Racial Capitalism: Race, Class, and the Black Radical Tradition
“Racial capitalism” is a concept that has become central to contemporary radical movements, from Black Lives Matter and the prison abolition movement to movements for climate justice. The concept was first developed by Cedric Robinson in his monumental Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, where he argues that “the development, organization, and expansion of capitalist society pursued essentially racial directions.” For Robinson, capitalism and racism evolved together and thus must be understood as inseparable from each other. Why, even at its origins, did capitalism follow racial lines? And how, in racial capitalism, are we to understand race, class, and exploitation?
In this course, we’ll take seriously the challenge of thinking through Robinson’s concept of racial capitalism in all of its complexity. Classes will be centered in a close reading of the book Black Marxism. Over four weeks, students will be invited to examine Robinson’s assessment of modernity, nationalism, and the origins of Western racism. We’ll reconstruct the pieces of his argument around the emergence and development of capitalism, the limits of Western radical ideologies, and the making of Black Radicalism. We’ll conclude by exploring the encounter between this Black Radicalism and Marxism. In between, we’ll also supplement our discussions with the work of some contemporary scholars who have carried forward the analysis of racial capitalism (such as Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s and Robin D.G. Kelley’s) and interrogate about the silences in Robinson’s comprehensive book—most notably, the intersections of gender and sexuality with race and class. How do the histories of global capitalism and global racism intersect? Does capitalism need racism—or, as Nancy Fraser asked in a featured essay, “Is Capitalism Necessarily Racist?”—and does racism need capitalism? How does studying racial capitalism help us better understand race, capital, and the contemporary world? What implications does the concept of racial capitalism have to a discussion about identity, consciousness, and ideology? How do anti-capitalist and anti-racist theory and practice align (or fail to align)? What—or who—embodies the Black Radical Tradition in the 21st century?
“Racial Capitalism: Race, Class, and the Black Radical Tradition” will also be held in-person at BISR Central (68 Jay Street, #308) starting Wednesday, June 7th. For more information, please visit the course page.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 06 — June 27, 2023