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Jonathan Rieder Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism  (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985)

 

Author

Subject

Date

From: Mary Nash 1portia@GTE.NET

From: Adam Kinzinger <AKnznger@AOL.COM>

From: Amy Smith <amsmith4@ILSTU.EDU>

From: Stephanie Budzina <snbudzi@ilstu.edu>

From: Shawna Stewart SMSandLEA@AOL.COM

Subject: Canarsie Review by Mary Nash

Subject: Canarsie Review: Adam D. Kinzinger

Subject: Canarsie Review

Subject: Canarsie Review

Subject: Shawna Stewart Review of Canarsie

Date: Wed, 09 Feb 2000

Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2000

Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2000

Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000

Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2000

 

Date: Wed, 09 Feb 2000

From: Mary Nash 1portia@GTE.NET

Subject: Canarsie Review by Mary Nash

Mary L. Nash

POS 334

 

Book Review: Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism by Jonathan Rieder (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985)

 

  In 1964, Bob Dylan told the nation "The times they are a changin."  By the  close of the turbulent sixties, nothing better described the decade than  Dylan's prophetic words. Desegregation, civil rights, the birth control  pill, welfare, affirmative action, the sexual revolution and bilingual  education were all changes born out of a time marred by violence, hostility,  war and above all else, racism. For many people, change is not a positive  concept because with change comes uncertainty and subsequently, fear. For  the Brooklyn community of Canarsie, a predominantly low to middle class  Jewish and Italian neighborhood, changes brought about by the Civil Rights  Movement and a decade immersed in liberalism threatened their livelihood and  forced them to retaliate in what sociologist Jonathan Rieder calls "white  backlash."  Between 1975 and 1977, Rieder lived in Brooklyn, submerging  himself in a community of white ethnics who feared that changing racial  boundaries would negatively affect the harmonious middle class existence  they had struggled so hard to achieve. The product of Rieder's time in this  neighborhood is an ethnographic study of the residents that attempts to  explain why a once liberal community turned its back on the Democratic Party  in favor of staunch conservatism. Canarsie is a provocative look at how the  Democrats lost the white lower to middle class vote and how one time  supporters of civil rights could resort to tactics and beliefs that once  characterized the Jim Crow south.

 

 In the 1800's Canarsie was an Italian fishing community. It remained a  predominantly blue-collar Italian village until the early 1960's when middle  to upper class Jewish immigrants moved in attracted to Canarsie's nice homes  and good schools. They had fled to Canarsie because their near by  communities, towns like Brownsville, were increasingly turning into ghettos  marred by violence and crime. Canarsie was symbolic of the American dream.  The community offered good schools, affordable homes and a serene and safe  existence. According to Rieder, most of the Italians and the newly arrived  Jews were not strangers to ghetto communities and tenement homes. For them,  living in Canarsie meant that a ghetto free existence was attainable and  that the American dream was not just a dream. Although there were class and  religious tensions among the newly arrived Jews and the long-standing  Italian residents, for the most part they set aside their differences to  create a unified front and prevent who they perceived as undesirables from  coming into their haven and turning it into yet another ghetto. According to  Rieder, "They made their community into a fortress, a fenced land" (19).  Fear of returning to a life in the ghetto and pride in the little suburbia  they had created, united two vastly different ethnic groups in a fight  against intrusion from the underclass.

 

 The undesirables, also referred to as the underclass, were the blacks and  the Puerto Ricans whom Canarsians associated with poverty, crime and a  general lack of morals. Through interviews with the residents, Rieder paints  a picture of a community terrified of loosing their piece of the American  dream. Fight as they did, by the mid sixties, a slumping economic market  gave blacks and Hispanics a way into the once all white community. Some  sections of Canarsie were hit with such an influx of minorities that it  created white flight leaving the community even more vulnerable to  intrusion. As the racial lines shifted, Canarsians continued to resist the  intrusion, even if it meant becoming violent. Suddenly residents who had  once been associated with liberalism were becoming the racist bigots that at  one time they purported to abhor. In addition, the community was becoming a  riotous, violent lot indicative of those they sought to keep out of their  haven.

 

 The new residents of Canarsie were dehumanized; they were labeled  "Niggers," "animals" and "cockroaches" by a group of people who had at one  time themselves been the object of societal scorn for having different  religious and/or cultural beliefs. Canarsians believed that they were the  victims of the liberals who voted for civil rights and desegregation. The  changes brought about by a liberal government drastically changed their  existence by challenging the cultural hegemony within their community. By  showing that Jews and Italians, two groups in history who have been victims  of persecution, could be prejudiced and racist, Rieder subtly questions the  plight of the rest of the population. If Catholic Italians and especially  Jews could forget how they were discriminated against and punished for being  different, was there any hope that the rest of America could evoke sympathy  for a race that for centuries was treated as chattel and forced to live in  the shadows of the dominant group? Rieder does not answer this question. He  does not need to because the answer lies within the responses of white  Canarsians he interviewed.

