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Introduction

CEDRIC J. ROBINSON’S PASSING this summer at the age of seventy-five went virtually unnoticed in the media. Professor emeritus of political science and black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Robinson was one of the most original political theorists of his generation, yet no major U.S. newspaper devoted a single paragraph to his memory. Although he deliberately avoided the pitfalls of intellectual celebrity, his influence was greater than perhaps he may have realized. Today’s insurgent black movements against state violence and mass incarceration call for an end to “racial capitalism” and see their work as part of a “black radical tradition”—terms associated with Robinson’s work.

Born on November 5, 1940, Robinson grew up in a black working-class neighborhood in West Oakland. Educated in public schools, he spent hours in the library absorbing everything from Greek philosophy and world history to literature. Soft-spoken but never “quiet,” he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in anthropology and rose to prominence as a campus activist. He helped bring Malcolm X to campus and protested the Bay of Pigs Invasion, for which he received a one-semester suspension. After graduation in 1963 and a stint in the army, Robinson worked briefly for the Alameda County Probation Department, encountering both a racially biased criminal justice system and fellow employees determined to change it—including his future wife, Elizabeth Peters. By 1967, inspired by the urban rebellions and the antiwar movement, the couple chose to join those determined to change the world, pursuing a life of activism and intellectual work.

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About Boston Review

Walter Johnson, Harvard historian and author of the acclaimed River of Dark Dreams, urges us to embrace a vision of justice attentive to the history of slavery—not through the lens of human rights, but instead through an honest accounting of how slavery was the foundation of capitalism, a legacy that continues to afflict people of color and the poor. Inspired by Cedric J. Robinson’s work on racial capitalism, as well as Black Lives Matter and its forebears—including the black radical tradition, the Black Panthers, South African anti-apartheid struggles, and organized labor—contributors to this volume offer a critical handbook to racial justice in the age of Trump.

Other Articles in this Issue


Boston Review
CEDRIC J. ROBINSON’S PASSING this summer at the age
But for is always game. A man can be murdered twice
To Remake the World: Slavery, Racial Capitalism, and
WALTER JOHNSON ARGUES AGAINST a triumphalist narrative
WHAT LANGUAGE SHOULD WE use when we talk about slavery?
EVERY GREAT HISTORICAL EPOCH in the freedom struggle
RETHINKING OUR NOTION OF JUSTICE through the history
OUR IDEA OF RACIAL CAPITALISM, as Walter Johnson explains
WALTER JOHNSON IS UPSET at the state of the historiography
WALTER JOHNSON GIVES A BRACING critique of two ways
Following W. E. B. Du Bois and Cedric Robinson, Walter
Walter Johnson demonstrates how little liberal humanism
BLACK HUMANITY IS UNEXCEPTIONAL, Walter Johnson exhorts.
IT HAS BEEN WORSE. Let’s not forget “The Nadir,” as
Are we not coming more and more, day by day, to making
And I point to the list of the names of the missing
Births of a Nation: Surveying Trumpland with Cedric
Symptomatic of being a slave is to forget you’re a
In addition to the work of our contributors, the editors
Dwayne Betts is a poet, memoirist, and teacher. His