Slavery, Race, Capitalism

A collaborative course and syllabus from Robert L. Heilbroner Center of Capitalism Studies

A course offering from the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, co-designed and co-taught by Julia Ott, Mia White, Alana Lentin, Kris Manjapra, Fred Cooper, Janet Roitman, Darrick Hamilton, Terry Williams, Nathan Connolly, Shirley Thompson, Ujju Aggarwal, Natasha Iskander, Nicholas Fiori


Historians’ recent investigations of the centrality of racialized chattel slavery to the origins of capitalism — along with activists’ efforts to expose the ongoing legacy of New World slavery — inspire a broad reconsideration of the connections between capitalism, race, and coerced labor across time and around the world. ‘Carceral capitalism,’ the question of reparations, ‘revenue-generating’ policing, international sex-trafficking, and transnational ‘sponsorship’ arrangements that bind migrant workers to their employers: all these pressing concerns call out for interdisciplinary and international investigations of how historical and present-day forms of slavery have shaped — A and continue to shape — capitalism.’ This course ranges across different disciplines and regions to survey how race and capitalism have been — and continue to be — conjoined both theoretically and empirically.

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

Julia Ott, Associate Professor of History and Co-Director of the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies, The New School

Many theories of capitalism set aside slavery as something utterly distinct because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage. An historical and empirical investigation, however, reveals that the factory and the plantation co-evolved so we cannot understand them as artifacts of two discrete economic systems. Similarly, classical liberalism and neoclassical economics both view property — and property rights — as the foundation to capitalism, but historically, socially-recognized rights and entitlements — in the form of race, specifically, whiteness — have produced and structured claims on economic value.


1. Karl Marx, “Primitive Accumulation” ch. 26-33, in Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Vol. 1, book 1, part VIII (1867)

2. Solomon Northup, Ch. 3-11, Twelve Years a Slave (1853) pg. 29-146

3. Walter Johnson, “Making a World Out of Slaves,” in Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Harvard University Press, 1999), pg. 178-216

4. Edward E Baptist, “Introduction: The Heart, 1837”, “Right Hand”, and “Left Hand,” in The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2014), pg. xv-xxix , 75-144

5. John E. Murray, Alan L. Olmstead, Trevon D. Logan, Jonathan B. Pritchett, and Peter L. Rousseau, “Roundtable of Reviews for The Half Has Never Been Told.” The Journal of Economic History 75, no. 3 (2015), pg. 919–31

6. Stephanie Smallwood, “Turning African Slaves into Atlantic Commodities,” in Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Harvard University Press, 2007), pg. 33-64

7. Seth Rockman, “The Unfree Origins of American Capitalism” in The Economy of Early America, edited by Cathy Matson (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), pg. 335-362

8. Anthony E Kaye, “The Second Slavery: Modernity in 19th South and Atlantic World,” in The Second Slavery Mass Slaveries and Modernity in the Americas and in the Atlantic Basin , edited by Javier Laviña and Michael Zeuske (LIT Verlag, 2014), pg. 175-202

Introduction to Critical Race Theory

Mia White, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Milano and the New School for Public Engagement

Alana Lentin, Hans Speier Visiting Professor of Sociology, NSSR Spring 2017

Critical race theory holds that race is a social construction, not a fixed or natural category grounded in biology. This means that racial categories are produced and reproduced (and challenged) through social relations. Still, racial identities and categories overlap with other social identities and hierarchies, including (but not limited to) gender, class, and sexual orientation.

To understand racial hierarchies — why particular groups are ‘raced’ in specific ways at particular historical moments, to what extent, and to what ends – critical race theory demands that we look beyond overt discrimination towards deeper institutional and discursive structures of privilege and marginalization. These include liberal notions of equality, property, merit, and rights, as well as policies that may appear race-neutral.


