Racial Capitalism

Definition: Intersectionality

Intersectionality is defined by Professor and Activist Patricia Hill Collins as referencing “the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation, ability, and age operate not as unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather as reciprocally constructing phenomena.” The origins of Intersectionality can be most prominently be traced to the 60s and 70s in the US Black Feminism movement, which incorporated a critical analysis of Race, Class, Gender into organizing movements and to center their voices and action as a group that is racialized and gendered, thereby giving acting against the intersecting oppressions of Racism and Sexism. This analysis was further incorporated into academia, and further expanded upon in organizing communities most prominently through the Boston based ‘Combahee River Collective.’ 

Over the years, Intersectionality as a field of study came to rethink and expand its analysis in several forms. Firstly it paid closer attention to how work and labor relations come to be situated in a critical Intersectional analysis (e.g. the gendered and unpaid labor undertaken by Women, and the form in which Gender, Race, and Class operate globally in Racial Capitalism’s exploitation around the world). Secondly it incorporated an analysis of sexuality, age, nationality, and ability to the initial analyses of race, gender, and class. Thirdly it thinks through conceptions of violence, to incorporate more heterogeneous analyses that rethink the various ways violence can be enacted on different intersectional communities, while centering work that aims to provide solutions for violence against women, which has spurred the organizing and activist work that created the ideas undergirding intersectionality. Fourthly, more work has been done on highlighting identity as part of an intersectional analysis, and how intersecting identity categories produce specific experiences for persons and social groups, while also thinking through identity as a form of building coalitional solidarities and cross-movement mobilizations. Further work has been done to establish the epistemological underpinning of the field of Intersectionality, and also the methodologies undertaken to advance the field of Intersectionality that challenge the appropriation of its meaning and its whitewashing as it becomes increasingly mainstream and institutionalized. 

It is important to highlight the grassroots nature that informs Intersectionality as it has come to be in the current moment. The work of Black Feminist activists and coalitions are fundamental to how we conceptualize Intersectionality. Namely, through engaging with Intersectionality as critical praxis activists that grapple daily with complex social issues and relations have come to push the field as a whole, and imagine new ways that struggles for liberation and against the interlocking systems of oppression can take shape. 

Patricia Hill Collins.“Intersectionality’s Definitional Dilemmas.” Annual Review of Sociology, volume 41, 2015, 1-20. 

Collins, Hill Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, New York, September 2008.

Combahee River Collective:

Davis, Y. Angela. Women, Race and Class. Vintage Books, February 1983. 

“Ain’t I a Women?” by Sojourner Truth, performed by Kerry Washington:

Racial Capitalism

Definition: Discourse

Definition: Michel Foucault was a philosopher related to the structuralist and post-structuralist movement. His work focused on conceptualizing the notions of  archaeological and genealogical analysis, and utilizing them to engage in projects of historical critique.

The idea of archaeology as conceived by Foucault, referred to an understanding that epistemes and discourse formations (also understood as systems of thought and knowledge) have rules governing them which come to limit what thought is permitted in each given historical period. Through conducting an archaeological method of analysis the subjectivity of individuals is displaced and historicized critique can take shape. However, such  analysis is limited as it can only compare one historical period with the other without accounting for the reasons for the transition from one era to the next. To this end Foucault conceived the genealogical mode of analysis, as a means to account and radically historicize the transition between each period of history, rendering narratives of modernist continuity and progression obsolete and critically examining their underlying narratives as turns in history. 

Discourse Formation: Despite understanding that people and things do exist outside of discourse, Foucault argued that they receive their meaning through discourse which constructs the topic and has the ability to rule things in, and rule things out (72). For Foucault, the same discourse characteristic of the way of knowing at a particular time (referred to as episteme by Foucault) will appear across various texts, institutional frameworks etc… When such ways of knowing refer “to the same object, share the same style and … support a strategy… they are said to belong to the same discursive formation” (73). We can only have knowledge of things if they have meaning, therefore Foucault argues that discourse produces knowledge. Through this claim Focault sought to radically historicize the way we understand discourse, in essence showing that discourse formation varies from one historical period to the other and in lieu of the power relations in place. 

