Date of Completion
Bandana Purkayastha; Daisy Reyes
Field of Study
Master of Arts
While Jews are, in part, defined by their association to the religion of Judaism, there are myriad ways in which Jews and Jewishness are defined based on cultural practices and notions of peoplehood. Among Jews, as well as in the larger mainstream society, there exists a complex hierarchy of authenticity, in which levels of religiosity, familial connection to the Holocaust, or ancestral claims to Jewishness, to name a few, are assigned varying levels of importance for claiming an authentic Jewishness. As Ashkenazi (European) Jewishness continues to exist in a precarious position to whiteness in the United States, it is crucial to examine how these claims to Jewishness, constructed by mainstream society, serve to racialize Jews either within whiteness, beyond whiteness, or, more commonly, paradoxically both white and “off-white.” Using a content analysis of 767 articles from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times (2000-2010), I ask: how are claims to Jewish authenticity dependent on racialized discourse? In this thesis, I show that claims to an authentic Jewishness rely on racialized narratives of the Eastern “Other”; cultural differences such as language, food, ritual wear, and religious distinctiveness; an ever-present association with the Holocaust and the racialization of victimhood; and the use of biological logics for authenticating Jewishness. I analyze the often paradoxical racializations of Jewishness in the mainstream media as a way to further examine Jews’ liminal position to whiteness, but also to contribute to the larger literature on racialization. Examining Jewishness through the lens of racialization shows that racialization does not exist consistently across any given group. By showing the variation within the group, the notion of the group itself (often constructed as a cohesive category through problematic means such as essentialist logics) is destabilized.
Lesser, Emma B., "Authenticating Jewishness: The Racialized Construction of a Jewish Ideal" (2016). Master's Theses. 951.
Matthew W. Hughey