Racism and Capitalism

The economic system under which we live – capitalism – has always relied on racism.

Over the past 500 years wealth has been accumulated in “developed” countries in the world – mainly Europe and North America – at the expense of those from “developing” countries, especially Afrikans and Indigenous Americans.

None of this would have been possible without the dehumanization of these people by those of European descent. Most of us today could not imagine Aboriginal Canadians conquering a well-established city in Europe, or Afrikans selling European children into slavery. Yet crimes like these were committed a million-fold over centuries to Black and Indigenous women, children and men.

Not Just History

It’s tempting for some to try to dismiss these crimes as ancient history, irrelevant to the present. But in fact, they were just the beginning of a persistent pattern of dehumanizing racism that has persisted to this day.

From Jim Crow laws to the Indian Act, racialized people were treated as second- or third-class citizens long after the end of the most brutal days of legal discrimination. And the bulk of society’s great wealth has largely remained concentrated in the hands of a small number of people of European descent, passed down from generation to generation.

Prejudice + Power = Racism

Racism is more than simple racial prejudice. It involves having the power to act on that prejudice – to discriminate, actively or passively.

The worst days of overt, legal, dehumanizing discrimination may well be behind us. But with economic and political power still concentrated mainly in the hands of Whites, the descendents of those who were enslaved and dispossessed in order to create so much of society’s wealth still face an uphill battle in the workplace.

Racism Helps Capitalism Survive

Covert and overt discrimination in hiring, exclusionary employment opportunities, and denial of the existence of everyday racism are just some of the symptoms of an economic system that keeps wealth and power divided along racial lines. Racism is, therefore, fostered and exacerbated by the patterns of economic exclusion and exploitation of capitalism. The result is that capitalism creates a racialized group that is driven out of wage labour, educational opportunities and into chronic unemployment. This group then becomes a scapegoat of the very system of exploitation that marginalized them in the first place.

The instances of everyday workplace racism documented on this website are not the exception under capitalism – they continue to be the rule.

For more information regard the relationship between racism and capitalism see here.