Pulido L. Geographies of race and ethnicity II: Environmental racism, racial capitalism and state-sanctioned violence. Progress in Human Geography . 2017;41(4):524-533.
I have one major takeaway and one question after reading Laura Pulido’s article.
Takeaway: I was pleased to read a critique of the state for its role in maintaining if not exacerbating issues of racial and environmental injustice. I agree with Pulido in that activists too commonly fall for the optimistic belief that the state will do right by its citizens over financial/corporate interests. It is convenient to believe that industry is the sole adversary and that the state is the agent to call upon to keep our economics in check. All we need to do is vote, and then we can be on our way. The reality, though, is that
What is needed is to begin seeing the state as an adversary that must be confronted in a manner similar to industry. (p. 530)
This is not to say that petitioning the state for a more just social infrastructure is not worthwhile, but that it is insufficient, which ties back to the conversation about participatory/direct/project-based democracy we had a couple of weeks ago.
Question: What is the value of characterizing capitalism as racial capitalism in this article that referring to it as simply “capitalism” does not offer? Pulido explains,
Dominant historical narratives of racism locate its origins in European colonization. Robinson (2000) challenges this notion by documenting its prior roots in Europe. This is key, because although he and others, such as Melamed (2015: 77), insist that, ‘capitalism is racial capitalism’, this historicization suggests that racism predates capitalism and therefore can be used by diverse economic systems, including colonization and slavery. (p. 527, bold emphasis mine)
I may be confusing this wording, but it sounds like Pulido is suggesting that claiming “capitalism is racial capitalism” is antithetical to accepting that racism predates capitalism. If I am not misrepresenting the text, I disagree with that claim. All of the arguments Pulido raises against racial capitalism are just arguments against… capitalism, albeit she does an excellent job to emphasize how non-white people face stronger (or in more severe systems and periods, exclusive) devaluation. I have no issue whatsoever with this emphasis; in fact, I agree with her completely.
The reason I am troubled with using the term “racial capitalism” is that, for me, it suggests there is an alternative capitalism, one in which people are not treated inequitably and that those injustices do not fall predominantly on the disenfranchised - in our social context, largely non-white people with a disproportionate eye for Black Americans. While we could digress into an argument about whether that’s true, I do not believe it is. Further, I am not inclined to believe that our author thinks it is, and so I wonder why the term “capitalism” does not suffice; using “racial capitalism” potentially leaves the reader with the idea that capitalism as it stands can be fixed through conventional activism and strong regulation (something she does not believe is possible through the state).
That said, does anyone have their own sense of the benefit provided by qualifying capitalism in this article?