Racial Capitalism and Decolonization: Articles

Introductory Readings

“RACIAL CAPITALISM” BY JODI MELAMED IN CRITICAL ETHNIC STUDIES, VOL 1, NO 1, 76-85 (2015) 

Abstract: “Accumulation under capitalism is necessarily the expropriation of labor, land, and resources. But it is also something else: we need a more apposite language to think about capital as a system of expropriating violence on collective life itself. To this end, one way to strengthen racial capitalism as an activist hermeneutic is to use it to name and analyze the production of social separateness—the disjoining or deactiving of relations between human beings (and humans and nature)— needed for capitalist expropriation to work. Considering racial capitalism as a technology of antirelationality reveals its weakness as much as its strength; for acts of racialized violence that would partition people from other senses and practices of social being (noncapitalist, nonstate) are as futile as they are constant.  

From Nike’s Kaepernick to McCain Eulogies: Revolution-Washing and How Comrpomise Crumbles our Movements” (2018) by Hoda Ketabi

Exercept: “Nike just signed former NFL star Colin Kaepernick as the face of their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. This is major. Kaepernick, who hasn’t played a game since 2016, the year he kneeled during the national anthem for the simple yet somehow controversial demand that Black Lives Matter, will now be affiliated with the brand that is the official outfitter of the industry that cancelled him. This is a strategic political statement–one that cannot be ignored by the NFL and their racists Kaepernick is actually currently in a lawsuit against. But, unfortunately, like all political statements, Nike’s endorsement may do little more than remain symbolic, vacuous, and destructive when swallowed. Here is where things get tricky (to say the least): First, we have the paradox that Nike continues to be the official brand of the NFL while simultaneously endorsing Kaepernick. Much like every single weapons manufacturer ever who fund boths sides of every war, this is truly an ingenious way to continue to reel in profits from both sides. Except, unlike weapons contractors who prefer to launch their ad campaigns in the barely-standing back-doors of formerly colonized nations with celebrity endorsements from U.S. politicians, Nike needs to be a bit more public to be successful. Of course Nike knew far-right lunatics would burn and cut up their Nike gear (oh how truly dreadful!) and attempt a boycott. You don’t need a major marketing and strategy team to have known that was going to happen (or even have to do much more than take off the words “Merry Christmas” from your Starbucks cups or simply exist as a woman of color to set the right-wing ablaze). But, Nike also understands the mass support that Kaepernick has, especially across the political left. Do you truly think that a brand would endorse someone who is controversial for symbolic value at the sacrifice of their profits?”

Advanced Readings

“Predatory Value: Economies of Dispossession and Disturbed Relationality” by Jodi A. Byrd; Alyosha Goldstein; Jodi Melamed; Chandan Reddy, in Social Text, vol 36, no 2, 1-18. (2018) 

Abstract: “This essay introduces and theorizes the central concerns of this special issue, “Economies of Dispossession: Indigeneity, Race, Capitalism.” Financialization, debt, and the accelerated concentration of wealth today work through social relations already configured and disposed by imperial conquest and racial capitalism. In the Americas broadly and the United States specifically, colonization and transatlantic slavery set in motion the dynamics and differential racialized valuations that continue to underwrite particular forms of subjection, property, commerce, and territoriality. The conception of economies of dispossession introduced in this essay draws attention to the overriding importance of rationalities of abstraction and commensurability for racial capitalism. The essay problematizes the ways in which dispossession is conventionally treated as a self-evident and circumscribed practice of unjust taking and subtractive action. Instead, working across the lethal confluences of imperial conquest and racial capitalist predation, this essay critically situates the logic of propriation that organizes and underwrites predatory value in the historical present. Against the commensurabilities and rationalities of debt and finance capitalism, conditioned through the proprietary logics of settler colonialism and racial capitalism, the essay gestures toward alternative frameworks for building collective capacities for what the authors describe as a grounded relationality.” 

From Nike’s Kaepernick to McCain Eulogies: Revolution-Washing and How Comrpomise Crumbles our Movements” (2018) by Hoda Ketabi

