Racial Capitalism without Guarantees: Civil Society and the Formation of Divergent Working-Class Racial Politics.

Rishi Awatramani, Johns Hopkins University

Recent scholarship has pointed to three seemingly contradictory trends in working-class racial politics in the US: widespread racial justice protest, growing racial conservatism among blacks and Latinos, and a decline in the salience of racial politics all together. These puzzling dynamics present a contradictory picture of the direction of US racial politics among working-classes in modern racial capitalism. What explains these contradictory dynamics? I build upon Stuart Hall’s notion of “articulation” to build alternative foundations for the study of race and class politics in racial capitalism. Among the central challenges of Cedric Robinson’s popular lineage of theorizing racial capitalism is in Robinson’s political sociology. In his Black Marxism, racial capitalism generates a radical Black resistance, both spontaneous and formal, in reaction to the brutal extension of European racialism and capitalism. But what can Robinson’s theory of racial capitalism tell us about the contradictory racial politics emerging today? I develop the concept of “race-class articulation,” which emphasizes the concrete historical processes linking capitalism and racialism, and linking race politics to class politics. In particular, this paper argues that “civil society” is a key mechanism and missing explanatory force in theories of racial politics in racial capitalism. I examine these questions in a cluster of remote, majority-Latino former steel-producing neighborhoods in Chicago, an area with surprisingly divergent racial politics among its working-class residents. I find that deindustrialization and neoliberal urban development gutted traditional ethnic civil society, leaving behind only fragments of the neighborhood’s many ethnic clubs, taverns, and churches, greatly reducing the sites through which racial politics could be organized. Drawing on extensive ethnographic data with neighborhood activists and residents, this paper seeks to explain the uneasy co-existence in racial capitalism of both racial justice and conservative racial politics amidst a growing political sentiment that eschews racial politics all together.

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 Presented in Session 87. Racial Capitalism & the Making of Class