From Racial Transposition to New Visions of Political Identity
On a sunny day in early June 2018, Joey Gibson called out to a crowd of several dozen people gathered for another Patriot Prayer “freedom march” in downtown Portland. Gibson introduced a participant whom he had invited to address the group, a middle-aged Black man who wore a red “Make American Great Again” cap. Gibson announced facetiously, “We got a Black Nazi here! We got a Black Nazi.” It was a retort aimed at the hundreds of counter-protesters who had mobilized to oppose the demonstration, some of whom called Gibson and his followers Nazis.
The speaker began: “There’s always been a fire in the heart of patriots; people who want to self-govern. They want to be with their own community, in a safe environment, with the rule of law, with no interference from the government, or other political parties.” A bystander called out, “Sounds like anarchism!” The speaker responded, “Amen.”
The speaker continued: “There’s been a march of patriots of every color—black, brown, white, yellow—that have given so much to this country. . . . We’re empowered by the Constitution and the freedom of all mankind, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, or their beginnings in life.” He then pointed to the counter-protesters, standing across the street, many affiliated with the antifascist group Antifa, declaring, “They over there want collectivism, and collectivism is death and lack of freedom. Don’t let it happen. We got to fight and stand up forever.” The crowd cheered loudly before following another speaker in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, hands over hearts.
Gibson’s “Black Nazi” captures much of the beguiling labor of race in the time of intensifying economic and social inequality addressed in this book. On the one hand, Patriot Prayer and a growing number of like-minded groups share many of the defining characteristics of fascist or protofascist formations. Patriot Prayer venerates masculine honor, hierarchy, authoritarian culture, and a defense of the West. They seek out violent confrontations with groups on the left such as Antifa, and they have also held demonstrations targeting Planned Parenthood. Their rallies draw groups like the “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys and others on the right. The June 3 march attracted several members of the “Hell Shaking Street Preachers,” a far-right homophobic group that has protested Portland’s LGBT Pride parade; others have drawn unapologetic white supremacists. At a chaotic and often violent Patriot Prayer–led rally in Portland two months later, Tiny Toese and others wore shirts with large block letters saying “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong” and featuring the letters “RWDS” (Right Wing Death Squad) on the sleeves. (The Chilean dictator, whose death squads terrorized Chile throughout the 1970s and 1980s, is proudly invoked by some on the far right today.)
On the other hand, across these rallies, Patriot Prayer regularly deploys narratives of multiracial incorporation and even antiracism. Gibson continuously and strategically draws on this apparent paradox, referencing people of color within Patriot Prayer as a way to mock critics who describe the group as fascist, as his “Black Nazi” comment made clear. At an August 2017 “freedom of speech” rally in downtown Seattle, as Gibson prepared to introduce Tiny Toese and counter-protesters booed, he asked them mockingly, “You guys don’t like Tiny? You don’t like men that are brown? You don’t like islanders?”
For Gibson, the embrace of a hard-right authoritarianism coexists with support for policies that are beyond the ambit of conventional right-wing politics. As we explained in the Introduction, Gibson described mass incarceration and mandatory minimum sentencing as “legal slavery” that has been “completely disruptive to the Black community.” He voiced sympathy for Black Lives Matter and that movement’s struggles against police brutality and state violence. Gibson backs the recognition of same-sex marriage and has endorsed a path to citizenship for at least some undocumented immigrants. He told us he “didn’t have a fear of Islam” and that “We have to allow communities to do what they want, to stand up for what they want. . . . Right now, I’m more concerned about our government than I am about Islam.” The far right, particularly fascists, have always drawn on leftist politics to expand their ranks. But the syncretic intermingling of left and right has often been accomplished by fixing race in place. Today we see signs across the political spectrum that make a conventional political compass seem inadequate.
As we described in chapter 4, Steve Bannon has established himself as a central figure on the populist right who has met with ethnonationalist groups in Europe and regularly airs nativist and Islamophobic sentiments. At the same time, portions of speeches on economic nationalism and community reinvestment he has made to Black business groups can strangely sound like a Black anti-imperialist. Bannon inveighed in one presentation against the “destruction of the Black and Hispanic working class” and asked participants to imagine if the $5.6 trillion that had been spent in “the global war on terror” since 2001 had instead been invested in “Baltimore, in St Louis, and in South Central LA and in Detroit.” He charged that the “imperial capital of Wall Street” and both political parties permitted the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs in those cities. When our research led us to attend a large rally for Donald Trump in Oregon during the 2016 Republican primaries, we spoke to several people who told us they had been to a local Bernie Sanders rally the week before and were still deciding which of the two they might support. One large-scale survey has estimated that hundreds of thousands of Sanders supporters (perhaps as many as one in ten) voted for Trump in the general election, a reminder of the instabilities in identification and political formation in play at this moment.
