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18.1 Did racism emerge as a consequence of the slave trade? 

1. How was racism made necessary through the pursuit of profit? 

  • Those who argue that racism emerged as a result of the slave trade embed their arguments in the logics of capitalism. Such voices usually argue along the lines of Marx, who famously claimed that it was exploitation and expropriation that gave rise to global capitalism. This was expressed in his description of the 'turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins'. Thus, it is argued that the capitalist profit-motive determined that Africans would be enslaved.
  • Formerly, European slaves had served this purpose. But when these labour supplies proved inadequate for various demographic and political reasons European capitalists turned to African labour as the key source to exploit in order to gain super-profits from the colonies.

2. How did anti-Semitism contribute to the enslavement of Africans?

  • Those emphasizing anti-Semitism as crucial to the enslavement of Africans embed their arguments in the cultural construction of race. These arguments focus on the doctrine that renders anti-Christian believers as 'savage' or 'barbaric'. One of the first peoples to which this was applied was the Jews. It was then applied to Africans, distinguishing them from Christians and making acceptable their enslavement.
  • From the chapter we know that several historians and cultural theorists of late therefore situate the emergence of race in the theological doctrines that European Christians developed pre-1492. This had served a campaign to cleanse the Iberian peninsula of Muslim and Jewish influence.

3. 'Only with the end of global capitalism will racism be defeated'. How would you argue for and against this statement? 

  • Those sceptical of a capitalist world order premise their core critique on the argument that capitalism is fundamentally based on the exploitation of particular people in particular places. Without this systemic, and consequently often systematic, exploitation, capitalism would not be able to thrive as an economic system. Often placed in relation to modernity and industrialization, such voices argue that capitalism results in a hierarchical global social order, where the global 'core' profits from the exploitation of those living in the global 'periphery'. Thus, what is at stake is a largely racialized hierarchical social structure. In this sense, such voices would likely argue that 'only with the end of global capitalism will racism be defeated'.
  • Those arguing against this claim might stress the strong correlation between capitalism and liberalism. As the underlying ideology of capitalism, liberalism is premised on freedom. Therefore, not only would such voices claim that the ideal of a free market economy (which underpins capitalism) is open to all, but also they might argue that the liberal ideology itself makes possible to speak of inequalities such as racism in the first place. The question, of course, is: Why does the market economy, as well as other remaining social structures, remain racialized? Depending on the theoretical approach sought, the answer might be found in stressing that racism is predominantly a structural phenomenon. One of the immediate structures that would come to the fore is, of course, capitalism. However, from a social constructivist perspective, which examines ideational rather than material structures that shape human practices, other structures which could be examined could include culture(s), education, religious sentiments (see the cultural calculus of racism and the social/cultural construction of race discussed in ch.18). The question is, of course, are ideational and material structures distinct? Or do they reinforce each other?