, maybe upper-middle class jobs) is way too narrow a view. what about housing? social security? etc etc etc.

  21. 4 out of 5

    MJ

    Lots of good information, just for some reason I found it a slog, though it isn't particularly unreadable . It's an interesting mix ideas both radical and short sighted. On a side note, it's hard to read about LBJ talking about signing the Voting Rights Act, recognizing that at best it's the "end of the beginning" while here, in 2018, we are dealing with a pathetic, gutted version of it. Lots of good information, just for some reason I found it a slog, though it isn't particularly unreadable . It's an interesting mix ideas both radical and short sighted. On a side note, it's hard to read about LBJ talking about signing the Voting Rights Act, recognizing that at best it's the "end of the beginning" while here, in 2018, we are dealing with a pathetic, gutted version of it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    As someone who has read quite a bit about the civil rights movement and racial justice issues, this was still an eye-opening history of new deal and GI programs that have intentionally contributed to current imbalances.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    The historical content was interesting and well-researched, but I didn't care for the analysis of Bakke and its progeny, and found the writing overall pretty clunky. I'd give 4 stars for the first 2/3 of the book. The historical content was interesting and well-researched, but I didn't care for the analysis of Bakke and its progeny, and found the writing overall pretty clunky. I'd give 4 stars for the first 2/3 of the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jim Cullison

    Exceedingly arid, repetitive, and ultimately unpersuasive. "The Color of Law" does a far better job of addressing the same general topic. Exceedingly arid, repetitive, and ultimately unpersuasive. "The Color of Law" does a far better job of addressing the same general topic.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Kinnear

    Pretty interesting, Katznelson makes the case that legislators and government administrators worked to keep the 20th century's social welfare programs from helping blacks in America. The legislature that passed FDR's New Deal needed the southern bloc of Democrats to pass, who did not want to disrupt Jim Crow policies by providing support to blacks. They were successful by keeping the various reform bills (Fair labor standards act and national labor relations act) from improving working condition Pretty interesting, Katznelson makes the case that legislators and government administrators worked to keep the 20th century's social welfare programs from helping blacks in America. The legislature that passed FDR's New Deal needed the southern bloc of Democrats to pass, who did not want to disrupt Jim Crow policies by providing support to blacks. They were successful by keeping the various reform bills (Fair labor standards act and national labor relations act) from improving working conditions for agricultural workers or house maids, both of which were predominately black. In fact, it's startling how racially targeted isolating those two industries was. In the 1930's, 60% of the black labor force worked in agriculture (70% in the South), and 40% of all acricultural laborers (55% of all sharecroppers) were black in 1940. Likewise, in no southern state were >15% of its housekeepers non-white, and most states were <5% non-white. Only 8% of farms were owned by blacks. Katzmann goes on to explain that a series of labor strikes, climaxing in 1945-46 resulted in a Republican takeover of congress by a slim majority. They were able to pass sweeping reform to undo much of the New Deal labor protection laws with the Taft-Hartley act, thanks to Souther Democracts switching sides to vote with Republicans, giving them a veto-proof majority that passed over Truman. Why did Souther Democrats switch sides? Katznelson argues it's because the WWII draft drained the country of able-bodied whites, leaving a growing number of industrial jobs to be filled by blacks, who were thereby entering industries that had significantly better labor protections than they were used to, which was a threat to Jim Crow. I get the feeling that there was more to this story than Katzmann allows, as historical narratives around legislation this sweeping is never so cut-and-dry. The GI bill had similar problems. For example, only 100 of the 67,000 mortgages insured by the VA were for non-whites. While there was no racial bias written into the bill, Southern Democrats were able to establish all administration of GI bill funds to state and local administrations, which subsequently implemented massive racial bias. This bias was expressed through limiting access to credit for mortgages, access to good healthcare, and job-training that wasn't a scam. This racism wasn't limited to public sector administrators, as it took racist lending practices, and race-informed job discrimination, of which Katznelson provides numerous examples. Katznelson does explain that the GI bill still had a massively positive impact on blacks in America, but it could have been much better. Why bring up history from 60-80 years ago? It has to do with the justification for affirmative action. Katznelson believes that progressives have done a poor job over the past 10-20 years of defending affirmative action for minorities, and that the public as a whole is pivoting towards the belief that such programs do more harm than good, by giving minorities unfair advantage over the majority white population. "Popular and political support... as well as judicial legitimacy, will depend on the clarity and persuasiveness of the association between harms and remedies." Katznelson supports Powell's rules for how to implement affirmative action: that there msut be "a clear and tight link connecting affirmative action's remedies to specific historical harms based on race" and that "the goal to be pursued by affirmative action cannot be vague or only of moderate importance." I think Justice Powell's fine-grained assessment of affirmative action was just right. It would be callous to ignore the tremendous and devastating imapct of racism on American life. In light of the particular harms inflicted on blacks in multiple institutional spheres, it has to be possible to override the understangint hat equal protection ordinarly applies to individuals, not racital groups, in order "not only to end discrimination," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has hargued, "but also to counteract discrimation's lingering effects." But such exceptions must be narrowly tailored. They must serve a sufficient public purpose ot overcome a non-racial constututional and moral presumption, and they must be conditional on the character and strength of the teis that connect specific past harms to present remedies. Every violation of color-blind norms, in short, must be justified with the goal of a just color-blind society in mind. Impartiality shoudl be the predominant virtue. Wherever possible, race should not count for or against any given person. Katznelson believes that this history is important to remind the public of, because it illustrates that the majority of blacks in the country today (and their children) have been hurt by racially biased government policies and policy implementation. I'm not sure that the programs that Katznelson described in this book are technically affirmative action for whites. But this is disagreement over the semantics of what to define as affirmative action.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Political scientist.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maya