Power/Knowledge: For Foucault power and knowledge are inextricably enmeshed together in how discourses are shaped vis a vis the power structures that are present in a society at a given moment, as they always attempt to regulate social conduct in practice. Therefore power operates within institutional apparatuses, using various technologies to implement its practices (i.e. discourses, institutions, architectural arrangements, regulations, laws) (75). Knowledge is always seen as a form of power, since it is implicated in what circumstances and how knowledge is applied or not. As Foucault argues “Knowledge linked to power, not only assumes the authority of ‘the truth’ but has the power to make itself true. All knowledge, once applied in the real world, has real effects, and in that sense at least, ‘becomes true.’ Knowledge, once used to regulate the conduct of others, entails constraint, regulation and the disciplining of practices” (76). Therefore power/knowledge seeks to sustain control over our conception of what we know in different historical periods (i.e. how we conceptualize sexuality, crime and punishment etc…), through such mechanisms of control a regime of truth is established and maintained by the powers at place (76).

Power/Knowledge, Society, and the ‘Individual’: Foucault saw power as functioning in a net-like organization, constantly circulating.  Power in this sense “is not only negative… It is also productive. It doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but… it produces discourse. It needs to be thought of as a productive network which runs through the whole social body” (77). Foucault saw the connections between the ‘towers of power’ to an understanding of the microphysics of power, which goes down to every one of us and the depths of society. This connection is what Foucault refers to as the capillaries of power. Hence power roots itself not in the abstract but in behaviours, and local relations of power (77) and in this way it is constantly reproduced in day to day interactions, maintaining and legitimating the discourse formations at a given time. 

Foucualt places the body in the center of struggles between different formations of power/knowledge, claiming that the subject is produced within discourse and subjected to it. The “subject can become the bearer of the kind of knowledge which discourse produces. It can become the object through which power is relayed. But it cannot stand outside power/knowledge as its source and author” (79-80). All discourse formations construct subject positions, individuals can differ with regards to race, gender, and class but they will not be able to take meaning until they have identified with those positions as they are subjected within the discourse formation (80).

References and Further Reading:

Hall, Stuart. “Foucault: Power, Knowledge, and Discourse.” Discourse, Theory, and Practice: A Reader, edited by Margaret Whetherell, Stephanie Taylor, Simeon J Yates, SAGE Publications, 2001, pp. 72-81.

Gutting, Gary, and Johanna Oksala. “Michel Foucault.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 22 May 2018,

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. New York, Vintage, April 1995. 

Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality. New York, Vintage, April 1990. 

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things. New York, Vintage, March 1994.

Racial Capitalism

Definition: Neoliberalism

Definition: Neoliberalism is an ideology that was brought to bear on the world between 1978-80, by three prominent figures, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK, Ronald Reagen, President of the US, and Paul Volcker, then chair of the United States Federal Reserve. As David Harvey, Professor of Anthropology in CUNY University defines in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, “Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can be best advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets & free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices” (Harvey, 2). As Harvey states, the ideology of neoliberalism seeks to place a market value on all human actions by bringing them into the domain of the market. Prominent examples include water, land, education, social security, while attention also needs to be paid to the forms by which this ideology has come to infiltrate, reorganize, and become the main ideology through which many people experience and act in the world. To that end, Neoliberalism has influenced the forms by which we carry out social relations, ways of living and thinking, amongst other things (Harvey, 2-4) 

The main drive to integrate Neoliberalism came about as a response to the increase in protests and resistance waged against the racial capitalist order of the world during the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement, Student protests, and subsequent rise of the Black power movement served as an impetus for the ruling class to rejuvenate and reinforce the Racially capitalist hierarchies by that would be expanded and render Post-Colonial nation, economies, and peoples further subjugated to the ideologies of white supremacy. As such, and to resist the further popularization of these movements, a coordinated effort took place to introduce Neoliberal ideology as the rational step needed in a globalizing world. Efforts included setting up various Institutes as agents of legitimation of this ideology, such as the Manhattan Institute, while academia was also transformed through increasing privatization and adoption of Neoliberal policies that transformed education from a public good, to commodity sold to the highest bidder and branded as such. The broad deregulation procedures, transformed everything into a commodity and has allowed for the rise of what David Harvey has called “Debt Peonage” as a form of population control. It is important to further consider the roles of Milton Friedman, the ‘Chicago Boys,’ International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization, in addition to the forms by which multinational corporations are functioning around the world at the moment, as sites through which the ideology of Neoliberalism was further disseminated globally and converging as an agent of white supremacy as enshrined through Racial Capitalism. 

Further Reading: 

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, New York, 2007. 

Harvey, David. The New Imperialism. Oxford University Press, New York, 2003. 

Bhambra, Gurminder K., et al. Decolonising the University. Pluto Press, New York, 2018.

Landy, David, et al. Enforcing Silence: Academic Freedom, Palestine and the Criticism of Israel. Zed Books, New York, 2020.

Choudry, A. A., and Salim Vally. The University and Social Justice: Struggles Across the Globe. Pluto Press, London, 2020.

