A Story of Racial Capitalism: Dialectics of Place and Imaginaries

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Jordanna MATLON, American University, USA
In this paper, I present a dialectics of the city and imaginaries of black masculinity to examine the operation of hegemony in racial capitalism. First, I trace labor narratives in the African city from colonialism to crisis, narratives through which racial signifiers took on cultural overtones. I focus on Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where in the French “civilizing mission,” as a privileged class of évolué [evolved] citizens, African – and male – interlocutors of the colonial state were the first wage laborers incorporated into the capitalist economy. The wage persists as a register of civilized manhood in the postcolony despite the proliferating informal economy. Next, I examine imaginaries of blackness in transatlantic dialogue. In what I call imaginaries of negation, modern urban subjectivity demanded approximating whiteness through work and its overlapping cultural identity. During anticolonial and antiracist struggles, imaginaries of affirmation, in response, asserted “black power” and “black is beautiful.” Anchored in Marxist traditions, these affirmations were positioned against racial capitalism: the double hegemony of the politics of representation (race), and political economy (capitalism). Finally, as imaginaries commodified, coincidental to the global contraction of wage labor for black men, iconic black men in mass media representations become celebrated capitalist tropes. They fracture the once-singular opposition to the double hegemony of the politics of representation and political economy. Blackness, hyper-commodified, becomes a vehicle of consent. I suggest that the double commodification of blackness, as productive potential and cultural artifact, together define the project of racial capitalism.