Robin D. G. Kelley-What is Racial Capitalism and Why Does it Matter?

There’s no such thing as non-racial capitalism. It only exists in the minds of economists themselves are thinking in racial terms. A racial regime. Racism is fundamental for the production and reproduction of violence, and that violence is necessary for creating and maintaining capitalism. Capital didn’t begin with money. It began with seizing control of natural resources, land, water, fuel, and creating cheap labor to turn those resources into commodities. Violence is cutting many ways, it is directed to all life and the earth itself. The imperial imagination envisioned a world of savages whose labor and land are there for the taking “sanctioned by god.” Since most of the land and resources in the world were held in common, it meant forcibly dispossessing people and turning them into cheap labor or unfree labor to be used to make and grow things. We’ve grown up in a world where private property is a natural thing, when for centuries it was the other way around. Access to the earth and its abundant resources was a natural right in the distant past. Everything is privatized now even water, you can’t just walk on property because property’s private. The commons had been natural for centuries. It is the dispossession from the commons and the construction of the concept of private property that created the problem. When he acknowledged the native people at the beginning of his talk he didn’t say “they owned the land.” Natives had a very different way of thinking about the land.

The requirement for resources and labor is behind conquest, colonization, dispossession and environmental destruction. These are the five processes on the creation of modern capitalism and white supremacy. We have to think about racial capitalism in global terms from its inception. It’s no accident that the global division of labor reflects this history with the lowest paid and the most precarious workers in the global economy are the decedents of slaves, the decolonized, and the dispossessed. Capitalism structures both the private and the public world, paid and unpaid work. Reproductive labor is outsourced. The globalization of care, immigration, domestic workers, etc., these are racialized. Paid domestic services becomes an engine in the economy and explains why we have the largest migratory labor force in history. Sylvia Frederici’s work shows that this puts women at greater risk for domestic violence and trafficking. This is happening today even though it’s an old process. Women of color are most effected, they are also at the forefront of the resistance.


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