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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

The Possessive Investment in Whiteness
George Lipsitz

(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998)
274 pp. Index. $59.95; ISBN 1-56639-634-4. Pb.: $19.95; 1-56639-635-2.

In The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego George Lipsitz primarily focuses on the legacy of racial subordination in the United States. Lipsitz argues such subordination stems from "systematic efforts from colonial times to the present to create economic advantages through possessive investment in whiteness for European Americans" (p. 2). Lipsitz implores white Americans to realize that they are not innocent of a myriad of privileges they receive as a result of being white, and to support public policies, such as affirmative action and fair housing acts, to oppose and end white privilege.

Lipsitz's work, however, not remain trapped only in analysis of racial subordination. From his work on race, Lipsitz expands his critique to the multiple forms of discrimination and subordination, including those based on class, gender and sexual preference, that exist and continue to flourish in the post-civil rights era in the United States. By utilizing intersectional analysis, Lipsitz avoids the pitfalls of one-sided racial analysis, particularly the reductiveness of framing race in the United States in a black/white dichotomy. He insightfully examines racism against Asians/Asian-Americans as well as Latinos and other minorities in the chapter 'Immigrant Labor and Identity Politics' and elsewhere. In combining the 'possessive investment in whiteness' with other hegemonic American constructs (heterosexism, patriarchy, classism), Lipsitz describes and elucidate upon the problems of prejudice, discrimination and domination which keep so many Americans from equality and equal citizenship, while fuelling the neo-conservative agenda.

By exploring the institutional flaws in the U.S. legal system ('Law and Order: Civil Rights Laws and White Privilege'), the neoconservative rise and the inherent racism of new American patriotism ('Whiteness and War'), and California's recent racist, anti-immigrant laws and mentality ('California: The Mississippi of the 1990s'), Lipsitz shows racism and inequality are not legacies of the past, rather they are still at the foundations of American society. The book gathers great strength from Lipsitz's ability to move effortlessly from personal narrative to hard-hitting policy analysis. At the root of his argument lies the premise that racism and other forms of domination are not just 'someone else's problems,' but they affect all Americans, and whites, in particular, need to push for solutions and massive changes in American society. He writes: "We need to learn why our history has been built so consistently on racial exclusion and why we continue to generate new mechanisms to increase the value of past and present discrimination" (p. 233).

Eamon Joyce, Vassar College

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