George Lipsitz's Possessive Investment in Whiteness exposes the identity politics of whiteness in the US state and society concealed under two prevalent views about racism: racism has been overthrown after the civil rights era, and invisibility of overt racism proves this point. Reversing the problem of racism towards identification of whiteness, Lipsitz reviews major aspects of US state, society and culture, such as immigration, education, law, housing, war, art, etc., in order to reveal the pervasiveness of white identity politics and insidious predominance over liberalism in the country.
To start with Lipsitz's usage of the concept of identity politics, he both `clears' the term from euphoria as well as maintaining it for subversive political knowledge and alliances. According to Lipsitz, identity politics is "a political project aimed at creating identities based on politics rather than politics based on identities." (67) Generally confusion stems from the birth of identity politics, the groups who entered to the political sphere by defining their identities and trying to reclaim them especially through rewriting the history. However, identity politics is not always practiced by self-defined, identity-conscious groups; whites who seemingly do not intervene in politics can indeed be the very practicers, as well as beneficiaries, of these politics. Lipsitz refers to Michael Omi's distinction between referential racism and inreferential racism; the latter, is "a system of structured inequality that allows white people to remain self-satisfied and smug about their own innocence." (46) "Americans encouraged to remain true to an identity that provides them resources, power and opportunities" (vii)
Yet, Lipsitz also counters two main criticisms against identity politics; against essentialism argument, the situated knowledge argument takes place, which, together with historical experiences and current struggles, determines the main shape and agenda of the identity politics (69). Secondly, against its fragmentary forms and egoistic agendas rather that fighting together against social inequality and injustice, Lipsitz not only provides examples of diverse interethnic alliances, but also contends that "we can be unified eventually only if we examine honestly and critically the things that divide us in the present." (58)
Lipsitz's work is crucial in establishing linkages between cultural realm and economics and state. His work is an exposure and refusal of the cultural explanations for structural social problems, while at the same time identification of the problems within the framework of liberal individualism in a Western capitalist society. Demonization of black people for their poverty stems from the illusion of present non-racist moment as well as the successful concealing of conservatives and neo-liberals of the collapse of the welfare state, the devastating consequences of tax regulations, urban renewal programs, segregatory practices in education, nepotism in hiring, etc. Similarly, immigrants are degraded in various cultural ways in order to deny them citizenship albeit paradoxically preservation of their roles as `illegal' workers. Another example, the harsh deportations of Asian-Americans have utilized cultural ideologies such as nationalism, patriarchy, and heterosexuality in justifying the war and fostering racial discrimination. Here Lipsitz reminds us "for more than twenty years, reassertions of nationalism in the United States have taken place in the context of an ever-increasing internationalization of commerce, communication, and culture." (74)
Lipsitz uses the "consumer citizenship" as the name of the neoliberal state's imagination of its subject. Consumerist citizens seek the protection of their consumer power, on the individual basis, and the expense of the others. Thus, public needs are replaced by private desires, so as to enable the continuity of the inequality through private means of accumulation and inheritance. When capitalism is ingrained in an ideology of the state, this notion of the subject is not new at all. What Lipsitz emphasizes is the backlash in public mind and the idea of public goods in the post-civil rights era, contrary to the common view.
Lipsitz also draws on the uses of cultural productions against the social injustices and its masking power. For example Gilroy's concept of `diasporic intimacy' points to the various agency formation processes of aggrieved groups drawing upon their home-based cultural reservoirs. These include not only remembrance and collectivity, but also creativity and innovation for social change. Artistic, intellectual and other forms of cultural productions, as Gilroy, West and Goldberg demonstrates, are the ways through which situated knowledges and experiences of the aggrieved people are transformed into constructive powers.
Lipsitz's work is peculiar not for its theoretical uniqueness, nor the thoroughness of its subject matters, but rather the broadness of its audience, its solid ground that almost speaks for itself, and the author's mode of speech that is neither dramatic nor arrogant (of his rightfulness). Moreover, the work is strengthened by the illuminative use of the empirical data and legal matters, not as matters of facts in themselves, but as a complementary to social and cultural history. It is like a pocket-book for an activist.