 

 Rieder fills his book with interviews with the angriest residents of  Canarsie. Among both the Jews and Italians there is a belief that they  worked hard for what little they had and they clearly resented neighboring  blacks being able to gain entrance into Middle America on welfare and  affirmative action. They cannot acknowledge that such liberal reforms were  created to level the playing field. Civil rights could not be obtained in  reality without creating measures to account for existing institutional  racism. But instead of seeing programs such as welfare and affirmative  action as avenues to equality, residents of Canarsie viewed them as liberal  excesses designed to circumvent hard work and reward indolence. They could  not recognize how centuries of racism and segregation could not be erased  over night. The hostility of Canarsians towards their new black neighbors  and social welfare programs suggests that Middle America had no or very  little sympathy for blacks and that support of civil rights ended with the  passage of 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to Rieder, "They accepted the  concept of civil rights, liberty for all, and freedom of expression until it  impinged on them and their basic right to maintain the kind of society which  doesn't threaten them" (58).

 

 The bulk of Rieder's book is spent explaining why a group of former  liberals, with a shared past of discrimination, could break with Democratic  ideals and take violent measures to prevent infringement into their  community. Through countless interviews Rieder almost gives the impression  that the Jews and Italians were justified in taking extreme measures to  protect their haven. His interviewees retell accounts of black on white  violence without provocation, rampant crime in predominantly black  neighborhoods and high rates of drug addiction, alcoholism, cohabitation and  unwed pregnancies among blacks. After a while, the reader is so flooded with  negative images of black life that even the most diehard of liberals could  be imagined erecting an electric fence around the perimeters of Canarsie.  However, what happened in Canarsie was that those diehard liberals fled to  the suburbs, giving those whom remained even more reason to break with  liberalism. Rieder makes comments throughout the book suggesting that his  sympathies lie with Canarsians. He states early on that "Canarsians'  obsession with the worst in ghetto life reflected ghetto realities: a high  proportion of lower-class blacks and soaring rates of drug addiction, family  breakdown, and criminality" (63). He offers no statistical support to  sustain this claim suggesting that he believes the fears that Canarsians had  about ghetto life ruining their peaceful family environment were grounded in  reality.

 

 Rieder is not concerned with the black perspective. Less than a handful of  blacks were interviewed in this book. However, in Rieder's defense, the  focus of this book is not race relations. The book attempts to explain what  brought one time Democrats to break with the party and instigate the  controversial Canarsie school boycott in 1972-73 over the busing of near by  black children into their school district. Although some members of the  community clearly held racist believes, the real issue that originally  prompted Canarsians to retaliate so strongly when minorities began to  encroach on their turf was poverty, not race. Sociologists use the term  culture of poverty to describe a deviant way of living that involves lack of  planning for the future, no enduring commitment to marriage and absence of  the Protestant work ethic. The culture of poverty follows the poor even when  they find refuge in middle class societies. Blacks and Hispanics are  disproportionately represented in this culture because for so long the laws  forbid them entrance into the work force, which prohibited them from  adopting middle class values. Thus race and poverty became intertwined when  Canarsians took hostile measures to prevent neighboring blacks into their  community.

 

Residents protested ghetto life, or the culture of poverty to use  sociological jargon. A culture that lacked respect for its community, had no  strong familial connections and was devoid of any work ethic was a threat to  middle America. Race became the focal issue after some hoodlums who happened  to be black physically beat and robbed some Canarsie residents. When Black  on White crime occurred in this once peaceful neighborhood, fear spread  through the community uniting the residents. Subsequently all crime became  associated with Black life and everything evil in the world: crime,  violence, immorality and lack of respect for family and community became  characteristic of the Black culture. One Canarsian stated, "Those niggers  are the marauders of Brownsville. They ruined Brownsville, but I won't let  them ruin Canarsie. I'll join a terror squad to keep them out" (200).  Unfortunately, Canarsians lost sight of the real threat- poverty and the  culture it breeds. Instead of working collectively to fight poverty, they  let fear convince them that Blacks were the enemy and that they had to be  kept out of their community at any cost.

 

 When Rieder does delve into the school boycott that boasted the slogan  "Canarsie Schools for Canarsie Children," the framework is established to  understand why the community reacted as it did. They feared their community  would be destroyed by ghetto life just as Brownsville and New York City had.  There were many problems with the boycott, but the main one was the fact  that Canarsians attempted to resolve economic and political problems, which  had a much larger scope than their neighborhood. "They were trying to  resolve problems caused by forces of economics, politics and culture that  were remote from the ken and control of the neighborhood" (203). This may  seem like Rieder is again being sympathetic to Canarsians, however, in his  examination of the actions of residents in the school boycott, he paints a  portrait of a community run by a militant minority so steadfast in its  desire to keep strangers out that the issues at hand became blurred. Radical  players in the boycott like the Italian League and the Concerned Citizens of  Canarsie lost all objectivity and projected their fear of change onto 31  black students from Tilden. Rieder does not hold any sympathies for the  radicals who spread the fear that allowing blacks in would somehow destroy  the community. He stated, "The radicals did not invent the mood of  apocalypse. They embodied and inflamed it" (225).