Exercept: “Nike just signed former NFL star Colin Kaepernick as the face of their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. This is major. Kaepernick, who hasn’t played a game since 2016, the year he kneeled during the national anthem for the simple yet somehow controversial demand that Black Lives Matter, will now be affiliated with the brand that is the official outfitter of the industry that cancelled him. This is a strategic political statement–one that cannot be ignored by the NFL and their racists Kaepernick is actually currently in a lawsuit against. But, unfortunately, like all political statements, Nike’s endorsement may do little more than remain symbolic, vacuous, and destructive when swallowed. Here is where things get tricky (to say the least): First, we have the paradox that Nike continues to be the official brand of the NFL while simultaneously endorsing Kaepernick. Much like every single weapons manufacturer ever who fund boths sides of every war, this is truly an ingenious way to continue to reel in profits from both sides. Except, unlike weapons contractors who prefer to launch their ad campaigns in the barely-standing back-doors of formerly colonized nations with celebrity endorsements from U.S. politicians, Nike needs to be a bit more public to be successful. Of course Nike knew far-right lunatics would burn and cut up their Nike gear (oh how truly dreadful!) and attempt a boycott. You don’t need a major marketing and strategy team to have known that was going to happen (or even have to do much more than take off the words “Merry Christmas” from your Starbucks cups or simply exist as a woman of color to set the right-wing ablaze). But, Nike also understands the mass support that Kaepernick has, especially across the political left. Do you truly think that a brand would endorse someone who is controversial for symbolic value at the sacrifice of their profits?”

Necropolitics by Achile Mbembe

Excerpt: “This essay assumes that the ultimate expression of sovereignty resides, to a large degree, in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die. Hence, to kill or to allow to live constitute the limits of sovereignty, its fundamental attributes. To exercise sovereignty is to exercise control over mortality and to define life as the deployment and manifestation of power. One could summarize in the above terms what Michel Foucault meant by biopower: that domain of life over which power has taken control. But under what practical conditions is the right to kill, to allow to live, or to expose to death exercised? Who is the subject of this right? What does the implementation of such a right tell us about the person who is thus put to death and about the relation of enmity that sets that person against his or her murderer? Is the notion of biopower sufficient to account for the contemporary ways in which the political, under the guise of war, of resistance, or of the fight against terror, makes the murder of the enemy its primary and absolute objective? War, after all, is as much a means of achieving sovereignty as a way of exercising the right to kill. Imagining politics as a form of war, we must ask: What place is given to life, death, and the human body (in particular the wounded or slain body)? How are they inscribed in the order of power?”

The Racist Dawn of Capitalism: Unearthing the economy of bondage” (2016) by Peter James Hudson on The Boston Review

Excerpt: “For Du Bois, black freedom was not the gift of white benevolence; emancipation came about in large part through the resistance and struggles of black people. Recasting the slave as a worker, Du Bois demonstrated continuities between the organization of American slavery and the consolidation of American capitalism while dismissing beliefs, prevalent at the time, that the failure of Reconstruction was due to black ignorance, dishonesty, extravagance, laziness, and, ultimately, congenital inability for self-governance and a lack of preparation for freedom—all of which he deemed “the propaganda of history.” As Du Bois was well aware, Black Reconstruction was a full-out assault on the U.S. historical profession and the position of African Americans within American history.
These provocations were met with both doubt and anger. Capitalism and Slavery, while the subject of much debate, was often dismissed by historians, and Williams and Du Bois remained on the margins of professional scholarship (though it must be acknowledged that Williams’s real ambitions were in politics, despite the decade he spent at Howard University). The segregation of higher education meant that Du Bois was marginalized within the U.S. academy, and it took more than half a century for the basic premises of Black Reconstruction to garner serious consideration; today, eighty years after its publication, it is invoked but not read, cited but not mined, and noted but not engaged.”

WHY IS IT NEVER “CLASS STRUGGLE” WHEN BLACK WORKERS FIGHT BACK?” (2020) by Chance Zombor on organizing.work

Excerpt: “There’s a special kind of pandering that goes on on the left. It’s like a bait & switch tactic where white leftists try to manipulate Black workers into fighting against capitalism by convincing them that racism and capitalism are one and the same. And they’re so committed to this tactic that when class struggle happens in a majority Black shop, the left’s first impulse is to redirect Black workers’ efforts toward a more acceptable starting point: anti-racist activism.”

“‘We have no Harlem in Sudan’” (2020) by Sebabatso C. Manoeli on Africa Is a Country

Excerpt: “The American framework for anti-black racism is rooted in white supremacy, stemming from Europe’s long history of racism and through its imperialist occupations in large parts of the world. However, although this specific prism illuminates anti-black racism in postcolonial cities and countries, it inadvertently conceals it in places with different histories.
The current global public discourse does not yet adequately include anti-black racism beyond how the West and white settler states experience and theorize it. Indeed, white supremacy has given us the most sophisticated forms of racism—replete with expansive colonialism and convoluted legal systems that produced seamless segregation and virulent oppression, from the Jim Crow South to apartheid South Africa. Yet, far less is known and done about the bellicose forms of anti-black racism suffered elsewhere.”