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Digital Subscriptions > Boston Review > Winter 2017 > Racial Capitalism and Human Rights

Racial Capitalism and Human Rights

Are we not coming more and more, day by day, to making the statement ‘I am white’ the one fundamental tenet of our practical morality?

—W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Souls of White Folk” (1920)

IN THEIR ERUDITION, imagination, and generosity, these essays provide ample evidence of the possibilities of political imagination beyond existing limits. So, I must begin by saying: Thank you.

The point of my essay—essay in the old-fashioned sense of “try”— was to attempt to recover a fuller notion of human emancipation, not to dispense with humanism as such. My premise is that a liberal account of human rights—of individual rights, of political rights, and even property rights—has come to dominate a broader humanist conversation about justice. Andrew Zimmerman points the way by quoting Aimé Césaire: “a true humanism—a humanism made to the measure of the world.”

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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.