 

 Rieder does his best to remain neutral and just report the facts of the  boycott and the events that led up to it. He does not specially blame any  particular ethnic group for the volatile situation in Canarsie; he just  blames the radicals for making a bad situation worse. However, Rieder's  language usage and choice of quotes suggests that in his estimation the  Italians are by far the worst culprits of racial and class intolerance in  Canarsie, with the Jews a distant second. It is the Italians who use the  word Nigger as if it is necessary to their survival, value vengeance,  believe in doing onto others before they do unto you and are at the  forefront of the boycott movement. The Jews on the other hand are described  as passive, educated, tolerant, sympathetic and in a constant struggle in  regards to what measures should be taken to protect their community. Rieder  often selected quotes and remembrances that illustrated this dichotomy:

 "As  I watched a group of Italian boys storm out of a bagel and bialy shop in hot  pursuit of three blacks bicycling down Flatlands Avenue to the barks of 'Get  the niggers,' I felt transported to a world of lynch mobs and magnolia  trees. An elderly Jewish woman grabbed hold of my shirt and cried out  against such Cossacklike practices…'Those black boys didn't even do  anything'" (182).

 

In the end however, neither group is positively reflected. Both the Jews and  Italians are depicted as having more of a penchant for avarice and malice  than generosity. Instead of sharing the American dream with others who  struggled as they once did, they chose to go to extreme, albeit futile,  lengths to keep their corner of middle America predominantly white. In  response to their inability to replenish white homeowners with other white  homeowners, Canarsie residents devised underhanded real estate schemes such  as only advertising houses for sale in Jewish, Italian and Chinese papers  and intimidating realtors into consulting the community about prospective  buyers before selling a house. Some members of the community even attempted  bombing the homes of whites who tried to sell to blacks. Canarsians, blinded  by racism, were so concerned with protecting the white hegemony of the area  that they failed to see how their hostile efforts to keep Canarsie an  impenetrable fortress actually contributed to her infiltration. Their  radical actions pushed the more liberal and elite of the community out into  other suburbs, lowering the already plummeting housing values.

 

 Rieder's proverbial beef however, is not necessarily with the inherent  racism and classism that led Canarsians to vehemently protect their  territory. He is disillusioned over their break with liberalism that led to  an era of Republicanism. He claims that somewhere in the seventies Canarsie  and subsequently Middle America abandoned the Democratic Party. His  description of the change however gives credence to the switch rather than  blames middle class society for becoming conservative. Rieder describes the  nation in the seventies as being imbued in sexual freedom, pornography,  crime, drugs, welfare and general immorality and the existing government as  unable to protect society from those social ills. If as Rieder claims,  "Traditionalists in Canarsie felt besieged by a tide of permissiveness in  family life, jurisprudence, school curricula, patriotic observance, sexual  relations and religious matters," then they would be justified in finding  other means to protect what they valued: family, honor, pride and community  (132). However, Rieder appears to denounce Canarsians for finding  alternatives to preserving their way of life.

"They resorted to arson,  racist ranting and vigilantism. They engaged in ethnic feuding, formed block  associations and crime patrols, and tried civil disobedience to halt busing.  They fashioned new concepts of racial pride, middle-class pride and ethnic  pride…And they voted, sometimes with feet, at other times with fists, but  especially by deserting the Democratic party, smiling upon the Republican  party, and chasing after third parties" (173).

 Rieder berates Canarsians for  abandoning the Democratic Party while simultaneously justifying their switch  to conservatism. They didn't desert the Democratic Party like Rieder  contends; the party deserted them. In their eyes, the government was now  catering to the needs of minorities and the poor with such liberal reforms  as affirmative action and welfare while they struggled to eke out a meager  existence to preserve their harmonious and safe neighborhood. The community  of Canarsie, desperate to cling to the traditions of the past and maintain  the safe haven they worked hard to achieve, felt betrayed by liberalism and  thus gave their loyalties to the party whom they believed would best protect  their interests.

