- Strange Bedfellows
In Producers, Parasites, Patriots, Daniel Martinez HoSang and Joseph E. Lowndes meet the challenge of interrogating a US right-wing racial politics still in the making. Their book aims to account for how race figures and functions for the "new right-wing politics of precarity" in the context of the United States' "New Gilded Age." Such an aim, the authors insist in the spirit of black Marxist theory and studies of neoliberal identity politics, necessitates thinking of race and class as mutually constitutive. Lowndes and HoSang offer roughly three stories of the surprising racial turns the US right has taken under neoliberal capitalism. First, they argue that the US right is justifying the decreasing material returns of whiteness via the "racial transposition" of non-white and especially black tropes of parasitism onto vulnerable whites.1 Second, they argue that while the US polity still takes nonwhiteness and especially blackness as its constitutive outside, the US right more and more relies on both black and nonblack nonwhiteness to affirm US patriotism and "producerism."2 Third, the authors argue that even as producerist and colonial commitments drive [End Page 1133] them into conservative dead ends, precarious whites are potential elements of progressive—anti-capitalist and anti-racist—coalitions. I will interpret and, to a lesser degree, evaluate each argument in turn.
Racial transposition is the major theme of chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 demonstrates how public sector unions have been "tainted" by racializations of gluttony and idleness as nonwhite. Although US conservativism has long defined itself against organized labor and public employment, recent attacks on public sector unions transpose parasitism upon workers whose whiteness once protected them against such accusations (23). HoSang and Lowndes illustrate this trend with a Saturday Night Live sketch that introduces unionized slothfulness through a black female before displacing it onto two white males who might have otherwise been mistaken as productive. Chapter 2 presents another variant of racial transposition, wherein cultural and biological deficiencies usually coded as nonwhite ostensibly explain the predicament of lower-class, rural whites. Again, the authors make the case for relative newness: once treated as exceptional, "Appalachian"/white poverty is now naturalized in ways akin to the normalization of "urban"/black poverty. Right-wing elites, tasked with justifying decades of rising white precarity, unsurprisingly make recourse to familial and moral failings; more surprising are their comparisons of Appalachia to urban "ghettos" and Amerindian reservations (60–62).
Throughout the book, Lowndes and HoSang are careful to argue that the racial transposition of nonwhite tropes onto white populations presupposes rather than collapses distinct racial positions. After all, it is not as if whites are somehow subject to anti-black racism or that settlers are suddenly subject to indigenous expropriation. Their nuanced claim is rather that whiteness remains a material privilege, but no longer guarantees material security as it did under the Fair and New Deals. Furthermore, the authors observe, the most vulnerable elements of the white producerist bloc celebrate attacks on the welfare state even as they, like their nonwhite "parasitic" others, are sacrificed to the US neoliberal turn. This irony is reminiscent of one observed by Caribbean political theorists who saw how European colonialism in the periphery "boomeranged" or returned as European fascism in the metropole.3 Here and elsewhere, HoSang and Lowndes miss opportunities to connect US political formations to global counterparts.
The major theme of chapters 3 and 4 is right-wing incorporations of nonwhites. Chapter 3 focuses on the political labor that Tim Scott, Mia Love, and other black officials do for the US right. This chapter contends that, unlike post-civil rights era black conservatives who scolded black people for supporting affirmative action and social welfare policies, contemporary black conservatives inspire confidence—most of all among white people—in the hegemony of US markets and militarisms, diverting attention from the evidence of their decline. Here Lowndes and HoSang work well across the ideological and institutional dimensions of racial formation. For instance, they contend...