Michael C. Dawson launches the “Reading Racial Conflict” series by reflecting on the contemporary relevance of two major works on the political economy of race and capitalism: James Boggs’s Racism and the Class Struggle and Mario Barrera’s Race and Class in the Southwest. In their analyses of the divide among the white and non-white working classes in the 1960s and ’70s, Dawson sees antecedents of Donald Trump’s rise in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Reading Racial Conflict
Racial conflict and mobilizations around demands for racial justice have increasingly commanded public and scholarly attention in the United States and elsewhere. Frameworks for understanding the current moment and acting in it abound and generate much needed debate. With this series, we offer one lens into understanding the present: through a critical engagement with prior influential efforts to analyze racialization and the political economy of race in the past—what some scholars such as Cedric Robinson have labeled “racial capitalism.” Items, working with the multi-university Race and Capitalism project, has asked a group of scholars to read the present moment through a “classic” or touchstone work in social science, the humanities, or African-American studies—with what constitutes a “classic” left to each author’s discretion. Over the coming months, scholars will share how the insights of W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, C. L. R. James, Walter Rodney, and others might shed light on the current context and how economic, political, and racial inequalities shape each other—in the past, present, and future. The codirectors of the Race and Capitalism project, Michael Dawson of the University of Chicago and Megan Ming Francis of the University of Washington, join the Items editors in curating this discussion, which provides a unique perspective into how growing economic inequality, political exclusion, a discriminatory criminal justice system, and social movements have collided in ways that seem both familiar and new.
As we launch our series “Reading Racial Conflict,” we republish this archival piece by the late Manning Marable. Based on a talk given at the Council in 1995, Marable provides a sweeping overview of the changing nature of black studies, understandings of race, and the social context within which these debates are taking place. Paraphrasing Du Bois’s famous comment about the “color line” being the definitive problem of the twentieth century, Marable writes (quite presciently): “the problem of the twenty-first century is the challenge of ‘multicultural democracy.’”