Watch Life and Debt:

Watch David Harvey on Neoliberalism:,

Watch Nancy Fraser Critique of Capitalism:

Racial Capitalism

Definition: Orientalism

Definition: Orientalism is a term defined by Edward Said, who was a Professor of Literature in Columbia University. In his book Orientalism Said argued that from the 17th century the Orient was imagined by Europe as its inferior other upon which its projection of difference would be enacted. The Orient was represented as a mythical and timeless space, stretching across an undefined space, “the idea of representation is a theatrical one: the Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined. On this stage will appear figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe” (Said, 63). Orientalism was articulated in different fields to sustain the representation imagined by the West, such fields included literature, arts, films, music, academia etc… Through those fields the Orient was further enshrined in Western imagination, objectified, and reified through the culture industry. 

For Said Orientalism can take place in two forms, one of them being European Orientalism, and the other US Orientalism. European Orientalism takes on a much more traditional role, with direct colonial experiences in the countries that are being represented, most notably Said points to the colonial conquest of Egypt by Napoleon in 1798 as marking a new turn in European Orientalism. Napoleon’s colonial conquest entailed the surveying, recording, and writing about Egypt by French imperial personnel institutionalizing the process of mystifying and imaging the Orient and its otherness. Said sees US Orientalism as taking a markedly different turn, stemming from indirect contact, and based more on abstractions as represented in the US culture industry (i.e. mass media, hollywood films, novels, tv shows etc…). One of the main investments of the US in Orientalist ideology came about through the creation of the state of ‘Israel.’ Supporting its presence as a satellite ethno-nationlist self proclaimed Western state – the West encountering the East in the East in the words of the genocidal David Ben Gurion. Moreover, Said also highlights the representations of Islam in the West and its mystification through mass media. Particularly, he speaks to the forms in which Muslims come to be represented as an irrational and savage people, continuously being presented in the figure of the terrorist in popular media. Orientalism as a system of representation, in turn moves to have a very real and material impact on the peoples that it represents. Used as justification in policy decisions, imperial wars, and other acts that seek to advance of white supremacy and racial capitalism. 

Further reading: 

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

Edward Said on Orientalism:

Aijaz, Ahmed. “Orientalism and After: Ambivalence and Cosmopolitan Location in the Work of Edward Said.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.27, No. 30, July 1992, 98-116. 

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.

Racial Capitalism

Definition: Identity Politics

Definition: Identity Politics came to be used during the 70s from a recognition that interlocking systems of oppression of white supremacy and Racial Capitalism produce various forms of oppression along lines of race, gender, class, ability, nationality, among other identity categories resulting in the need to make one’s identity a means to organize around. One of the formidable groups that engaged in such forms of organizing were The Combahee River Collective. Building on legacies of Black Feminist Activists such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, in their Statement they said:

 “There is also undeniably a personal genesis for Black Feminism, that is, the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experiences of individual Black women’s lives. Black feminists and many more Black women who do not define themselves as feminists have all experienced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence. As children we realized that we were different from boys and that we were treated differently. For example, we were told in the same breath to be quiet both for the sake of being “ladylike” and to make us less objectionable in the eyes of white people. As we grew older we became aware of the threat of physical and sexual abuse by men. However, we had no way of conceptualizing what was so apparent to us, what we knew was really happening.”

The Combahee River Collective organized from the positionality of Black Women, and sought to do so to center their voices and organize for Collective Liberation through centering an identity which has been systematically silenced and erased in society. Identity Politics then becomes a means to use identity as a form of centering and resisting against the erasure and subjugation inflicted by the interlocking systems of oppression in a white supremacist and racially capitalist world. 

Further Reading: 

Combahee River Collective:

 Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta, editor. How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Haymarket Books, 2012.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge, New York, September 2008.

Haidar, Asad. Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump. Verso, New York, May 2018. 

Racial Capitalism

Definition: Ideology

Definition: In understanding Ideology, we have to draw on the Marxist theorization of how society is structured. For Karl Marx society was structured by a base/superstructure divide. The base consists of the economic and class relations, that is to say who owns the means of production, and the class positions of people in the hierarchy of class relations (bourgeoisie, petti bourgeoisie, proletariat). While the superstructure refers to the cultural ideology relations – comprising education, media, family, work environments etc… The ideological apparatuses that function in the superstructure are controlled by the class interests present at the base, and under capitalism controlled by the bourgeoisie. By doing so the bourgeoisie mystifies and obscures the exploitation that is continuously taking place at the base through representing ideology that benefits their class interests. In this sense, the relations at the base come to determine the superstructure, and the system must constantly reproduce itself to fight off being taken by the revolutionary class. 