Republican representative Mia Love and Republican senator Tim Scott—supporters of every regressive policy in the contemporary GOP—refer to the need for Black uplift, well-being, and community empowerment to their adoring Tea Party backers. Similarly, Sonnie Johnson, host of Sonnie’s Corner, a weekly show on Breitbart Radio’s conservative “Patriot” station on Sirius XM, explains: “I’m Black. I’m a woman. I was born into a broken home, poverty. I love hip hop.” Johnson asserts that the show, which features hip hop interludes between segments, “allows me to mix my conservative intellect with my hip hop culture to bring a renaissance of Black entrepreneurship, economic independence, and political power.” A personal friend of the conservative network’s late namesake, Andrew Breitbart, Johnson is a frequent guest on Fox News and a speaker at Tea Party and other conservative gatherings. In 2016 Breitbart tapped Johnson to host dozens of local meetups around the country to network with conservative activists in advance of the presidential election. These were not public-relations stunts designed to indemnify conservatives from liberal criticism about their racial intolerance. Johnson, like Kay Coles James and Mia Love, is a conservative movement builder who narrates her ideological commitments through her identity as a Black woman to an overwhelmingly white political base.
We do not review these examples to suggest some kind of softening of the ideological conflicts that constitute the current political landscape. We are indeed in a moment of pitched political struggle, with life-and-death consequences. Nor do these examples suggest that the contemporary right should be regarded as more democratic and egalitarian than previously thought. It should not. Many of the conservative forces that engage and deploy the language of multiculturalism, civil rights, and Black uplift champion policies and worldviews that worsen material and social inequalities; sharpen state violence, militarism, and authoritarian governance; and make greater numbers of people vulnerable to early death.
Yet it would be a mistake to interpret the cases discussed in this book as forms of distraction or mystification that only serve to obscure more authentic relations of power. Victoria Hattam and Joseph Lowndes have demonstrated that political change progresses precisely such through “acts of recombination,” when seemingly disparate social identities and “ideational fragments” become reorganized into new associative links. Seen this way, “interests and identities are not given in advance” but are instead “made and remade” through shifts in political discourse and identification. This is precisely the work of many figures examined in this book through a process we have described as racial transposition. Thus, efforts to link civil rights norms to right-wing political projects or connect white poverty to a culture of dependence may seem in our moment to be incongruous, but it is precisely in the “words used, the political appeals made, and the identifications evoked” that “otherwise disparate elements are recombined into apparently coherent political positions.”
If we presume that the political right today remains unchanged since the era of the Southern Strategy, or if we imagine that the white ethnonationalists who descended on Charlottesville in August 2017 stand in for the entirety of contemporary right-wing politics, we will be unprepared to challenge the growth of these movements in the future. Similarly, if we imagine that whiteness operates as a kind of magic amulet that protects everyone who identifies as white from the ravages of economic predation and state violence, we will narrow the social and political base that might resist such conditions. We can analyze the changing dynamics in right-wing formations, including their fluid deployments of race, while still providing a sober account of the violence and dispossessions they ultimately enact and the hierarchies they protect.
The specific conditions of our current historical moment matter immensely here. Aziz Rana argues that the present conjuncture bears the greatest similarity not to the end of Reconstruction or the Civil War but to the longer Gilded Age. He explains: “In the 1890s, the US suffered the most violent labor conflicts in the world; in the 1930s, developments in the US caused the greatest global capitalist crisis in history. . . . At the same time, unreconstructed white supremacy remained part of the country’s drinking water. A majority believed the United States was an intrinsically white republic under extreme duress from recently emancipated, migrating black populations and growing numbers of southern European and Asian immigrants.” The period that separates that time from ours is the long Cold War era, which settled labor conflicts through the New Deal and racial conflicts through the civil rights movement, each fostered through U.S. imperial expansion. In the collapse of the New Deal order, the decline of the civil rights movement, and the end of the Cold War, new politics have emerged that are more ideologically diverse, more polarized, and more open to novel articulations.
