WE HAVE BUILT an entire political economy that relies on racism. We can no more give up the racism than we can give up the political economy that funds our lives. Racism persists because racism works. It does not, of course, work for all of us—but that is somewhat the point.
Racism naturalizes what are obviously unnatural relationships forced between value and labor and land and bodies. As the ultimate gaslighting move, racism blames the oppressed for their oppressions, claiming it is something “natural” about them, something about their “race.” This naturalization attempts to justify the morally unjustifiable and makes what is obviously evil, idolatrous, and abhorrent look good, true, and beautiful. Following the Black radical tradition, we can call this gaslit normalization of domination and exploitation “racial capitalism.”
Racial capitalism has built into its politics a divide-and-conquer strategy. The Black Marxist Oliver Cromwell Cox laid this out in 1948 when he observed that poor whites, migrant Chinese, and Jim Crow-era African Americans suffered similar, if also unique, oppressions at the hands of politicians, factory owners, planters, labor agents, managerial elites, and so on, but it was the fate of those crushed by racial capitalism to blame one another while giving a free pass to those most responsible for their sorry lot. Rather than finding ways to build coalitional solidarity against oppressors, they became divided by race. In this scenario, oppressed whites sided with their white oppressors in exchange for what W.E.B. Du Bois called the “public and psychological wage” of white racial identity—and many participated in all manner of white supremacist violence to seal the deal. All the while, African Americans and Chinese were made out to be enemies of the nation and of one another.