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Racial Capitalism

Definition: Racial Formation

Definition: Racial Formation was defined by the seminal work of Michael Omi and Howard Winant titled Racial Formation in the United States, in which they defined racial formation and laid out the structural and cultural intersections underlying such formations. Omi and Winant define Racial Formation as “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed” (55). As such, they understand racial formation to take place in two forms, the first being a social construction while the second being cultural representation, hence identifying race as a part of the social structure of a given period and represented as such. This comes to signify that Race has material implications as it racializes persons through a sociohistorical process of white supremacy and racial capitalism (e.g. instituionalized discrimination that seeks to marginalize, disposses, and erase Black and Indigenous communities, and Communities of Color in the United States and across the world). 

The sociohistorical form by which race manifests in social structures is seen through the creation, adaptability and destruction of racial categories as Omi and Winant highlight in their definition. As such, consider how the racial hierarchy of white supremacy is constantly expanding, and allowing more groups proximity to whiteness or to be transformed into being considered white (e.g. as the transformation and entering of the Jews into that category during the 70s and 80s in the United States). Moreover, it is important to consider the cultural forms of racial formations. How does white, able bodied, cis gendered people come to be represented as the norm in society, and a category to which all need to aspire too? Omi and Winant see such reproductions of racial meanings and representations as a way to naturalize and make such logics common sense in day to day life. Racial projects then come to be defined as racist “if and only if it creates or reproduces structures of domination based on essentialist categories of race” (71). Within such an understanding, the global dimensions of such projects should also be considered. Specifically, how are representations of the Global South used to reify the material effects of white supremacy and colonial pillaging occurring over centuries? In this sense, the racial project of white supremacy should be contextualized as a global one, that is constantly reproducing through the dual logics of white supremacist subjugation and racial capitalist exploitation. In the words of Professor and Activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “capitalism requires inequality, and racism enshrines it.” 

Further reading: 

Omi, Michael and Howard, Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. 2nd ed., Taylor & Francis, June 2014.

Winant, Howard. The New Politics of Race: Globalism, Difference, Justice. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2004. 

Said, Edward. Orientalism. Pantheon Books, New York, 1979.

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