In recent years, activists and scholars have used the term ‘racial capitalism’ to describe the symbiosis between racism and capitalism. The promise of the term lies in its apparent bridging of the class struggle and the struggle against white supremacy, allowing us to understand police violence and mass incarceration as linked to but not reducible to capital accumulation. This presentation offers a clarification of what the term ‘racial capitalism’ might mean. It suggests that we reconstruct the term’s meaning from the work of scholars based in the UK in the late 1970s and early 1980s: exiles from the movement against South African apartheid, who first used the term ‘racial capitalism’ at that time; the African-American scholar Cedric Robinson, who was then based in the UK working on his influential book Black Marxism; and Stuart Hall, the British-Jamaican scholar who never used the term but, in his work during this period, offered the most effective account of racism’s imbrication with capitalism.
ARUN KUNDNANI is the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror (Verso, 2014) and The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain (Pluto, 2007), which was selected as a New Statesman book of the year. He has written for The Nation, The Guardian, and The Intercept. A former editor of the journal Race & Class, he has been a scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. The Guardian has described him as “one of Britain’s best political writers.”