 

 Set against the backdrop of change that characterized the sixties, Jews and  Italians of Canarsie took drastic measures to protect the racial and class  purity of their community. Rieder does an excellent job of explaining why  the community thought they needed to resort to violence, vigilantism, a  school boycott and under handed housing practices to preserve their way of  life. Where he fails however, is in his political analysis of why Middle  America as represented by Canarsie became a mostly Republican group. In his  attempt to blame Canarsians for abandoning the Democratic ideals that gave  birth to civil rights he justifies their switch to conservatism. More  importantly, however, he ignores the changes in the Democratic Party that  suddenly placed traditionalist liberals at odds with the party. On August 6,  1965 Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act giving African Americans in  Johnson's words "the most powerful instrument ever devised for breaking down  injustice"- the right to vote. Suddenly over a million blacks were voting,  and they were overwhelming voting Democratic. As blacks voted and persons of  color were elected to local and national offices the party inevitably  changed to meet the needs of its growing constituency. Issues like  discrimination and poverty demanded attention and rightfully so. If civil  tights were to be achieved in reality then programs had to be instituted to  compensate for the still existing racial and economic disparities between  whites and Blacks. Residents of Canarsie saw new programs designed to level  the playing field in opposition to their traditional values. Suddenly others  were living at almost their same economic standard without working and  qualified Canarsians were loosing jobs to minority applicants. Upper class  liberals were not as affected by such changes. They had the money to live  where they pleased, they weren't competing for jobs with minorities and they  were never in jeopardy of being the minority in their own community. If  civil rights and integration were to be successful, liberal reforms were  necessary. Perhaps the Democratic Party did abandon the white ethnics whose  support made it strong, but centuries of discrimination could not and would  not dissipate with only the passage of the Civil Rights Act and  desegregation. Unfortunately Rieder fails to recognize how liberalism  changed, and had to change to make civil rights a success. Instead, he  elects to place blame with Middle America for abandoning a party whose  interests were no longer aligned with their own. Although change was  difficult for Canarsie, in the long run many of the liberal reforms of the  sixties brought this country closer to embracing the principles of freedom  established by our nation's founders. 


Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2000

From: Adam Kinzinger <AKnznger@AOL.COM>

Subject: Canarsie Review: Adam D. Kinzinger


Adam D. Kinzinger

Political Science 334- Dr. Gary Klass

 

Book Review

 

Reider, Jonathan.  Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against

Liberalism.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.  1985.

 

Imagine that you have been transported into the 1970's.  The situation: many

local residents have spent their whole lives to this point, idealistic about

race and defending those whom they perceived as oppressed.  The problem: now

they begin to feel the affects of their hard work, but not in positive terms.

 Their property, whom most spend their whole lives attaining, begins to slip

in value, and the party they supported begins to leave them in the dust in an

effort to help a population that residents perceive as jointly sharing a zero

sum game.  While this situation may seem to describe something most would be

unwilling to live firsthand, this is exactly what CANARSIE's author did.

 

From 1975-1977, Jonathan Reider, a sociologist from Barnard College, moved

into the tense area of Brooklyn known as Canarsie, in order to understand the

social factors, tensions, and dynamics at work in this area.  Two years of

exhaustive interviews, questions, observations, and analysis went into this

book to provide a comprehensive understanding of the struggles faced by the

average Canarsian.

 

As blacks from the surrounding areas began moving into Canarsie, residents

were forced to truly assess their feelings towards the black community.  In

exploring this, the author draws frequent distinctions were drawn between the

middle class blacks, and what the locals referred to as the "niggers of the

ghettos." (59).  Use of street slang, walking styles, and overall attitudes

of non-assimilation often characterized differences.  One Canarsie resident

summed up this view: "These maniacs, the way they walk the streets and the

language they use, forget it.  They curse the way we say 'hello, how are

you?'" (60).  Increases in muggings and robberies began to imprint the minds

of residents that with an increase in blacks, came an increase in crime.  "A

liberal is a conservative who hasn't been mugged yet," was a common saying

within Canarsie.  Reider theorized that urban dwellers scan their environment

to determine danger, and use previous experiences as a biased prejudgment

(86).

 

The history of Canarsie is dynamic.  Predominantly an Italian community,

Canarsie began to attract a large number of Jews who were fleeing surrounding

areas to escape the ghettoization of their neighborhoods, (sometimes referred

to as white flight).  While religious differences created stress between the

two newly combined groups, this stress paled in comparison to the fight they

were about to embark upon, together.  When confronted with a common enemy

(incoming blacks), these two groups decided not to let religion split them in

their common fight.  Affordable housing, and panic added to the tensions

between whites and blacks.  Whites feared a depressed housing appraisal and

desperately sold to the first buyer, black or white.  With blacks becoming

increasingly able and interested in living in Canarsie, their numbers

increased.  So did the incidents of violence and hatred.

 

To work against this pattern, the Jewish community set up a housing program,

in which a white owner looking to sell would alert the leaders in the

community, who in turn, would advertise the sale in news publications

specific to desirable ethnic groups.  While this less violent method slowed

the progression of blacks into Canarsie, some were still unhappy.

Firebombings intimidated other families looking to sell black.