The cases examined in this book demonstrate the contradictory labor of race in the current moment. Racial meanings have become increasingly flexible, recombinant, and surprising, even as they continue to shore up white supremacy and neoliberal inequality. These instances also stand in sharp contrast to the dominant mode of analysis, which treats contemporary political identifications and interests as fixed and unchanging, determined more by divergent cultural norms and habits than by the complex co-constitutive histories of race and class formation. We now critique examples of this dominant mode in detail, because their implicit assumptions foreclose our capacity to challenge race and class domination both analytically and politically.
The White Precariat as Noble Savage
During Trump’s surprising victory in the Republican primaries and subsequent presidential election, countless odes to the misunderstood “white working class” issued forth from the laptops of journalists and scholars. Although treated as revelation, this rediscovery of the long-suffering white America is an episodic ritual that has been performed with every Republican victory since 1968. Following Nixon’s victory over Humphrey, Harpers, the New Yorker, Commentary, and other magazines competed to best capture and describe this group, known variously as “Middle America,” “forgotten Americans,” or the “Silent Majority.” Time magazine made “Middle Americans” the Men and Women of the Year in 1970. Regardless of the name, this supposed demographic was described as leading a “backlash” against criminals, demonstrators, and welfare recipients below and liberal elites above. When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 there was renewed focus on what Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg called “Reagan Democrats,” union members who were driven by their resentment of the very poor, feminists, the unemployed, African Americans, Latino/as, and other groups. In the 1990s, Democrats, fearing conservative resurgence and influenced by works such as Thomas Edsall and Mary Edsall’s Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, explicitly courted what Bill Clinton called “angry white men.” Following George W. Bush’s election in 2000 came Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers’s America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters.
With the campaign and election of Donald Trump came new versions of this lament about the white working class that got away. But the story has undergone a change. When Reagan ran for president in 1980, non-Hispanic whites made up 88 percent of the electorate; today they are 69 percent and steadily dropping. And as we have discussed in previous chapters, white middle- and working-class fortunes have long been in decline. Thus the current crop of books and articles focused (often interchangeably) on Trump supporters, white southerners, white workers, or the white poor treat them—either positively or negatively—as a distinctly different population. In much the same way that racialized groups have historically been depicted in mirrored doubles as good and bad, noble and threatening, happy and violent, here we can see the depiction of the figure of the “white worker” in either romantic or abjected terms. Whether seen as resentful, self-destructive, and bigoted or as a forgotten figure of lost American pride and virtue, this class is treated increasingly as a projection screen for both the liberal and conservative imagination.
In a widely circulated article just after the 2016 election called “What So Many People Don’t Get about the U.S. Working Class,” the feminist legal scholar Joan C. Williams made a plea to progressives to bridge the “class culture gap.” Confessing her personal socioeconomic distance from this class, she went on to employ the well-worn language of producerism to describe the virtues and resentments of her subjects. Williams soon expanded the popular article into a book titled White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. As is already evident in the title, Williams uses the terms “blue collar,” “working class,” and “white working class” interchangeably, thereby naturalizing labor as white and foreclosing any possibility of an honest reckoning. She sets out to answer the questions that apparently most rankle a liberal audience still reeling from Trump’s election with chapter titles such as “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?” “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals But Admire the Rich?” and “Why Don’t the People Who Benefit Most from Government Help Seem to Appreciate It?” The white working class, we learn, resents the poor because it values hard work, responsibility, and independence. Its members resent professionals because among other things they value good character and dedication to family over career, acquisitiveness, and social climbing.
This view of a self-contained, singular, and coherent “white working class” finds expression in other highly influential accounts as well. In Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Hochschild describes the quest that takes the Berkeley-based sociologist into distant Louisiana on an ethnographic “journey into the heart of the right.” She explains her motivation for examining her exotic subjects: “If I could truly enter the minds and hearts of people on the far right on the issues of the water they drink, the animals they hunt, the lakes they swim in, the streams they fish in, the air they breathe, I could get to know them up close.” Politics and struggles for power, Hochschild concludes, are really rooted in distinct cultural difference. As she puts it, “I came to realize the Tea Party was not so much an official political group as a culture, a way of seeing and feeling about a place and its people.” There is no doubt that the white Louisianans with whom Hochschild spoke had strong feelings about their politics, but these feelings are not simply a natural property. The culture she observed is shaped by particular historical conflicts to which Hochschild pays almost no attention. With little notice to histories of political development in Louisiana or the greater South, the race- and class-mediated movements it has produced, or the interests and investments pursued by distinct political actors today, we are only left with a narrative of static cultural particularity which she depicts as conservative America writ small.
