Racialised Capitalism

Colonial Global Economy - Lecture 3

Lecturer: Dr Lisa Tilley, Birkbeck University of London

Feb. 24, 2021

An intellectual product of the Black Radical Tradition, ‘racial capitalism’ was first expansively developed as an account of the historical origins and embedded logics of global capitalism by Cedric Robinson in his key text Black Marxism. This session introduces students to the idea of racial capitalism and explains how it helps us to understand the centrality of race to the formation of capitalism. We will also consider how racial capitalism helps us to remain attuned to the constant production and reproduction of difference; and the exploitation and expropriation of those who are differentiated as ‘inferior’. But, perhaps most importantly, we’ll also cover how racial capitalism asks us to pay attention to those who should be more celebrated as key revolutionary subjects of history – the enslaved, the maroons, anticolonial plantation workers, migrant workers, and others who may not fit the frame of the ideal working class figure, but who have done so much to deliver rights and justice globally.


  • Robinson, C. J. (2000). Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. University of North Carolina Press.
  • Bhattacharyya, G. (2018). Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions of Reproduction and Survival. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Kelley, R. D. (2017). What did Cedric Robinson mean by racial capitalism? Boston Review, 12.
  • Gilmore, R. W. (2020) Geographies of Racial Capitalism. Antipode Online
  • Gilmore, W. R. (forthcoming 2021). Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition. Haymarket Books.


Questions for Discussion

  • How does broadening the focus from the European proletarian experience to the organising and revolts of the unfree labourers of the (formely) colonised world cause us to revise dominant understandings of historical change?
  • How does racial capitalism help us to understand the complex relationship between inclusion and exclusion?
  • What, according to Cedric Robinson, are the roots of the Black Radical Tradition?
  • In what ways are racial and nationalist interests mobilised by elites against collective class interests?