 

The main focus of CANARSIE, however, involved the splitting of traditional

liberals with their Democratic Party.  Italians and Jews were beginning to

face the fact that the Democratic Party, in which they had placed so much

faith before, was no longer a party strictly for them, the working man.  Now

they had to share the party with the very minorities who were threatening

their personal economic well-being. Tradition remained strong, however, and

many of the Jewish residents felt as though they would sell out their

forefathers if they voted Republican.  The same did not hold as true of the

Italian population, who by and large, were more at ease pulling the

Republican lever.  Machine politics played a vital role in Canarsie.  State

Assemblyman Fink was seen as having the power to chase blacks out of

Canarsie, but was unwilling to do so.  Thus, Republican's put up contenders

for his position, but could not overcome the machine political establishment

(the Jeffersonian Democratic Club). The Club, however, became progressively

weaker throughout the book's duration, unable to cope with the growing

backlash, and increasing numbers of Republicans.

 

The Italians were "stay and fight" Republicans, with a desire to maintain a

white Canarsie by any means necessary.  One extreme incident depicted a group

of Italian youths who noticed a black youth looking into the back yard of a

Canarsie resident.  Believing that the black youth meant to cause harm, the

group chased him onto a bus where he was brutally beaten (179).  Retaliations

resulted in a kind of viscous circle.  According to Reider, two separate

justice systems had emerged: the formal, and an informal system consisting of

self-made rules (179)

 

While blacks played a central role in this book, there is very little black

perspective included.  This is understandable since the author did not live

with blacks and the book is not about the black perspective.  This fact

unintentionally added to the impression that residents of Canarsie were

justified in their anti-black feelings.  One side of the issue was analyzed,

as were those always involved residents who were able to expound on their

feelings.  The thoughts and feelings of the discussed group were notably

absent-with a few exceptions.

 

If one is interested in understanding the shifts of political values as

experienced in Middle America, Canarsie may provide adequate insight into why

local politics changed as it did in this situation.  Reider was able to

transpose the feelings of the residents into the pages of a book, but he used

a sociologist word jargon that made some of his ideas difficult to

comprehend.  He also coupled analysis of the people with his personal

feelings, which made it difficult to distinguish between fact and opinion.

It also made his views difficult to pin down.  Reider seems to blame Canarsie

residents for abandoning the Democratic Party, yet it seemed as if their

changes were justified.  Since this book focused largely on the local context

of Canarsie, national occurrences were somewhat ignored.  Nevertheless,

President Carter's failures, as perceived, were discussed and analyzed and

the ramifications were evident in the voting results of the Canarsie

precincts, which provided for some context to compare national politics with

the local trends.

 

CANARSIE could have been improved by a simplification of language; however,

it is essential to note the audience to which it was written.  Undoubtedly,

the author had a more educated audience in mind, as the average reader

without an interest in race relations or some other similar sociological

interest would likely not pick the book for pleasure.

 

CANARSIE was an interesting work in helping to understand racial dynamics,

albeit seems to show a more simplistic cause and effect relationship between

races.  Action X lead to reaction Y, and reaction Y led to a second reaction,

Z.  Race and race relations involve a much more complex thought process.

This book is recommended reading for someone with an interest in black/white

relations in the inner city, as for anyone interested in studying the

decline/rise of political or factional parties in the city.  It is not

recommended reading for anyone looking for an answer to race relations.


Date: Sun, 13 Feb 2000

From: Amy Smith <amsmith4@ILSTU.EDU>

Subject: Canarsie Review

 

Reider, Jonathan; Canarsie The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism.   Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts 1985. Reviewed by Amy M. Smith. 

 

        What causes racism?  Who is susceptible?   Race relations are a complex web of identity and politics.  While trying to understand the dynamics of a move away from what he calls liberalism, Jonathan Rieder’s analysis of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie illustrates these complexities.  From housing discrimination to school boycotts to violent vigilantism and fire bombings, Canarsie’s Jewish and Italian communities demonstrated the growth and escalation of racism.  Canarsie gives a glimpse into the process that creates hate and prejudice in the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

 

        Reider’s Canarsie focuses on the causes rather than the consequences of racism.  Reider starts out by looking at the formation of racism in middle class Americans.  Reider spent several years living in close contact with and studying the people of Canarsie.  In his study of this community, Reider attempts to understand the change in values and political alignment that occurred in the middle class following the civil rights movement.

 

         Many of the Jews and Italians living in Canarsie had come there after fleeing communities like East Flatbush and Brownsville after low income blacks had moved into them.  The close contact between middle class Jews and Italians created clashes between class cultures.  Canarsian’s associated the culture of poverty and ghetto life; including crime, drugs and sexual promiscuity, with all blacks and Hispanics.  They perceived the minorities of the ghetto as a threat to their communities and their piece of the American dream.

