In his new book, "Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond," Marc Lamont Hill illustrates how neoliberal capitalism targets specific identities to oppress, exploit and ultimately discard.
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill wears many hats: He's a television host (for BET News and VH-1 Live), the Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities and Solutions at Temple University, a regular commentator on CNN and an activist. He's also an author whose new book, Nobody, is an essential read in explaining the callousness on a massive scale that characterizes modern US political culture and the US's approach to governance. Rather than falling into the false dichotomies of the "class versus identity politics" debate, in Nobody Hill illustrates how neoliberal capitalism targets specific identities to oppress, exploit and ultimately discard.
In the following interview with Truthout, we discussed the book and its continuing relevance in the Trump era.
Joe Macaré: For those who haven't yet read the book, can you briefly explain the concept you call "Nobodyness" and how it requires an understanding of race and class, sexism and transphobia, and overt state violence coupled with neoliberal economics?
Marc Lamont Hill: For me, Nobodyness is the product of a politics of disposability that shapes our daily lives. We live in a world where particular populations are denied access to the alleged benefits of democratic citizenship.
In 2017, there is a social demerit assigned to being Black, queer, trans, undocumented or a woman. These social demerits (and categories) are rooted in the various "isms" that we often discuss. But they are also connected to the fact that we live within the context of a class-defending state which, at the current moment, has doubled down on its investment in private capital at the expense of the public good.
As a consequence of this, the vulnerable have entered a more precarious state than ever. The government that is supposed to protect them has been largely outsourced to a private sector that has no interest in anything but accumulating more capital. Any social contradiction, like homelessness or addiction, gets resolved by erasing people through spaces like prison. Hence, "nobodyness."
In your chapter on Ferguson you spend significant time on St. Louis's Pruitt-Igoe apartments. How has urban planning and design in the US contributed historically towards segregation, marginalization and concentrated poverty, despite or because of the "good intentions" of planners?
Indeed, public housing has historically been viewed as a site of technological innovation, but also a site of social improvement. Unfortunately, the realities of white supremacy and anti-Black racism have often undermined any meaningful progress on that front.
For example, Pruitt-Igoe was designed to bring races together, yet the Pruitt and Igoe buildings were separated by race. Also, White residents had no real desire to live near Black residents. This reality was compounded by public policies that incentivized White flight (and capital flight) from urban spaces. With Whites gone, key resources quickly left too. Despite the best intentions of some planners, the end result was, in many instances, a net loss.
Can you talk a little about the connections you make in the chapter "Bargained" between the rise of plea bargaining and the takeover of the public imagination by free-market capitalism? How has the criminal legal system become a form of "doing business"?
The current neoliberal moment -- with its focus on privatization, efficiency, austerity and deregulation -- encourages us to reduce everything to a transaction. As a result, people become means rather than ends; vital processes become secondary to cost-cutting measures. The plea bargain system is a perfect example of this.