Racial Capitalism

KelleyAn excerpt from a podcast interview with Robin D.G. Kelley, professor of American History at UCLA (interview on The Intercept, June 24, 2020).

…racism is a by-product of capitalism. That is, capitalism emerges and racism is a way to divide workers. It’s a way to extract greater value from, say, enslaved people, Indigenous people, etc. But what Cedric argued was that the grounds of the civilization in which capitalism emerges is already based on racial hierarchy. If you think of race as assigning meaning to whole groups of people, ideologically convincing others that some people are inferior to others, that some people are designed as beasts of burden, then what you end up getting is a system of extraction that allows for a kind of super-exploitation of Black and brown people. And racial capitalism also relies on an ideology or racial regime, and the racial regime convinces a lot of white people, who may get the crumbs of this extraction through slavery, through Jim Crow, convince them to support or shore up a regime that seems to benefit whiteness based in white supremacy but where their own share of the spoils is actually pretty minuscule.

So if you think of capitalism as racial capitalism, then the outcome is you cannot eliminate capitalism, overthrow it, without the complete destruction of white supremacy. You know, when we talk about the police and we talk about, like, defunding the police, if you think about what the police do, the police protect capital. The police were designed to protect property going back to, not just the slave patrols, but even the system of jails in cities in the 19th century. Those jails were designed to hold fugitives, runaways. When you’re trying to track down a runaway slave you pay a jail a fee to hold that enslaved person until the master could come, identify the person, and take them back into slavery. So when you think about the whole system of policing, it’s organized around property. If that’s the point of the police, then we shouldn’t be surprised that qualified immunity or that the violent acts of the police would be supported by capital. Why is that? Because capital needs a police force that could terrify people. That’s what the police do. So when we look at the relationship between the cost of police, the police budgets, and the amount of money being shelled out to settle police misconduct cases, you know, we’re talking about billions.

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