When Affirmative Action Was White

An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America

Ira Katznelson (Author, Columbia University)

Overview | Inside the Book

A groundbreaking work that exposes the twisted origins of affirmative action.

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."

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • August 2006
  • ISBN 978-0-393-32851-6
  • 5.5 × 8.3 in / 272 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“A fresh, highly readable, first-rate history.” — Sanford D Horowitt, San Francisco Chronicle

“A penetrating new analysis.” — Nick Kotz, New York Times Book Review

“Stories materialize as if from dreams… He dealt in myths and universals, not daily reality…. Purdy’s characters never question the fallen state of the world in which they find themselves or the terrible things done to or by otherwise unexceptional individuals. The author makes no claims that they deserve better, or that problems are there to be solved. Even in the more naturalistic stories, violence and sexual compulsion, gay and straight, are part of the background music. Maliciousness is just another word for manners.” — George M. Frederickson, New York Review of Books

“A gem of a book.” — David Oshinsky, The Nation

“Purdy’s short stories are often brief and propelled by dialogue rich with the quirks and profanities of the American vernacular…. They also tend to convey a pervasive sense of moral compromise or emotional damage in the lives of their characters…. The thick volume gathers all of Purdy’s stories—fifty-six in all, including seven previously unpublished ones—for the first time.” — Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Also by Ira Katznelson All

  1. Book CoverFear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time


  2. Book CoverPolitical Science: State of the Discipline

    Centennial Edition / Paperback

  3. Book CoverThe Politics of Power: A Critical Introduction to American Government

    Seventh Edition / Paperback

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