Race, Caste, Gender: Dispossession in the Time of Capital

Swati Birla, State University of New York-New Paltz

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois (1903) declared, "The country is rich, yet the people are poor. The keynote of the Black Belt is debt—not commercial credit, but debt in the sense of continued inability on the part of the mass of the population to make income cover expenses" (pp. 95-96). The nascent Confederacy depended on King Cotton in 1861, but when British textile mills halted during the civil war, British traders turned to Egypt and India. The colonial cotton extraction and rentier economy in a country gripped by drought and famine reduced the shudra-atishudra (Dalit) farmers to a cycle of indenture, peonage, and starvation. In Shetkaryacha Asud (1881, tr. The Whipcord of the Cultivator), the anti-caste radical thinker Jotirao Phule details the material wealth of farmers who produced the wealth of empires, living in thatched mud-roof houses where "in the corner with the stove there is an iron ladle or spatula, a wooden bowl, a blow-pipe, a griddle, a milk pitcher, and metal dishes for roasting underneath" (p. 240). The destruction of plantations in one place gave rise to them in another. The quest for the golden fleece brought disparate worlds and lives into contingent relationships by combining imperial expansion, slave labor, indenture, and wage work. Race, caste, gender, indigeneity each of them are categories of historically embedded experience of subjugation within the macro-temporal order of capitalist modernity. Each subject reveals and contests the brutality at the heart of it. In this essay, I explore the limits and possibilities of thinking about analogies and affinities between forms of life and struggles that are waged over and under these categories. I do so by centering the imaginative rethinking of political conviviality across struggles for emancipation today. Keywords: Du Bois, Phule, race, caste, gender, historical comparison

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 Presented in Session 57. Traversing the 'Global Color Line:' The Politics of Race and Caste in Search of Freedom