The legal scholar and writer Amy Chua offers perhaps the most dismal form of this argument in her 2018 book Political Tribes, which suggests that nearly all contemporary political antagonisms can be traced to a preternatural expression of tribal instincts. In a rehash of the social Darwinist William Graham Sumner’s late-nineteenth-century concept of “folkways,” Chua asserts that a “tribal instinct” to both belong and to exclude explains social, economic, and political conflict across most of world history. Like Williams and Hochschild, Chua finds a singular white working-class subject straight from the set of the sitcom Roseanne. This “tribe,” uniform in its outlook and aspirations, stands opposed to the coastal elites, another distinctive tribal group defined by its “disdain for the provincial, the plebian, the patriotic.” Chua’s “working class” not only detests cosmopolitans, it also resents the privileged troublemakers who claim to speak for the 99 percent. She writes, “It’s not just that working-class Americans did not participate in Occupy; many, if not most of them intensely dislike and spurn activist movements.” As her primary evidence of working class disdain for “activism,” she offers a quote from an essay written by a student lamenting “when elites protest on behalf of us poor people.”
These accounts have now become the dominant interpretation of U.S. political division and conflict since Trump’s election. Together with scores of other commentators, like the New York Times columnists Thomas Edsall and David Brooks, they continually reproduce narratives of cultural alienation and intractable worldviews that underlie contemporary political antagonisms. Shifting material forces, contexts, and interests disappear, as do any genealogies of power, authority, and resistance that might have shaped such dispositions. Racial identifications become severed from the conditions that mediate their production; class identifications become severed from the mediations of white supremacy and racial hierarchy.
These dynamics were also made visible in the reaction on social media by some liberals to the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, who described the occupiers as #YallQaeda, #VanillaIsis, #YeeHawdist, and #YokelHaram. The work of racial transposition here is clear, as anti-Islamic signifiers become attached to caricatured descriptions of “white trash.” As we explored in chapter 5, the occupation and the white-producerist and settler-colonial language that it deployed demand serious political analysis and critique; the authoritarian and nationalist vision they advance cannot be underestimated. But the mockery and disdain used here mirrors the same characterizations made by J. D. Vance, Charles Murray, and the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, in which cultural dysfunction and parochialism lie at the heart of social conflicts.
For all of these authors and commentators, political interests and worldviews are fixed and unitary; they are the expression of primordial cultural (or tribal) worlds and attachments, seemingly exogenous to the terrain of political struggle. Political consciousness and identification itself is removed from social struggle and mediation. It is an argument for a kind of political and cultural hereditarianism in which the best we can do, as Chua urges in her epilogue, is to hold cross-cultural potlucks and movie nights that will “allow ourselves to see our tribal adversaries as fellow Americans” so that we can realize that “what holds the United States together is the American Dream.”
Such appeals to civic nationalism and cultural pluralism will not address the complicated and intensified forms of domination and exploitation that underlie the cases examined in this book. As Phil A. Neel argues in his book Hinterland: America’s New Landscape of Class and Conflict, the zones of economic neglect outside the metropolitan centers of capital will continue to increase in area as infrastructure, social connection, and economic viability collapse. But if we treat class and race as self-contained categories, we miss their protean nature and dynamic co-constitution. The analysis we laid out in this book is focused on actors seeking to forge new identifications by reconfiguring the politics of both race and class. Figures like Kay Coles James, Steve Bannon, and Joey Gibson creatively attempt to reconfigure political identities through the incorporation of civil rights discourses. Meanwhile, neoliberal elites and their intellectual promoters like Charles Murray and Kevin Williamson employ old racist tropes to justify the economic abandonment of white workers and the poor. Theirs is hardly a static world. They understand and take seriously the contingency of political identification and the ways that race can signal new configurations of political power.
