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Rhinestone aesthetics and religious essence: Looking Jewish in Paris



I explore the paradoxical construction of race through fashion among the Parisian children and grandchildren of upwardly mobile immigrant North African Jews. Faced with the conflation of North Africanity and inassimilable difference, Sephardi youth escaped some forms of French racism by enacting others. By essentializing and individualizing Jewishness through conspicuous consumption, they made Frenchness possible for “Arab Jews” in ways foreclosed to Arab Muslims. But these same practices also helped fashion and biologize their exclusion from the French nation. Rather than encourage the deconstruction of “modern” identity narratives, Sephardi youth liminality thus encouraged the reessentialization of class, ethnicity, religion, and nation.