 

          While the two groups (Jewish and Italian) did not always live together harmoniously, the fear of outsiders brought them together.  These close communalist communities turned an ugly face to their black and Hispanic neighbors.  The Jew’s and Italian’s of Canarsie allowed encounters with a few blacks in surrounding neighborhoods to prejudice their encounters and potential encounters with all blacks and Hispanics.  Reider gives the example of a woman who had once been an activist protesting against rent exploitation in black neighborhoods.  She explains that

 

“I didn’t have such hatred before.  I started disliking the blacks about ten years ago, in 1967.  I was on a subway and got mugged.  I still don’t know why they slashed my face with a razor.  It was a black girl and a Puerto Rican that done it.  That finished me feeling sorry for them.

 

        The actions that played out these prejudices, referred to by Reider as ‘white backlash,' started out as simple exclusion.  White Canarsians formed neighborhood block associations and attempted to keep community members from selling their houses to minority buyers.  These groups put pressure on their neighbors to ‘sell to their own kind.'  These pressures where social, economic and even physical threats in some cases.   Neighborhood organizations took measures to make sure homes were not advertised in places where minorities were likely to read them.  Rather then place an add in the New York Times, Jewish and Italian sellers would advertise in ethnic newspapers and boycott real-estate agents who sold to black buyers.

 

        Prejudice, however, festers and grows into hate as it is passed on from generation to generation.  Busing and integration in Canarsie schools brought prejudice and violence towards minority children from both parents and children of the white community.  When New York attempted to rezone and bring more black children into Canarsie, parents, organized in part by the PTA and Italian-American Civil Rights League, demonstrate outside the school and boycotted by keeping their children at home.   Among older children in Canarsie High School, racism took the forms of riots and gangs.  Parents felt their children were threatened by the presence of black children and encouraged fighting.   Many, especially Italians, carried weapons and encouraged their children to carry weapons.  The fear of each other created gangs that formed around ethnic hatred.   Often local cops turned a blind eye and told gangs of Italian boys to ‘do what you gotta do’.

 

        While Reider takes a deep look at the issue of racism forming and escalating among the white communities, he does not explain or attempt to understand what was happening on the black side of racial conflict in Canarsie.  In many of the examples Reider gives of the crime in Canarsie that helped form racial hatred among Jews and Italian, the victims are target because they are white.   They are perceived as an ‘other’ and a threat.  By reacting to violence and hate with more of the same, Canarsie intensified the problem.    The fear of black parents for the safety of their children is mentioned only briefly, and only in regards to elementary children. Prejudice is usually a two way street.  Black perceptions of and attitudes towards whites helped create the perceptions of hostility and distrust among Canarsiens.  White exclusionism and vigilantism helped create fearful and violent reactions from blacks.    The omission of the point of view of one half of the conflict hurts this studies’ potential as a useful tool for understanding racial conflict.

 

        The obscure points made throughout the book to liberalism and conservatism seem irrelevant, as they are ambiguous concepts.  Reider equates the turn away from liberalism with the formation of strong racial prejudice. He shows how the Jewish community became conservative out of fear and self interest.  Interwoven with the formation of anti-integration convictions, once liberal Canarsiens also become antigun control, and other views that “devalue abstract concepts of rights...(and suggest) that democracy might be too dangerous in a volatile plural society”(Reider 189). Underlying his sociological study of racial contact and conflict, Reider has a clear political agenda.  He seems to emphasize Canarsie’s turn away from liberalism, while ignoring the wider social implications of racial prejudice.  In his criticism of Canarsie, he does not even attempt to be objective.  Instead, he makes a plea for the Democratic party to cater more to these ethnic groups in order to keep them on the liberal side of politics.  It is not hard to guess that Reider considers himself a liberal.  While he shows why the lower class Jews turned away from liberalism, he does show how liberalism turned away from them.  This Analysis also fails to give any possible solutions to any of the problems illustrate by Reider.  Is integration hopeless?  Should we give up on the idea of an pluralistic and equitable American society for liberal political unity?

 


Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000

From: Stephanie Budzina <snbudzi@ilstu.edu>

Subject: Canarsie Review

 

Status:  O

 

CANARSIE: THE JEWS AND ITALIANS OF BROOKLYN AGAINST LIBERALISM.  By

Jonathan Rieder.  Illustrated.  290pp.  Cambridge, Mass.  Harvard

University Press.  $22.50.

Reviewed by: Stephanie Budzina (snbudzi@ilstu.edu)

 

                The Reagan presidential victory in 1980 was a shock to

many liberals.  One liberal, Jonathan Rieder, was perhaps not so surprised

by this conservative victory.  Rieder had already been questioning the

liberal crisis in a political microcosm called Canarsie.  Rieder spent

1975-1977 studying the lower-middle-class neighborhood of Canarsie in

Brooklyn.  In his urban ethnography, Canarsie: The Jews And Italians Of

Brooklyn Against Liberalism, Rieder seeks to explain how the Democratic

Party could have lost its blue-collar support.  So, this book is also a

political analysis.  The social changes beginning in the late 1960's had

set the stage for middle-class backlash.  In short, the Reagan victory in

1980 was a vote to stop this rapid social change.