“Some of the Most Dangerous Work You Can Do”
How, then, might we begin to reimagine the relationship between race and class in ways that disrupt tired appeals to the white working class on the one hand or superficial appeals to identity politics on the other? There are in fact many examples that anticipate the flourishing of social movements rooted in a dynamic understanding of political interests and contingent identifications, in perspectives committed to building solidarities and alliances through shared struggle and collective engagement.
On December 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced that the following spring, his Southern Christian Leadership Conference would “lead waves of the nation’s poor and disinherited to Washington D.C.” to demand “jobs and income for all.” King described a nation “gorged on money while millions of its citizens are denied a good education, adequate health services, decent housing, meaningful employment, and even respect, and are then told to be responsible.” While the “true responsibility for the existence of these deplorable conditions lies ultimately with the larger society” it was the “federal government that had the power to act, the resources to tap, and the duty to respond.”
The Poor People’s Campaign would take aim at what King had condemned earlier that year as the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.” They demanded an expansive state premised on a recognition of the interdependence of everyone in the polity, rejecting the myths of settler sovereignty, autonomy, and producerism. If, as King argued, our lives are interdependent, then we are all, in some sense, parasites—necessarily dependent on one another. It was a vision rooted in long traditions of Black internationalism and social democracy, an archive of analysis and political practice attentive to the ravages of unrestrained market systems that could only be resisted through popular education and mobilization. Racially subordinated groups have had far more experience with and exposure to state violence and unfettered state power then any contemporary “patriot” group. It was the government, after all, that legitimated and sustained chattel slavery and Jim Crow, enforced the genocide, removal, and containment of Native people, implemented racist immigration and internment laws, and repressed antiracist social movements. Yet informed by these experiences, King could still imagine a robust state that could be mobilized in service of emancipation rather than repression, one rooted in a vision of social protection and redistribution. This framework was born out of Black struggle and experience, yet its liberatory commitments were sweeping. The effort, King predicted, would draw “representatives of the millions of non-Negro poor—Indians, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Appalachians and others.” These groups had distinct (and internally disparate) experiences of subordination, but they could recognize in one another a shared vision and aspiration for the conditions of their emancipation.
King’s assassination five months later and a series of other constraints and missteps prevented the Poor People’s Campaign from realizing these transformations. But the assumptions that guided the campaign’s vision of building a widespread anti-poverty movement that would draw people from markedly different social locations, experiences, and traditions holds important insights for our time. King did not presume that an alienated or tribal “white working class” would remain forever hostile to the interests or aspirations of Black people who were organizing against their subjugation. Nor did he assume that such connections could only be built through an undifferentiated appeal to class unity or a color-blind “Americanism” that erased distinct experiences of racial domination. King instead imagined alternative forms of political identification that linked the specificity of different social locations to a shared vision of redistribution facilitated through state action.
George Lipsitz has described these new identifications as arising from the “troubling but tremendously important questions about what it means to be allied with the struggles of others [and] about which obligations and responsibilities arise from that difficult yet necessary work.” Lipsitz critiques the assumption that social solidarity and collective action “require everyone to be the same.” They do not and they cannot. He turns to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on feminist antiracism to demonstrate that all distinct social formations and groups are characterized by internal hierarchy, difference, and experience. This work of fashioning solidarity from heterogeneous spaces is the labor long emphasized by women-of-color feminisms. As Audre Lorde contends, “unity does not mean unanimity.” Instead, the suturing of different identifications requires us to do the “unromantic and tedious work necessary to forge meaningful coalitions . . . recognizing which coalitions are possible and which coalitions are not.” Bernice Johnson Reagon has explained that coalition work such as this cannot be done in the comforts of “your home” and within the realm of the familiar. “Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort.”
Reagon, Lorde, and other feminists of color emphasize a tradition of collective learning and a capacity to incorporate fractured, diverse, and changing conditions. “One of the most basic Black survival skills,” writes Lorde, “is the ability to change, to metabolize experience, good or ill, into something that is useful, lasting, effective.” Thus “the necessary ingredient needed to make the past work for the future is our energy in the present, metabolizing one into the other.”
Lipsitz insists that in practice such “alliances emerge from the processes of struggle, not prior to it.” For King and the Poor People’s Campaign, this meant that “working for social change entailed working sometimes with people who are unlikeable. It meant finding ways to turn bitter enemies into unwitting architects of our own liberation.” These efforts would move us “beyond the obvious organic and proximate affinities and affiliations to envision and enact” broader political worlds and policies.