    dnf for now...just too tired to read stat heavy nonfiction

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laurie B

    The author of this book suggests that the exclusion of Black Americans in the New Deal of the 1940s should be considered when developing current-day affirmative action programs. I think another important lesson from the era of the New Deal is understanding how otherwise non-discriminatory policies can become discriminatory upon execution of said policies. If we’re not aware of the egregious acts of exclusion and discrimination that occurred when the Social Security program was rolled out in 1935 The author of this book suggests that the exclusion of Black Americans in the New Deal of the 1940s should be considered when developing current-day affirmative action programs. I think another important lesson from the era of the New Deal is understanding how otherwise non-discriminatory policies can become discriminatory upon execution of said policies. If we’re not aware of the egregious acts of exclusion and discrimination that occurred when the Social Security program was rolled out in 1935, for example, is history not bound to repeat itself? This book should be required reading for many reasons, including the argument of ‘those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett

    I read this following White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. That was revelatory. I’ve become that annoying person who won’t shut up at dinner parties about a book they’ve just read. Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White acts a nice follow up (not that it’s written for those purposes). If White Fragility laid out the race theory, Katznelson explores the nuts and bolts of the white supremacist system. Specifically, he explores how New Deal legislation and the economic boom of post war Americ I read this following White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. That was revelatory. I’ve become that annoying person who won’t shut up at dinner parties about a book they’ve just read. Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White acts a nice follow up (not that it’s written for those purposes). If White Fragility laid out the race theory, Katznelson explores the nuts and bolts of the white supremacist system. Specifically, he explores how New Deal legislation and the economic boom of post war America were not just incidental contributors to systemic white racism, but were written and enforced in ways which intentional excluded poor blacks, the most vulnerable members of those contemporary societies. To provide just one example so that readers can get a flavor for this book: Katznelson provides primary documentation and data showing how decisions about the application of social security, minimum wage, and work time limitations were intentionally left to State jurisdiction. This was done at the demand of the large southern white constituency of the Democratic Party at the time. Threatened that such programs would impinge on the “Southern way of life” and the South’s power to decide on “the negro question,” Southern Democrats made sure these economic booster programs LEFT OUT professions known by all to be over 80-90% African American: farming and domestic caregiving. Because of this, unemployment and poverty amongst Southern African Americans continued to spiral out of control while poor whites in the same regions received economic relief. Thus the title of the book. This situation constituted what we would now call affirmative action. At the time, and for decades (if not centuries) it brought enhanced opportunity to white Americans solely based upon their skin color. As I said, this is just one example. The only reason I didn’t give this book five stars is that Katznelson gets repetitive. Honestly, I could have learned the central tenets of his thesis WITH supporting data in about 100-125 pages. It’s not that I didn’t still enjoy reading the rest. I just found myself saying, “um.....yes...didn’t you already prove this?”

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Really academic but informative book This book has been touted recently in light of news on affirmative action so it seemed like a good candidate to borrow from the library. The title was intriguing (to me). Affirmative action is often associated with non-white people so I was curious to dig into the history and learn more about its origins, how it was implemented and more information to round out what I knew.   It was fascinating (and horrifying) to see how and why programs running from the New D Really academic but informative book This book has been touted recently in light of news on affirmative action so it seemed like a good candidate to borrow from the library. The title was intriguing (to me). Affirmative action is often associated with non-white people so I was curious to dig into the history and learn more about its origins, how it was implemented and more information to round out what I knew.   It was fascinating (and horrifying) to see how and why programs running from the New Deal to the GI Bill to Social Security, etc. were designed and implemented so that whites benefited. Some of this was political manueverings (objections and politics of Southern Democrats, for example). Some of it was by design (exclusion of farm workers and domestic). Definitely stuff that I don't remember when learning about the New Deal for instance (or very likely was never taught).    That said, the criticisms are also on target. The writing style is tough to read, despite my interest and the topic and the author's enthusiasm for it. Sometimes the text is very uneven with very interesting passages then interspersed with really dry reading. It also could be quite repetitive and sometimes the points he's trying to make have been beaten to death.   That said, I'm glad I read it. I don't think I'll be checking out any other works by him but this was a good borrow from the library. Another book called 'The Color of Law' by Richard Rothstein focuses on discrimination on housing and would be a good supplement to this text.

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