Racial Capitalism

Definition: Racial Capitalism


The term “Racial Capitalism” was coined by Cedric J. Robinson, who was a Professor of Black Studies and Political Science at the University of California in Santa Barbara. Robinson describes racial capitalism as the conjoined process that has occurred when Europe was transitioning from the feudal period to the industrial period. With the rise of capitalism in industrial Europe, Robinson argued that contrary to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ assertion that “bourgeois society would rationalize social relations and demystify social consciousness, the obverse occurred” (Robinson, 2) as capitalist society developed and expanded through racial dimensions. As Jodi Melamed asserts in “Racial Capitalism:” “Capital can only be capital when it is accumulating, and it can only accumulate by producing and moving through relations of severe inequality among human groups—capitalists with the means of production/workers without the means of subsistence, creditors/debtors, conquerors of land made property/the dispossessed and removed” (Melamed, 3). 

Melamed argues that the logic extraction and accumulation underpinning the logic of capitalism, has been enshrined by racism through producing necessarily unequal social relations through white supremacy, slavery, colonialism, genocide, imperialism, settler colonization, jim crow laws, mass incarceration, military industrial complex. However, in recent decades the discourse of liberalism and multiculturalism has been increasingly utilized to facilitate the flow of capital across borders, rendering such logics through the discourse of equity and inclusion that “value and devalue forms of humanity differentially to fit the needs of reigning state- capital orders” (Melamed, 3).

Further Reading: 

Robinson, J. Cedric. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. London, Zed Books, 1983. 

Melamed, Jodi. Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2011. 

Gilmore Wilson, Ruth. Golden Gulags: Prison, Surplus, and Opposition in Globalizing California. 2nd Edition. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2018.  

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