Racial Capitalism and Decolonization: Keywords and Definitions

Racial Capitalism: The term “Racial Capitalism” was coined by Professor Cedric J. Robinson. 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). Click here for a longer definition

Neoliberal Multiculturalism: 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. Click here for a longer definition

Ideology: 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. Click here for a longer definition

Discourse: 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. Click here for a longer definition

Identity Politics: Identity Politics came to be used during the 70s from a recognition that intersecting systems of oppression of white supremacy and Racial Capitalism produce various forms of oppression along racialized and gendered, 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. Click here for a longer 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.’ Click here for a longer definition

Racial Formation: 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. institutionalised discrimination that seeks to marginalize, disposses, and erase Black and Indigenous communities, and Communities of Color in the United States and across the world). Click here for a longer definition

Labor Power: It is the capacity for labor. “[It] is to be understood as the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value [quality; to satisfy the human want] of any description.” Marx, Capital Volume I, Chapter 6.  

Orientalism: 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. Click here for a longer definition

Class: A group of people sharing common relations to labor and the means of production. 

Proletariat: the class of workers, especially industrial wage earners, who do not possess capital or property and must sell their labor in order to survive. They sell their time and energy (labor) to the capitalist for survival. 

Bourgeoise: the class that, in contrast to the proletariat or wage-earning class, is primarily concerned with property values. 

Petty-bourgeoisie:  //Petit-Bourgeoisie, lit., “little city-folk.” A segment of the working class whose function is to administrate the bourgeois capitalist apparatus. While they are not separate from the proletariats, this name helps in understanding the behavior of this group which is oftentimes is against their class interest. The group is distinct for they do not produce commodities, but rather administer and manage the process of production. In other words, they have day-to-day control over the workers. They are however part of the working class because they do not own the means of production and because they receive wages in exchange for their labor.  

Class Struggle: the struggle for political and economic power carried on between capitalists (bourgeoise) and workers (proletariats). This antagonism between the two classes is central to capitalism.   

Communism: a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state (a classless society). Under communism, everybody would contribute to the process of production, however the various levels of contribution to the process of production does not affect the individual’s equal rights of access to consumer goods. In Marx’s words “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need

Neoliberalism: 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). Click here for a longer definition

Socialism: the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles. Under a socialist economic system, almost all resources are controlled and owned by the government rather than by private enterprise (the case under capitalism).