Building on the theorization by Marx, both Italian cultural theorist Antonio Gramsci, and French Philosopher Louis Althusser contributed to how we come to understand the function of ideology. Gramsci expanded on the work done by Marx and Engels during his time at jail, after being prosecuted by Mussolini in Italy, he wrote numerous essays on culture, society, and hegemony that were compiled to his book called The Prison Notebooks. Gramsci’s theorization of cultural hegemony, argued that ideology affects the relations at the base in a much more pervasive manner than articulated by Marx. In that sense, Gramsci argued further that ideological relations at the superstructure don’t necessarily follow class lines but could also be crossed over across class positions (for further reading on Hegemony available here). Hegemony comes to be articulated in the consent of the subaltern classes to be ruled by the bourgeoisie. 

The work of philosopher Louis Althusser has furthered the theorization of ideology by providing further context to the forms in which ideology is present in our lives. Most notably, Althusser argued that the state has two different apparatuses to enforce its ruling ideology, the first being Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA’s), and the second being Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA’s). For Althusser, RSA’s are a tool of the state to forcibly repress those that attempt to disrupt the class structure in place or foster class consciousness, this could be seen through policing, surveillance, military amongst other examples. Despite the limited forms of repressive tools that are available to the ruling classes, Althusser argues that through ISA’s the control becomes much more pervasive and manifests through agents of ideology. Examples include mass media, the culture industry, education amongst others. For Althusser people are always already a subject, in his words “interpolated” through ISA’s to operate in the service of the ruling class’ ideology and instill those ideas within individuals to accept and celebrate capitalist exploitation.

Further reading: 

Karl Marx: Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844:

Karl Marx: German Ideology:

Antonio Gramsci: The Concepts of Ideology, Hegemony, and Organic Intellectuals in Gramsci’s Marxism:

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. International Publishers Co., November 1971. 

Althusser, Louis. On Ideology. Verso, March 2020, London. 

Hall, Stuart. “The Problem with Ideology: Marxism Without Guarantees.” Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, edited by David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, Routledge, 1996, 24-46.

Racial Capitalism

Definition: Neoliberal Multiculturalism

Definition: Neoliberal Multiculturalism can be seen as arising from the process of Neoliberal policies that were predominantly advocated by the governments of Theresa May and Ronald Reagen in the 70s. The goal of these policies was to privatize public sectors of society, and encourage the rise of ‘free market’ capitalism, rendering leadership of newly independent states from the Global South as neoliberal market actors. Through those actions, Post Colonial states would remain under the realm of Colonial Empires. Institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, created in the aftermath of World War II, increased the dependency of the Global South on the west through Structural Adjustment Loans amongst other means of subjugation, facilitating the transition of these states into a Neoliberal globalized market and further enforcing state and corporate facilitation of Racial Capitalist hierarchies. 

Neoliberal orders emerging during the 70s were accompanied by a process of multiculturalism seen in the US mostly as a result of  the Civil Rights movement and further protests against the Vietnam war during the 60s. Through securing abstract recognition before the law, the Civil Rights movement assisted the US government in disseminating an ideology of multiculturalism through a liberal understanding of ‘otherness’ whereby one is ‘recognized’ as an abstract racialized ‘other’ and taken out of power hierarchies as they form their socio-historical and material conditions. This ideology of multiculturalism which reified categories of abstracted racial difference to be appropriated and controlled by the state, came to be instrumentalized by the ideology of Neoliberalism. The emergence of Neoliberal Multiculturalism understood the discourse and marketing of difference as one that can be of benefit to the valuing and devaluing of lives across borders, in correspondence with the priorities of corporations and States in their facilitation of capital across the world. Racial Capitalism in this instance, utilizes the discourse of multiculturalism as an otherness that one must consume to be a global neoliberal market actor. Such manifestations could be seen through an emphasis on a ‘globalized’ perspective meant to prepare and push towards marketing to global economies and further enshrining the racialized hierarchies upon which capitalism depends. 

Further reading: 

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

Jodi Melamed. “Racial Capitalism.” Critical Ethnic Studies, Vol.1, No. 1, Spring 2015, 76-85.

Povinelli, Elizabeth. The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Multiculturalism in Australia. Duke University Press, Durham, 2002. 

Simpson, Audra. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Duke University Press, Durham, 2014. 

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.  


Learning Guide Definitions: Racial Capitalism and Decolonization

Racial Capitalism

Neoliberal Multiculturalism



Identity Politics


Racial Formation