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Is capitalism necessarily racist?

  • Università di Bologna 2 Piazza San Giovanni in Monte Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, 40124 Italia (map)

Neither of two familiar conceptions of capitalism can explain its persistent entanglement with racial oppression. In place of exchange- and exploitation-centered views, I suggest an expanded conception that also encompasses an ongoing but disavowed moment of expropriation. By thematizing that third “ex,” I disclose, first, the crucial role played in capital accumulation by unfree and dependent labor, which is expropriated, as opposed to exploited; and second, the equally indispensable role of politically enforced status distinctions between free, exploitable citizen-workers and dependent, expropriable subjects. Treating such political distinctions as constitutive of capitalist society and as correlated with the “color line,” I demonstrate that the racialized subjection of those whom capital expropriates is a condition of possibility for the freedom of those whom it exploits. After developing this proposition systematically, I historicize it, distinguishing four regimes of racialized accumulation according to how exploitation and expropriation are distinguished, sited, and intertwined in each. I end by arguing for combined struggles against both “exes” and against the larger social system that generates their symbiosis.