- The Colors of Zion: Blacks, Jews, and Irish from 1845 to 1945 by George Bornstein
George Bornstein’s The Colors of Zion: Blacks, Jews, and Irish from 1845 to 1945 provides a critically challenging rereading of the black, Jewish, and Irish diasporic and American experiences. Using as his starting point the argument that these three groups have a history of contention, Bornstein revises this argument to expose a triadic relationship of cooperation and empathy. While Bornstein admits that tensions existed between these groups, by rereading sources and unearthing volumes of new evidence, he develops a detailed comparative analysis of the relationship among blacks, Jews, and Irish. Subsequently, the narrative told here allows us to witness notable African American, Irish, and Jewish leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Éamon de Valera, and Theodor Herzl, acknowledging their similar experiences of oppression and relying on each other for guidance in their liberation and nationalist movements.
While other scholars have pointed to moments of cooperation between these groups, Bornstein’s scope and approach is the centrifugal force of his study. Bornstein’s study is categorized into five different sections: races, diasporas and nationalisms, melting pots, popular and institutional cultures, and the 1930s and World War II (1939–1945). This allows him to probe both previously discussed and wholly new sources. Thus, in his discussion of races, Bornstein revisits the oft-reviewed nineteenth-century racial imaging of Irish, Jews, and African Americans found in such popular periodicals as Harper’s Weekly and Puck, as well as in such seminal works as Robert Knox’s The Races of Men (1850), Josiah Clark Nott’s Types of Mankind (1854), and John Beddoe’s The Races of Britain (1885). While these topics have been previously explored, Bornstein’s comparative analysis makes his study critically significant. Many scholars have argued that these portrayals developed a racist campaign against each of these groups. Bornstein, however, sets these slanderous images of Irish, African Americans, and Jews side by side, thus drawing clear lines of comparable racism experienced by the three groups.
Bornstein continues to draw connecting lines throughout his study to expose the deep networks established among these groups. In his section on diasporas and nationalisms, Bornstein establishes that the diasporic experience and the corresponding fervent establishment of nationalism were similar for each of these groups. Indeed, Bornstein charges that “[a]ll three deployments involve concepts of dispersal, of a lost homeland, and of the exilic condition in art” (14). By exposing these common deployments, Bornstein is then able to show the [End Page 174] connections between their parallel oppressions and respective nationalisms. To that end, Bornstein then provides a comprehensive view of the relationship networks that developed among such critical black, Jewish, and Irish liberation and nationalist leaders as W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Herzl, Yitzhak Shamir, Charles Stewart Parnell, and Michael Collins.
As Bornstein analyzes this tapestry of interracial and interethnic relationships, he also establishes the reciprocal nature of these connections through his historiographic approach. When Bornstein discusses this triadic relationship in terms of the publishing industry, he first provides the pre-1900 history of the publishing industry, establishing that the industry’s center was in New England and consisted of almost exclusively Anglo family-owned businesses. Not surprisingly, the writers published by these houses tended to reflect their owners’ cultural backgrounds and thus were mainly white, Anglo-Saxon authors. As Bornstein’s narrative turns to the twentieth century, he shows that as the home for publishing moved from Boston to New York, a new crop of publishing houses sprang up that were managed mainly by Jewish men who promoted the publication of ethnic and marginalized American voices. To that end, B. W. Huebsch, the son of a rabbi, became James Joyce’s first American publisher. Then, in 1925 when Huebsch joined Viking Press, he went on to publish many African American authors alongside Joyce’s compatriot Sean O’Faolain and such Jewish writers as Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman. Huebsch’s pioneering efforts to...