David Roediger, in his work Working toward Whiteness displays his characteristic scholarly excellence in his narration of 20th Century American history, as pertaining to racial and ethnic effects on the overall American social strata. As a continuation of the classic, The Wages of Whiteness, the book elucidates to the contemporary scenario where Jewish, Polish and Italian- Americans among others, who at one period were a section of segregated ethnic minorities, enjoy White social/ racial status today.
While other historians may portend to the whiteness of the immigrants upon their very arrival to the United States, Roediger is of the opinion that it is at the beginning of the 1920s, when such ethnic groups became fully integrated into White America. From racially biased covenants, such as the racist agreements on housing/ estate development, which effectively segregated other ethnic/ racial entities from white neighborhoods, to the prevalence of racial slurs, the murky realities of 20th Century are well expounded in this work. The above entailed minority groups are occupying an uncomfortable middle ground between the white (purely) northern European populations and the other minorities as composed by Black-, Chinese- and Mexican Americans. The book touches on the development of an American White working class culture due to then prevalent racial biases in the 19th Century America.
It is during the 1920s being the interwar period (between WW1 & 2), that according to Roediger, new immigrants started on their journey towards inclusivity in the White American social strata. Most importantly, there was the 1924 Immigrations Act, supplemented by racially segregated and restrictive housing practices, which inadvertently strengthened the racially biased New (White) Deal policies formulated and implemented. It is through judicial jurisprudence as espoused by historical court rulings, judgments and censorship, this in addition to the powers and collective strength of labor Unions that the aforementioned minorities were assimilated into White American society.
Social forces as the clamor for racial equality and inclusiveness, labor issues, housing policies and the prevailing politics of this era, contributed to the elevation of these Southern and Eastern European Immigrants into the White social arena of America’s society. The above practices (segregated housing policies), in addition to labor union laws (favoring these immigrants over the other forms of minorities), unfortunately aided in solidifying the above White status quo, at the expense of overall deepening racial divisions.
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Hence, the current existent notions of still racially divided American social strata continue to darken America’s history. However, Roediger is of a different perspective to a host of other historical and political scholars, his credentials speak for themselves as his astuteness, in historical matters brings forth positive elements, which have proven to be useful to contemporary study of the issues of poverty, race/ racial discrimination and contemporary American points of rough coexistence. Such positive elements may be espoused in the divergent perspective of the existent intellectually and socially dynamic American social strata.
With a more vivid account of how historical experiences to different racial entities, which compose the American society, historians, scholars, students and the general public, are fundamental to the shaping of contemporary society, Roediger is able to enlighten America’s public as to the aspect of interconnectivity. With different skills, social standings and relations, aiding in the dynamism of contemporary Capitalist America, the different facets of its society thus prove to be preconditional towards attainment of the American Dream.
Immigrants coming to the U.S driven by the aforementioned principle, were to realize that racially not all beings are equal and, hence, their adaptation, counter-revolutions, transformation and influence of contemporary society. This was achieved through a number of avenues, some peaceful, others violent. With consistent, strong-will, unequivocal opinion voicing and steadfastness in addition to unavoidable event/ circumstance occurrence, such minorities charted their course towards inclusion and equal treatment.
Unavoidable events, such as the Second World War, and the Great American Depression, also proved to be a blessing in disguise as they entailed en masse movement of people from different regions to the new dominant global superpower. Though treated differently similarly to other minority groups, European immigrants faced qualitatively different oppression to that faced by the other minorities. With the 1924 restrictions, a great migration of African Americans from the South, on northwards, brings about a further understanding of contemporary social settings. This worked to the European immigrant’s favor, as the tag “foreigner” shifted from them, towards the new immigrants from the South.
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With the advent of the Post-war era, an era of great political and economic growth, a majority of the middle class departed from the city neighborhoods towards the outskirts into the Suburbs. This era is commonly referred to as the era of Suburbia and was characterized by an increase in wages and, hence, better lifestyles. With this, these immigrants joined the middle class, in accordance with newly found lifestyles. Other racial minorities were to occupy these vacancies in the cities bringing about the rise and spread of inner-city housing projects and social initiatives.
With the mainly Black American immigration to the north, as a consequence of various Acts enforced towards the prohibition of slavery, slave- ownership and trade, their social standing was elevated from that of slaves, to free American citizens, the prevailing biases notwithstanding. From the above work, a study of Race and Poverty is addressed through the variants of uniquely different but intertwined historical experiences, which have aided in enriching, developing and solidifying the American social arena.
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I am in agreement with the majority of what Roediger portends pertaining to the slow but sure rise of the European immigrants through the ranks of outsiders/ minorities towards inclusiveness in the White American social strata. The different aforementioned social constructions aided knowingly or unknowingly by the education sector brought about a lasting impression as inputted by the variants of biases present. Apart from the White Americans, other citizens in historical America were classified as being less-human prejudices varying amongst the minorities.
This racial discrimination contributed immensely to the prevalent racial divisions, which affected all aspects of the American society in the political, socio-cultural and economic arenas especially. Though European immigrants, especially those from South and Eastern Europe, benefitted through a number of measures taken towards their White identity, it is also critical to note that they still underwent variants of prejudices, biases and, at times, violent opposition.
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From his espoused examples, I am in agreement with the fact that the notion of White/ whiteness pertaining to American inclusivity into mainstream society, was and may still be a marker of group borderline/ division, between those with political and, hence, economic influence and the rest of society. Such immigrants had to fight, occasionally lie or cheat, suffer humiliation and constant abuse, to progress through the American social ladder. Inclusiveness into the White American social facet meant an increased arena of privileges unfathomed in the other social facets.
These immigrants, viewed as foreigners initially, paved their way to the title of gradual natives who were then included in the exclusive categorization of white Americans. It is true that they did sweat their way across the factories, facilities and industrial complexes, which propelled the industrialization aspect of America, attained the highest academic offices possible, and even were elected to some of the highest national offices, as presented in the work. Through a dynamic and complex historical path, these new White entries achieved their present social standing, though at a cost of increased racial divisions.
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As demonstrated through the variants of socio-cultural constructions, racial categorization/ segregation is not an inherent biological reality, as many would believe so. Rather, through socio-cultural inclinations and biases, the ugly head of racism is enhanced. Another point of agreement would be that the housing policies of that time, which discriminated against non-white American citizens, contributed in a significant way towards the gradual assimilation of the Southern and Eastern Europeans into White American society.
Furtherance is the historical truth that English-only and anti-immigration groups and movements opposed such immigrations educated by their ideals, which espoused a fear of the loss of American Identity, due to the variants of cultures, societies and religions gaining entry into American space. It is true that this en masse immigration into the US, caused a sense of anxiety and restlessness of the prevailing American society marking a turning point in the country’s political, religious and socio-cultural arenas.
I am also in agreement with the fact that Roediger views the presence of industrial unionism as a key element, which shaped contemporary labor issues. Unfortunately, this entity adopted a strategic plan of narrowly organizing their composite skilled workers based on their skills/ crafts, and, thus, they, as part of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had segregated themselves apart from other union members. This resulted in the new White immigrants succeeding in their endeavors, while leaving the majority of the working labor force not only racially distinct, but also unorganized and, thus, possessing limited bargaining powers.
In conclusion, David Roediger goes about providing minute but intricately related historical occurrences and events, which fill out the larger picture that is portrayed in the book. He provides comprehensive examples as to the historical path through which America’s contemporary generations (then considered minorities), have been able to go through with a variant of initiatives, procedures and policies, to gain entry into the White American social strata (inclusivity).
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