Race Prejudice and Discrimination: Readings in Intergroup Relations in the United States

By Arnold M. Rose | Go to book overview

43. The Jews as a Race *

Louis Wirth

[Racism has, of course, been a source of prejudice even for those minority groups that are not distinguishable in biological terms. Louis Wirth, a distinguished sociologist, summarizes the observations that show how the Jews as a social group have come to be identified as a racial group.]

Who are the Jews? The traditional view is that they are a Semitic people, and that throughout many centuries of dispersion their purity of blood has been preserved. Recent accumulations of material, however, indicate that the Jews are by no means uniform in their physical characteristics, and that the majority of them are of a type different from that found among other Semitic-speaking peoples, for the Semites are primarily a linguistic group.1

Anthropologists and sociologists are becoming more cautious in generalizing about biological and temperamental differences between races, nationalities, and cultural groups. There is probably no people that has furnished the basis for more contradictory conclusions than the Jews. The traits with which they have been credited by their friends, their enemies, and themselves fairly exhaust the vocabulary. Still, the elementary question as to whether the Jews are a race, a nationality, or a religious or cultural group remains unsettled. There are those who, with Chamberlain, belive that the Jew constitutes a clear racial type whose characteristics are unmistakable. His amazing words are worth quoting:

Very small children, especially girls, frequently have quite a marked instinct for race. It frequently happens that children who have no conception of what "Jew" means, or that there is any such thing in the world, begin to cry as soon as a genuine Jew or Jewess comes near them. The learned can frequently not tell a Jew from a non- Jew; the child that scarcely knows how to speak notices the difference. Is not that something? To me it seems worth as much as a whole anthropological congress. . . . Where the learned fails with his artificial construction, one single unbiased glance can illumine the truth like a sunbeam.2

____________________
*
From The Ghetto ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928), 63-71. Copyright 1928 by University of Chicago Press. Reprinted by permission of University of Chicago Press and the author.
1
Roland B. Dixon, The Racial History of Man ( New York, 1923), chap. vi.
2
Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 11, 537.

-450-

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