The color issue: an introduction.

Author:Alexander, Michael Scott

During the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. often described eleven o'clock Sunday morning as "the most segregated hour in this nation." He might have also noted a lack of diversity during Saturday morning Shabbat services. It is with an acknowledgement that such questions of color continue to define and divide Jewry in America today that the editors have chosen to explore the lived identities of Jews in this special "color issue" of American Jewish History.

Who are Jews of color? In America, the term itself has been growing in usage by many African Jews, Caribbean Jews, Latino Jews, Asian Jews, and other Jews who consider themselves nonwhite. In his recent analysis of the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, social demographer Bruce A. Phillips estimates that 10.8 percent of those in Generation X and Generation Y currently identify as Jews of color. The growth in Jews of color among the young represents a clear trend upward from the 6.8 percent of Jewish baby boomers who consider themselves people of color, and the 3.9 percent of the Silent Generation who identify as other than non-Hispanic white. At the current rate, we would expect Jews of color to represent close to 20 percent of the next generation.

As the number of Jews of color increases alongside people of color in the general American population, color issues for greater American Jewry will likely grow in importance. At the turn of the twentieth century, American Jewry witnessed competing narratives among Central and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, with the former seeking to disallow the Eastern European immigrants the legitimacy of their culture and traditions, and also insinuating that Eastern European Jews occupied an inferior racial position. The rejection experienced today by some nonwhite Jews follows something of a similar pattern, as several of the articles herein indicate. Yet this volume also makes clear that the vitality of Jewry in America is beyond the domination of any single institution or ethnic group.

Because historical scholarship about Jews of color remains in its infancy, this volume, edited by two scholars from separate disciplines (history and sociology), utilizes the perspectives of a variety of disciplines to explore the area at the nexus of assimilation, color, and race. These are themes with which AJH readers will already be well acquainted.

We begin with sociologist Kelly Amanda Train, who uses in-depth ethnographic...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP