Elements of a Historical-Materialist Theory of Racism

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This article aims to advance the historical-materialist understanding of racism by addressing some central theoretical questions. It argues that racism should be understood as a social relation of oppression rather than as solely or primarily an ideology, and suggests that a historical-materialist concept of race is necessary in order to capture features of societies shaped by historically specific racisms. A carefully conceived concept of privilege is also required if we are to grasp the contradictory ways in which members of dominant racial groups are affected by social relations of racial oppression. The persistence of racism today should be explained as a consequence of two dimensions of the capitalist mode of production – imperialism and the contribution of racism to profitability – and of a social property emergent from racism: the efforts of members of dominant groups to preserve their advantages relative to the racially oppressed.

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2

Fanon 1968, p. 40. In referring to Fanon, I do not mean to equate colonialism and racism, which are distinct forms of oppression. Colonialism involves one society conquering another and then ruling over it. Where it exists today it is always interwoven with racism. However, racial oppression frequently exists in the absence of colonialism (although the presence of racially-oppressed populations within imperialist countries obviously arises out of histories of colonialism). This article does not attempt to take up the interlocked colonialism and racism inflicted on indigenous peoples (see Lawrence and Dua 2005 and Sharma and Wright 2008).

3

Esch and Roediger 2014.

4

Mills 2009, p. 272.

6

I discuss this approach in Camfield 2014.

7

Robinson 2000, p. 2. See also Robinson 2001.

8

Robinson 2000, pp. 66, 10–11.

9

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies 1982.

10

Hall 1980.

12

Marx and Engels 1970.

15

Anderson 2010, p. 244. On these dimensions of Marx’s thought, see Anderson 2010, Achcar 2013 and Pradella 2015.

16

Marx and Engels 1975, p. 222.

18

For example, see Bonacich 1999.

19

For example, see Communist International 1983, Reed 1920, Stewart 1985, Trotsky 1978.

20

See Reed 1920.

21

The New Voice 1975.

22

West 1988, p. 19.

23

Löwy 1998.

24

Naison 1983, pp. 17–19.

25

Allen 1994, pp. 241, n. 11, 36.

26

Shachtman 2003, p. 40.

27

Cox 1948, pp. 321, 330, 393.

28

Cox 1948, p. 321.

29

See Young 2006, p. 38.

30

Hall 1986, p. 26.

32

Hall 1980, p. 336.

33

Hall 1980, pp. 336, 337.

34

Hall 1980, p. 338.

35

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies 1982.

36

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 63. This coauthored book is a revised edition of Miles 1989, hence my reference in the text to this as Miles’s perspective. Miles discusses his work in an interview: Ashe and McGeever 2011.

37

Miles and Brown 2003, pp. 8, 9, 8.

38

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 104.

39

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 102.

40

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 109.

41

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 112.

43

Bakan 2008, p. 249.

44

Blauner 1972, p. 22.

45

Blauner 1972, p. 13.

46

Ignatin 1976, p. 1.

47

Allen 1994, p. 241, n. 11.

48

Callinicos 1992, p. 6.

49

Balibar and Wallerstein 1991, p. 41.

51

Mills 2012.

52

Roediger 2008, p. xii.

53

Hall 1980, p. 341.

54

Allen 1998.

55

Miles and Brown 2003, pp. 7, 91.

56

Carter 2007, p. 446.

57

Hall 1980, p. 338.

58

See the examples discussed in Roediger 2006.

59

Cole 2009, p. 258. For a similar position, see Carter 2007, p. 448.

60

Bethencourt 2013, p. 3.

61

Fields and Fields 2012, p. 128.

62

Bethencourt 2013, p. 1.

63

McNally 2001, p. 74.

64

Carter 2007, p. 435.

65

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 104.

66

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 164.

67

Müller-Uri and Opratko 2013, p. 12.

68

Virdee 2010, pp. 144–5.

69

Rehmann 2013, p. 188. See also the excellent discussion of Althusser on pp. 147–8.

70

Rehmann 2013, p. 43.

71

Virdee 2010, p. 147. For the historical analysis of racism and class struggle in the uk in the 1970s that supports this claim about Hall, see Virdee 2000.

72

Young 1990, p. 41. Frye 2003 was an important theoretical contribution in this regard.

74

Young 1990, pp. 39–65. The same problem occurs in Cudd 2006 and Frye 2003.

76

Callinicos 1992, p. 6.

77

Allen 1994, p. 241, n. 11.

78

Bethencourt 2013, p. 4.

79

Fredrickson 2002, p. 170.

80

Bethencourt 2013, p. 1.

81

Müller-Uri and Opratko 2013, p. 10.

82

Nirenberg 2014, p. 39.

85

Hall 1980, pp. 336, 337.

86

Carter 2007, p. 450.

87

Carter 2007, pp. 448–9.

88

Carbado and Harris 2012, p. 206.

89

Zemni 2011.

91

Carter 2007, pp. 447–8.

92

Carter 2007, p. 446.

94

Virdee 2010, p. 31.

95

Taylor 2009, p. 185.

96

Taylor 2004, p. 117; Taylor 2009, p. 185; Taylor 2004, p. 117.

97

Taylor 2009, p. 186.

98

Bannerji 2005, p. 149.

99

Miles and Brown 2003, p. 101.

100

Virdee 2010, p. 157.

101

Omi and Winant 2015, pp. 110, 109 (emphasis removed).

102

Singh 2012, pp. 285–6.

104

Khiari 2009, p. 21 (my translation).

105

Roediger 2008, p. 6. Roediger 2008 provides a recent synthesis of the historical literature, including Allen 1997.

106

Allen 1998.

107

Ignatin 1976, pp. 150, 149. Michael Staudenmaier (Staudenmaier 2007) states that the term ‘white-skin privilege’ was first used by Theodore Allen in a 1965 speech.

108

For example, Smith 2007. The history of us Marxist studies of whiteness is surveyed in Roediger 2011.

109

Staudenmaier 2007. See Geier and Gerson 1972 for a critique of ‘white-skin privilege’ politics within sds.

111

For example, Choonara and Prasad 2014.

112

Consider Ignatin 1976, Smith 2007, Mills 2009 and Cudd 2006.

113

D’Arcy 2014; Smith 2013; Tietze 2014.

114

Choonara and Prasad 2014.

115

Sokoloff 1992.

116

Callinicos 1992, p. 25.

117

Lebowitz 2003, pp. 157–60, pinpoints the issue in theory. Three of many empirical studies are Du Bois 1935, Szymanski 1976 and Goldfield 1997.

118

Du Bois 1935, p. 700.

119

Allen 1967, p. 174.

120

Lebowitz 2003, p. 85. My argument about interests is also influenced by Callinicos 1987, pp. 129–33.

121

Lipsitz 2006.

122

Taylor 2013.

123

Fredrickson 2002, Bethencourt 2013, Roediger 2008 and Allen 1997 support these claims.

124

On which, see Sayer 1987.

125

Razack 2008, p. 8.

126

Bonilla-Silva 2003, p. 9.

127

Callinicos 1990, p. 163.

128

Mills 2003, p. 164.

129

Esch and Roediger 2014.

130

Smith 2006, p. 192.

131

Callinicos 2009, p. 89.

133

Ferguson 2008, p. 52.

134

Winant 2004, pp. 134, 135.

136

Gruffyd Jones 2008, p. 924.

137

Taylor 2010. The move from an identification of people’s culture as the problem to essentialising their alleged cultural qualities in practice is an easy one because of the pervasiveness of racist ideological conceptions of people of colour.

138

See Razack 2008, Fekete 2009 and Kumar 2012.

141

Ferguson and McNally 2014, p. 9.

143

Mason 1995.

144

Chibber 2013, pp. 141, 140. Chibber refers to occupational skills, but the linguistic and cultural competencies of labour-power are equally relevant.

146

Oreopoulos 2011; Roediger and Esch 2012, pp. 205–12; Longhi 2013.

147

Omi and Winant 2015, p. 125 (emphasis removed).

150

Du Bois 1935, pp. 670–709; Roediger 2008, pp. 110–19.

151

Roediger 2008, p. 207; Saloojee 2000.

152

Nardelli 2014.

153

See Khiari 2009, pp. 210–21.

154

Khiari 2012.

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