An analysis that treats the social distinctions and antagonisms visible in any one period as permanent and inevitable will only lead to despair. If we require an undifferentiated unity to sustain oppositional social movements, then we are destined to fail. Lorde insists that “our struggles are particular, but we are not alone.” As Fred Moten has described it in the context of white identification with Black power struggles, “The problematic of coalition is that coalition isn’t something that emerges so that you can come help me, a maneuver that always gets traced back to your own interests. The coalition emerges out of your recognition that it’s fucked up for you, in the same way that we’ve already recognized that it’s fucked up for us. I don’t need your help. I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?” Moten’s use of the term “recognition” here is instructive. How might people from diverse social locations, experiences, and histories not only come to recognize these shared conditions and structures of deprivation but also come to recognize in one another the capacity to labor together to build new futures? And how might those marked as white recognize in their precarity the origins and structures of a system predicated on the death of racialized others?
There are examples of the kind of solidarity amid difference that are rooted in precisely the kind of intersectional and multi-issue frameworks theorized by King, Lorde, Lipsitz, Crenshaw, and so many others. In the same areas of rural Oregon that have become the focus of militia and patriot groups like those led by Ammon Bundy, an organization called the Rural Organizing Project (ROP) has been working to link the experiences, aspirations, and energies of diverse communities that struggle against economic privation and state abandonment and violence. The group started as a loosely connected network of mostly white rural residents who mobilized to defeat a series of anti-gay ballot measures sponsored by the conservative Christian Coalition in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Like the militia and patriot groups, those right-wing Evangelicals sought to connect an offer of homophobic and patriarchal policy measures as a response to growing forms of precarity brought about by the decline in the region’s timber industry and broader economy.
From its origins, ROP understood the interdependence of race and class. But its members did not presume that one’s social location automatically dictated one’s politics or aligned one with a “political tribe.” These are precisely the allegiances to be won and the identifications to be secured. ROP’s organizing model is rooted in the possibility of building such identifications through shared struggle and reflection. It has hosted political education discussions in rural communities across the state on the histories of anti-Black racism and exclusion. Its members—immigrant and non-immigrant alike—have mobilized to support hunger strikes led by detainees at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility to protest the inhumane conditions facing immigrant refugee detainees there. Their economic justice work focuses on linking the interests and needs of abandoned rural communities with those of Native American tribal governments, immigrant rights groups, and urban organizations led by people of color. When militia and patriot groups have formed around anti-statist and authoritarian projects, they have organized counter-mobilizations to link issues of rural economic and social precarity to broader histories of racial exclusion and corporate resource extraction.
ROP is among dozens of rural-based organizations, many with decades of organizing experience, whose work is premised on the belief that political identifications are always being made and remade. Against the chorus of commentators who imagine a cocooned white working class bound by its atavistic “folkways,” their organizing is responsive to the complexity of experiences, problems, and political histories in rural areas and the opportunities to articulate these issues within broad-based political formations. This is the “dangerous work” described by Bernice Reagon that is necessary to illuminate new futures.
Following these examples, what would it mean to rebel against the conditions wrought by economic collapse and abandonment and by overweening state power without holding on to settler-colonial and white racial myths about individual autonomy? What would make it possible to see both the similarities and differences with state brutality and neoliberal rapacity in Flint, Ferguson, and the towns and cities of post–Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico?
Currently, habits of scripted position taking all too often stand in for analysis, making the possibilities of resistance less imaginable. A liberal antiracism that is focused entirely on personal micro-aggressions or the lack of diversity in corporate boardrooms, universities, and the culture industry forecloses the possibility of critique necessary to attack the roots of racial disparities in wealth, income, life expectancy, education, housing, and employment. At the same time, a class politics that merely calls for universal programs—or worse, one that attacks antiracism because it is seen to be alienating to white workers—is not capable of battling the racialized politics that has always made possible capitalist domination, and intensifies it today.
This much is clear: race—whether in the form of neoliberal multiculturalism, far-right authoritarianism, or claims about cultural and genetic fitness—will continue to be pressed into service by those who wish to solidify and extend the extreme political and economic hierarchies that foster human misery and planetary destruction. We must match the extraordinary flexibility of these new racializations with dexterity in our own analysis and action. The only anchor should be our commitment to emancipation.