Capitalism is based on racism.
In its present sense, the concept of “race” is a relatively recent construction. Its appearance coincides with the beginning of capitalism; the time when European colonisers came into contact with the populations of other continents. Before the “Age of Discovery” the term of “race” had no special meaning (other than a synonym to “kind,” “type,” or ”species”). When Europeans conquered new territories, “race” started to represent a new ideology regarding the differences amongst people and a new way of structuring society that never before existed in the history of humankind. The idea of “race” was meant from its beginnings to create and justify divisions and hierarchies in the context of early capitalism, during which western societies were exploiting the newly “discovered,” conquered and colonised territories.
The invention of a new type of categorisation which would separate people into “civilised” (meaning “white”) and “primitive” (meaning “non-white”) was necessary in the context of colonisation, in which certain populations were exploited and definitively assigned to the status of slavery. This ideology of “race” was conceived to justify and organise slavery in a time when western European societies were embracing philosophies promoting individual and human rights, promoting freedom, democracy, justice, fraternity and equality. The only way in which Christians could justify slavery was to degrade the populations from the colonies to the status of non-humans. In consequence, the humanity of non-white populations was questioned until the end of the nineteenth century.
The idea of “race” has no scientific basis. “Race” in a genetic sense does not exist in the human species and there is no proof that it ever existed. There is consensus amongst most researchers in the fields of evolutionary biology, anthropology and other disciplines that racial distinctions are irrelevant from a scientific point of view, as long as there are no genetic distinctions between racial groups, and no measurements are possible. According to recent scientific discoveries, all human beings descend from a common root: the first human population who lived in Africa approximately 60,000 years ago.
The idea of “race” portrays a social reality characterised by ongoing inequality as though it is actually a natural state. By characterising inequality as natural, as biological and therefore legitimate, the ideology of “race” has been and continues to be used to organise institutions such as economy, the state, the family, religion and education systems in accordance with the reproduction of inequality, unjust wealth and oppression. Racism is an ideological practice, in which its specific object is constituted and constructed. That means, something that does not exist, like race, is created through different forms of routine use by individuals, groups, institutions, or states. Through this process it becomes reality – a social relation and a policy. Although “race” is a myth, the myth still leads to the reality of racism; the same racism that capitalism is based on in order to exploit people and resources, and the same racism that the neoliberal states condemns at the level of rhetoric but promotes in practice.
The coloniality of power is a concept developed by Anibal Quijano and it describes the structures of power, control and hegemony relying on colonialism, but not limited to it – on the contrary, still quite operational in our globalized world. These concepts divide the global population in different categories based on the fictional idea of “race,” and they establish that certain populations need to be “modernized” according to the cognitive needs of capitalism, where only what you can quantify/measure is rational.
The rhetoric of “salvation” and “modernization” justifies and perpetuates practices such as controlling territories, exploitation and transforming human lives into goods, the limitation of the mobility of certain persons in parallel with the fluidization of the circulation of capital and controlling knowledge and subjectivity.
“The Roma problem”
The Decade of Roma Inclusion was officially launched on the February 2, 2005 in Sofia. The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 is an international project involving organisations such as the World Bank, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Open Society Institute and the United Nations. The governments of nine countries in central and eastern Europe and international Roma rights NGOs are also involved. In the context of European Union expansion, it was considered that Roma, as the largest minority in Europe and also one of the minorities with the least access to education, health care and the labour market, required measures and policies that would improve their conditions and raise their active participation in social, cultural and economic life.
However, the starting point for the Decade of Roma Inclusion is not that all humans are equal. Rather it is based on the premise of the inequality of people (the Roma in this logic are “the aliens” needing to be included).
Living in Europe for centuries Roma have to be considered as a constitutive part of it. They settled long before the concept of nations was made up, thus we could ask on which basis they are regarded as something exterior to the nations that has to be included. Therefore the concept of inclusion seems paradoxical. But if we take a look at how power functions and until which extent coloniality is embedded in capitalism we realize that it is not paradox at all.
To understand the logic of inclusion we have to go back to the core of capitalist exploitation, the colonial history of Europe, and the slavery that was conducted for the sake of capitalist progress and the development of white Europeans. This is because its mechanisms are still defining human relations. For centuries colonial history has been and continues to be normalised by European “knowledge production,” such as school and university books, encyclopedias, art work, etc. Colonialism is trivialised (and thereby justified) as the modernisation of backwards areas, trading with spices, geographical discoveries, missionary missions, and western artists traveling in the Third world to find their inspiration. The full truth of cruel exploitation, mass murder, enslavement and expropriation in the name of European progress and modernity is largely hidden from view. — Ivana Marjanović, “Contention of anti-Romaism as a part of the process of decolonialisation of Europe”
In parallel with the Decade of Roma Inclusion, everywhere in Europe the Roma continue to be one of the very poorest minorities. Poor access to education and the labour market is common, as are living in conditions that lead to a much lower life expectancy than the majority populations. These living conditions destroy their self-esteem and push them to repress the sense of their own identity. A large part of the Roma continue to live in improvised shelters with continuous fear of evacuation by the authorities or arson by extremist groups. In different regions and countries participating in the Decade of Roma Inclusion (including Romania), walls have been erected around Roma neighborhoods and settlements. Roma families were evicted in illegal conditions (in winter time, without enough time for them to pack their belongings, etc) and they were moved into the vicinity of dump sites and toxic waste areas. Roma migrants, who are EU citizens, are paid by governments of “western” countries (such as Germany and France) to return to the countries they came from. Roma children continue to be segregated in schools where the quality of the education they receive is much lower that in the schools with a majority of “white” children. At the same time, Roma women continue to face multiple discriminations and their reproduction continues to be presented as “dangerous.” Racist discourses are increasingly present in the public sphere, accelerated by the financial crisis that needs a target for the fear and uncertainty of the majority of the population. Roma continue to be portrayed in public discourses as part of a “degenerate” and “primitive” culture.
The Decade of Roma Inclusion targets countries that recently joined the EU and countries about to join – countries whose mostly impoverished Roma populations have to be controlled and normalised. A certain improvement of the situation of these Roma would lead to a better exploitation of their labour and also to a more efficient migration control. Behind the neoliberal rhetoric of inclusion, diversity and democracy, we find the same logic which says that the multiplication of the capital needs to maintain certain categories of people in a continuous state of marginality. The dismantling of the unfair hierarchies that code Roma as being “primitive” and “subhumans” cannot be realised in the framework of the same capitalist logic which in parallel with hypocritical measures of “inclusion” creates and maintains these hierarchies.
During a class of visual education, at an elite high school in Timisoara, while discussing the discrimination of the Roma:
– But they are so different… why don’t they receive a country of their own, the same as the Jews did…
– Or better, they should receive an island!
Manuela Bojadžijev, “Does Contemporary Capitalism Need Racism?”, eipcp.net, 2006
Ivana Marjanović, “Contention of antiromaism as a part of the process of decoloniality of Europe”, reartikulacija.org/?p=647
Marina Gržinić, “De-linking Epistemology from Capital and Pluri-versatility. A Conversation with Walter Mignolo,” part 1 in Reartikulacija nr 4/ 2008, reartikulacija.org