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Elements of a Historical-Materialist Theory of Racism

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This article aims to advance the historical-materialist understanding of racism by addressing some central theoretical questions. It argues that racism should be understood as a social relation of oppression rather than as solely or primarily an ideology, and suggests that a historical-materialist concept of race is necessary in order to capture features of societies shaped by historically specific racisms. A carefully conceived concept of privilege is also required if we are to grasp the contradictory ways in which members of dominant racial groups are affected by social relations of racial oppression. The persistence of racism today should be explained as a consequence of two dimensions of the capitalist mode of production – imperialism and the contribution of racism to profitability – and of a social property emergent from racism: the efforts of members of dominant groups to preserve their advantages relative to the racially oppressed.

Affiliations: 1: University of Manitoba Winnipeg


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