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When Affirmative Action Was White


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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.


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.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"A fresh, highly readable, first-rate history." -- Sanford D Horowitt - San Francisco Chronicle "A penetrating new analysis." -- Nick Kotz - New York Times Book Review "Ira Katznelson has made a major contribution to the affirmative action debate... [His] book makes as strong a case as I have ever seen for vigorous action to bring about equal opportunities for African-Americans." -- George M. Frederickson - New York Review of Books "A gem of a book." -- David Oshinsky - The Nation "Katznelson's explosive analysis provides us with a new and painful understanding of how politics and race intersect." -- Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Columbia University professor Katznelson argues that many lauded New Deal and Fair Deal programs, from Social Security to the GI Bill, actually helped reinforce segregation because the Southern wing of the Democratic Party made sure that administration of these measures stayed local. Major controversy anticipated. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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