Blurring the Satirical: Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout” & the Alt-Right Movement

Book Reviews

“What I would ultimately want is this ideal of a safe space effectively for Europeans. This is a big empire that would accept all Europeans. It would be a place for Germans. It would be a place for Slavs. It would be a place for Celts. It would be a place for white Americans and so on.” –Richard Spencer, Alt-Right movement

“People eat the shit you shovel them.” –Paul Beatty, The Sellout (Shop your local indie store)

I was driving home one day, a week after we’ve all been forced to say “president-elect” when referring to Donald Trump, when I heard this interview on NPR. The host, Kelly McEvers, was careful and intentional about warning listeners of the kind of rhetoric that “many people will find offensive, even hateful.” I braced myself.

She then introduced Richard Spencer, who runs a think tank that pushes alt-right ideals. She mentioned that the “alt-right” is a white nationalist movement with a goal of fostering white identity politics.

The interview only confirmed Spencer’s white supremacist agenda and persona, in an unbelievably ludicrous manner, that he almost sounded like a caricature.

“I care about us more. That’s all I’m saying,” he told McEvers. As proud supporters of Trump’s presidency, he also touts Trump’s stance on issues of foreign policy and immigration. What’s disturbing about his views and the alt-right movement is that it he goes to the extreme: it’s not just “illegal immigration” that he’s concerned of, he is looking at (and possibly pushing to abolish) legal immigration as well because according to him, it’s damaging.

As troublesome as all of it sounds, I wasn’t surprised. One, because I’ve long believed that the “real America” has always been racist, white supremacist, misogynist — with a few liberal democratic things popping off here and there which it counts off as “progress” — and it’s finally showing its true colors (pale, egg-toned, low-fat white). Two, because I’ve been reading Paul Beatty’s The Sellout (Shop your local indie store), a satirical work of literary fiction on blackness and race relations in the country.

It was only when the Man Book Prize for fiction was awarded to The Sellout did I find out about this book. As the first American to win the prize, I couldn’t not get the book especially after he said the following in his acceptance speech: “I don’t want to get all dramatic, like writing saved my life … but writing has given me a life.”

sellout

The book is a biting satire set on the outskirts of Los Angeles, with the black protagonist (at times referred to as “the sellout”) as the narrator of his life. An urban farmer, pot smoker and occasional surfer, the sellout recounts his life while waiting for his trial to commence at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. His “crime”? Reinstituting slavery and segregation in his hometown Dickens, California.

To be clear, there is a difference between what happened in Dickens and what Spencer is actively trying to do and it came in the form of a has-been Little Rascals star, old man Hominy Jenkins.

Much of what the sellout then does is work around Hominy’s wishes, which is what gets him in trouble. He wanted to be the narrator’s willing slave and wanted bus segregation as a birthday gift. Hominy took delight in offering his seat in the front of the bus to white people.