chapter  2
28 Pages

Th e Cultural Frameworks of Prejudice: Reputational Images and the Postwar Disjuncture of Jews and Communism In the second chapter I ask how the reputation of American Jews as a group shift ed from the 1930s to the 1950s. During the 1930s it was widely believed and publicly discussed that American Jews as a group were linked to the Communist Party of America. By the 1950s, this belief was no longer a part of legitimate public discussion. To understand this dramatic change I apply the theory of prejudice as a function of group position to the examination of reputational politics. For a previously stigmatized group to establish a positive reputation it must demonstrate that it is not fundamentally distinctive from other groups, that its members reveal both good and evil, and that the value of attack has diminished. I focus on the reputations of Alger Hiss and Roy Cohn, as well as the deviance of anti-Semitic talk brought about by the defeat of Nazi Germany

Responses to prominent reputations provide a framework for understanding the growth and decline of group prejudice. In the 1930s, the connection between American Jews and Communism was both an empirical and cognitive reality-Jews constituted a significant portion of the Ameri can Communist Party and many Americans stereotyped them as such. However, by midcentury, the perceptual linkage between Jew and Communist had largely vanished. We explain the change in public attitudes by treating prejudice as a cultural framework for collective memory. Building on Blumer (1958) and the empirical conclusions of other prominent sociologists of the period, we argue that group prejudice depends on a group’s distinctiveness, its perceived moral imbalance, and the discursive utility of attacks. When components of this three-part frame weaken, prejudice dissipates. Specifically, we claim that the specificity of reputations serves as a concrete stand-in for more diff use images of social groups. While group position is not only the result of the reputation of prominent figures, the public images of these figures help to shape prejudice and its decline. As an empirical case, we examine the cultural framework for interpreting the linkage of American Jews and Communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s through the reputations of Alger Hiss, Roy Cohn, and Adolf Hitler. Presented by

reputational entrepreneurs, these images emphasize Ameri can Communists who were decidedly non-Jewish, underline the prominence of antiCommunist American Jews, and delegitimize public anti-Semitism.