When Affirmative Action Was White

An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
Narrated by: Jonathan Yen
Length: 8 hrs and 20 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.5 out of 5 stars (156 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In this "penetrating new analysis" (New York Times Book Review), Ira Katznelson fundamentally recasts our understanding of 20th 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 70 years of American history.”

©2005 Ira Katznelson (P)2016 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"[An] intriguing study" ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about When Affirmative Action Was White

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Absolute Must Read

I have reading a lot of books about the history of racial injustice in the US, from slavery to mass incarceration. In terms of thinking about where the US stands today, this book might be the most important of the lot. In my mind, one of the big lessons is that structural racism is boring and buried in details. Topics like mass incarceration are hugely important, but even they fail to account for the widespread disadvantage that black people continue to face in 2018. To my mind, this book shows the big picture. This book shows how black people were systematically held back from making it to middle class status. The writing is clear and precise and focuses on facts and rules and points to how the injustice was implemented. Despite being written in such a neutral voice, I often found myself wanting to crumple over and cry. Just read about the disgusting way that black troops in WWII were treated by their own military AND then were shut out of the GI Bill when they returned. It is sickening. It is truly disgusting. His purpose, to lay out a much stronger case for affirmative action is brilliant...but in some ways understates the implications of the book. To me, the bigger lesson is to understand how much government policy has been used to betray and exploit black people way after slavery. I recommend this book unreservedly. It should be read by every high school student in the country. This is the US - a society where racism is an integral part of the system, not a mere bug in the system.

If I had to offer a "criticism" it would be that the book lays almost all the blame for these policies on the South (the Southern Democrats to be specific). That seems to leave out the widespread use of city and state policy in the north to unfairly advantage whites over blacks (e.g. racial covenants in real estate contracts was common in cities like San Francisco). In that sense, the book represents an important tip of a disgusting iceberg.

The writing is great. The narrator does a perfect job. Do not hesitate to read this.

15 people found this helpful

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An great study of institutional racism in the US

This book talks about the racist US policies that shaped the current state of black Americans in the country. It is an academic look at racism and compehensive on policy issues affecting racism in the US.

5 people found this helpful

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Excellent Book!

This book taught me so much. So much history that I never knew existed. An excellent read for everyone.

3 people found this helpful

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Riveting and necessary read for all Europeans-Americans (white-American, EAs) and others alike!

This book is an extension to W.E.B. Dubois ‘The Souls of Black Folks’ (which chronicled the daily hardships, life, racist systematic restrictions all of which prevented and delayed the upward mobility of African Americans (AA) post Emancipation!)

I will keep my review succinct however please view the sources I reference if you really want to understand what the black experience was/is like for many black Americans today; why the wealth gap is as massive as it is, why the prison industrial complex is merely a modern form of Jim Crow (which existed overtly from 1876-1960) throughout the US, it was more overt in the South however don’t be naive to believe that AAs’ were better off or did not face white rage, violence and discriminatory treatment in the North, West or the East, The US was and still is one NATION.

I commend the narrator’s voice throughout this audiobook. He was enthusiastic all throughout which made listening to such awful information of consistent legal exclusion, differential treatment towards AAs’ somewhat tolerable.

‘When Affirmative Action was white’ pros:
•It provided a mixture of national statistics, opinion surveys, polls and assessments on Americans views towards AAs’ from the 1930s-1950s which gives you immense context because “time changes so [hopefully] do some peoples views.” All of which are embedded in colorful yet racist laden stories.

• It graphically detailed how AAs‘ nationally have experienced well over “seven centuries of disenfranchisement not four” due to the racist EAs who were in Government roles during those eras.

•It described the various legal mechanisms that were by design racist and consistently excluded and ignored the needs of AAs’ but were handsomely given to EAs (ie. GI Bills benefits, home loans, business loans, security, access to high quality schools, social security, employment, access to health amongst other).

•It documented economic statistics on the workforce, schools, gender, employment salaries (wage discrimination, exploitation) and much. Many of these restrictions amongst other hardships during those time the author argued also contributed to the destruction of the black family structure.

• It detailed the stance of various Presidents during those times which is crucial.

• It stated dozens of factoids (ie, racist laws that were by design created to maintain the status quo toward AAs’ while propelling the formation of a white middle class, sustaining racist defacto quotas, and racist EA’s treatment towards AAs’ and more) which he argues is why many AA and (black Americans) continue to be left behind or at the lower end of the social economic ladder in 2020.

‘When Affirmative Action was white’ con: none, this is NECESSARY reading!

Additional references:
The New Jim Crow- Michelle Alexander
Black like me-John Griffin
Why are all the black children sitting together in the cafeteria- Dr. Beverly Tatum
The Moynihan Report: The Negro Family-Daniel Moynihan






1 person found this helpful

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Packed with Facts!

Katznelson provided excellent insight into how Federal policies where shaped to only benefit White Americans and excluded Black Americans solely because they were Black. When affirmative action begin to be implemented for the betterment of Black American's the white populace railed agaisnt these policies and called for it to be dismantled.

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eye opening

this book should be on everyone's reading list to truly understand what america is to black america.

5 people found this helpful

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A must read for all Americans

This book poignantly explains and exposes why there are such stark racial gaps in America and how it was accomplished through intentional design. The narrator makes a very tough subject to become aware of easy to listen to, which made the subject matter that much more effective

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Great Reviewer

A must read! Great history and a very interesting perspective! I recommend everyone listens to this book ! Eye Opening!

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Very informative and honest!

it's not honest that you can read a mainstream book and hear the truth about how the US government treated African Americans or American descendants of slaves(ASOS)!!

1 person found this helpful