 

                Two themes reoccur in this ethnography: racism and

politics.  The Jews and Italians of Canarsie were blue-collar workers who

wanted to hold on to the ethnic purity of their neighborhood.  Having

twice fled other neighborhoods because of crime and decay, the Jews and

Italians were fed up and did not want to be pushed out of another

neighborhood.  Since the Jews themselves had been persecuted for so long,

some found it difficult to flee their neighborhood. They did not want to

give in to racist sentiments when African-Americans and Latinos started

moving in next door.  But the daily reality of crime and fear forced them

out.  So while the Italians showed the Jews how to stand fast, the Jews

also taught Italians the political rhetoric for their unified fight

against the encroaching minority population.

 

        The Canarsians are not portrayed so much as racists, though.  They

are people caught up in the politics of proximity.  Since they only live

near lower-class minorities, they choose to see all minorities like the

lower-class people.  Also, they are still so close to their old neighborhood

that they can see the decay on a daily basis and this really affects

the Canarsians.  These minorities (on welfare) did not share the same

values as middle-class minorities. Although, the Canarsians themselves

were new middle-class citizens (sometimes only by a generation).  They,

too, had come from the lower-classes.  Rieder attempts to show both sides

of the coin.  He shows the ignorant side of some Canarsians with SPONGE

(Society for the Prevention of Niggers Getting Everything), but he also

shows the real fear of Canarsians who have been victims of crime. 

The lofty ideal of all people living in harmony was just not a daily

reality for Canarsians.  While wealthier liberals looked down on Canarsians

 as prejudiced, the Canarsians started to take a long, hard look at their

liberal roots.  The encroaching welfare recipients are portrayed as

ruining their neighborhoods and no one was there to help the Jews and

Italians.  So they unified to keep poor minorities away from their

community.  The Canarsians looked to political figures to condemn the

seemingly immoral behavior of the poor but found no solace.  According to

this book, this is a main reason the Democratic Party alienated so many

working-class Americans.

 

            The author seems to be struggling with his own liberal

leanings throughout the book.  He is empathetic bordering on sympathetic

in some parts.  His liberal leaning is also obvious in the fact that he

treats the change from liberalism to conservatism as a problem, not just

as a social phenomenon.  He is somewhat of a participant-observer,

treating the lives of these people as a sociological experiment.  The

book, written in academic prose, gets wordy at times, but still holds the

readers' interest.  Rieder also seems to personify such abstracts concepts

as liberalism.  He treats liberalism as the force that is destroying the

neighborhood, instead of everyday actions by real people.

 

        Rieder also misses a huge chunk of the big picture: the encroaching

 minorities.  One of the few minority insights comes from an African-Americ

an preacher who is tired of being pushed away by whites but also recognizes

 that the whites are tired of running.  It is hard to discern the racists

from the victims.

 

The reader only has a chance to see unruly minorities on welfare because

that is the Canarsians' perception.  Perhaps it was not the author's

intent to study minorities, but when they are the scapegoat for an entire

community, something more should be written from their perspective. It is

hard to tell whether minorities respected or disrespected Canarsians. 

Maybe they did respect them until Canarsians hurled racial epithets at

them; we will never know their side.  Rieder also does not address why the

black middle-class was trying to get out of the ghetto (rising drug/crime

epidemic).  The author, an ethnographer, can only tell what the subjects

believe.  Canarsians were not asking deep questions about the breakdown of

the African-American family.

 

        In conclusion, the author writes of a negative community, one that

is unified by the fear of outsiders. He is not sympathetic, but empathetic

to their concerns.  The politics of integration sounded like a great idea

to wealthy liberals, but the conservative sway of the middle-class

Canarsians proved that reality is much different from an enlightened

ideal.  This book is a must-read for all Political Science students. 

 


Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2000

Subject: Shawna Stewart Review of Canarsie

From: "(Shawna Stewart)" SMSandLEA@AOL.COM

Message-id: <0FQG00AAJ8K7VY@egraine.ilstu.edu>

Status: RO

 

CANARSIE:  THE JEWS AND ITALIANS OF BROOKLYN AGAINST LIBERALISM.  By Jonathon Rieder.   (1985)

 

Reviewed by Shawna Stewart

 

When one thinks of liberalism, it often means a political state that guarantees everyone's freedom regardless of class, race, or ethnic background.  In modern day politics, liberalism is a term that is synonymous with radical change, but less than fifty years ago it was a term that was sought after to insure that the life of the American dream be a realistic quest ending with equality for everyone.

 

This equality stems from civil rights movements that were meant to guarantee equal rights to minorities throughout the country, often referring to the black population.  In addition, it was the beginning of becoming the modern politically correct world we are today, that includes not only race, but class, gender, and ethnic backgrounds as well.

 

It seems to be a little ironic that while each of these different groups fight for their own recognition in society, they also alienate themselves from those around them that are going through the similar struggle.  A common understanding that you fight for "your people" so that they blend into the mix of the "melting pot", but at the same time, this sense of loyalty disregards the groups around you fighting for the same cause.  So what ends up is not he melting pot, but a pot of coexisting matter that blends as well as oil and water.  This case is illustrated in a town called Canarsie by displaying the emotional and physical response that is generated by the Jewish and Italian Communities in response to black people moving and integrating into their community.

 

It is important to note that the strong connection to ethnic and political background as well as family history play an important role to the disunity that occurred in cross-racial integration in Canarsie.  Jonathon Rieder paints the picture and lays the foundation for why a community that is traditionally welcome to the idea of pursuing the "American Dream" suddenly begins lashing out to a foreign population coming into "their" area.  

 

Canarsie originally was an Italian community with few Irish, German, and British inhabitants, eventually many white collar Jewish families began to move to the community to escape the ghettos in order to provide their children with more opportunities and a richer environment in which to grow up.  In the beginning, the two different ethnic groups had to deal with religious differences amongst themselves, but few things lay common with the two groups that enabled them to become a community that would later unite to resist the integration and arrival of the blacks from surrounding neighborhoods- economic status and fear.  In regards to economic status, many who came to Canarsie claim they did so to in order to buy homes (22), and to escape the ghettos that now inhabited by low income families.  Often referred to as "white flight", the individuals who left surrounding towns to come to Canarsie claim that the low income encouraged such things as prostitution, a drug market, theft and vandalism.  Surrounding areas such as Brownsville no longer deemed to be a fit neighborhood to live in.  It is at this point, important to note that many of these "new" people moving into these areas were Hispanic, Puerto Rican, and black.  Not only was it the income difference that led people to flee from their homes, but it was also the fact that this new population happened to be of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.  One Jewish man described it as being "garbage.and then came the nigger kids, hanging out and playing those transistor radios, the rowdies"(21).  The element of pure fear is what ignited such emotion and animosity towards those of different ethnic background.  

In order to escape the fear and not have to deal with the differences, many Jews moved to Canarsie and formed their own "fenced land".  An area that seemed to be indifferent to the changing world around them.  In this community, people believed in hard work, close knit families, and moving up in the social world in regards to class.  During the 70's this view of their home life began to change as blacks began to move into Canarsie.  Since some had already experienced a little of the difference between blacks and whites before moving to Canarsie, they had a preconceived notion of what to expect from the new people moving into their neighborhoods.  This notion which could be seen as minor ethnic differences to some, was a total shift in lifestyle and behavior for the Jews and Italians in response to the lower class blacks.  Language differences posed a threat as Canarsians claimed that the language used by blacks was vulgar and that "blacks failed to maintain the accepted division of social life=E2=80=A6.and a respectable female sphere of home" (60).  Changes in the scenery of Canarsie also made Jews and Italians feel as if they were being alienated from their own home.  In the ghettos of Brownsville, vandalism and graffiti began to encompass city subways and buildings.  To Canarsians this was not a symbol of expression, but rather one of moralistic character that was seen as defacing property and not being considerate of the landscape around them.  They did not want to be burdened with this type of activity when the blacks began to move into Canarsie.  

 

In reality, the changes that were being made to Canarsie by this movement of blacks was not because of racial factors, but more class issues.  Since there was this fear and impartiality to change among the white residents, the blame was placed on the race and prejudice emerged.  A community that was in a sense united was also very split based upon ethnic differences in the past, but since there was some common ground, it was easier to live together and fight against this "movement" then it was to accept it.  

 

Rieder's title to the book would suggest that the Jews and Italians turned away from a society that enabled them to distinguish themselves and move up the social and economic ladder with the threat of integration.  An imperative statement based upon the first two paragraphs of this paper.  Is it common in this country that once a group of ethnic minorities gain independence and recognition, they only want to protect it from being taken away from them by ignoring other groups who are fighting for the same cause?  Rieder's ideas are one sided and give little prospective into other group's thoughts, but that is precisely the impact that is needed to understand how racism and prejudice works in the first place.  It is based upon fear of being viewed as a "nobody" in society.  The history and existence of the Jewish and Italian communities shows us that they fought hard to become "somebody" in American, they didn't want that to be taken away from them, while still being able to maintain their own traditions regarding their ethnic views.  

 

CANARSIE does a wonderful job of explaining this type of mentality, while be bias to the writer's views only makes it to be a stronger impact upon the message he is trying to send regarding liberalism and the contradictions that lie within it.