1. Cedric J. Robinson, “Introduction,” and “Racial Capitalism,” in Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (University of North Carolina Press, 2000), pg. 1-28

2. Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital” In The Sociology of Economic Life, edited by Mark S Granovetter and Richard Swedberg (Westview Press, 2011), pg. 96-111

3. Cheryl I Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (1993), pg. 1707–91

4. Jodi Melamed, “Racial Capitalism,” Critical Ethnic Studies 1 , no. 1 (2015), pg. 76–85.

5. Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches(Crossing Press, 1984), pg. 114-123

6. George Lipsitz, “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: Racialized Social Democracy and the ‘White’ Problem in American Studies,” American Quarterly 47, no. 3 (1995), pg. 369–87

7. Nancy Fraser, “Expropriation and Exploitation in Racialized Capitalism: A Reply to Michael Dawson,” Critical Historical Studies 3, no. 1 (2016), pg. 163–78

8. Nikhil Singh, “Racial Formation in an Age of Permanent War,” In Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Daniel HoSang, Oneka LaBennett, and Laura Pulido (University of California Press, 2012), pg. 276-301

9. William A Darity, “End of Race?” Transforming Anthropology 10, no. 1 (2001), pg. 39–43.

The Plantation Complex and the Force Economy: Liberalism and the Racial Mode of Production, 1830-1900

Kris Manjapra, Associate Professor of History and Interim Director, Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, Tufts University

During the so-called Age of Liberalism (1830-1900), forced labor spread across the globe. Amidst discourses of abolition, the monumental migration of ‘indentured’ laborers from Asia to the West Indies was matched by other large-scale forms of migration that traveled in the opposite direction: the movement of assets, capitalists, biota, and discourses about labor mobilization and labor control from the West Indies to Asia. In the midst of these complex circulations, racial-colonial modes of capitalist production spread, dependent upon the use of force, debt, and bodily destruction. This mode of production expanded worldwide in that very era associated with the coming of the wage, the contract, and “emancipation.” The material history of the plantation exposes the great internal contractions of Liberalism.


1. Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx, “Letters between Marx and Lincoln” in Marx and Lincoln: An Unfinished Revolution. Edited by Robin Blackburn, (Verso Books, 2011), pg. 211-218

2. W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Black Worker,” “The White Worker,” “The General Strike,” “Counter-Revolution of Property,” and “Back Toward Slavery,” in Black Reconstruction in America toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860 – 1880 (Transaction Publishers, 2013), pg.1-27, 49-75, 518-568, 599-634

3. Talitha L LeFlouria, Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (University Of North Carolina Press, 2016)

4. Stuart Hall, “Race, Articulation and Societies Structured in Dominance,” in Sociological Theories: Race and Colonialism (Unesco, 1980), pg. 305-345

5. Dale Tomich, “Commodity Frontiers, Conjecture, and Crisis: The Remaking of the Caribbean Sugar Industry, 1783- 1866,” in The Second Slavery: Mass Slaveries and Modernity in the Americas and in the Atlantic Basin , edited by Javier Laviña and Michael Zeuske (Lit-Verl, 2014), pg. 143-164

6. Benjamin Brower, “Slavery in Algerian Sahara Following Abolition,” in A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France’s Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902 (Columbia University Press, 2011), pg. 139-196.

7. David R. Roediger and Elizabeth D Esch, “Frontiers of Control Infrastructure, Western Expansion, and Race Management,” in The Production of Difference: Race and the Management of Labor in U.S. History (2014) , pg. 67-98.

Student Response: Aaron Nebler, “Reading Black Reconstruction Today.”

Student Response: James Cooper, Interview with Dr. Kris Manjapra

Enslavement to Precarity?: African Labor History

Fred Cooper, Professor of History, New York University

How does one write about Africa in the context of capitalism and colonization without reducing that continent to the victim of historical processes determined elsewhere? This talk will chart scholarly perspectives on the multiples ways in which the history of capitalism has unfolded outside the European ‘core.’


1. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Howard University Press, 1981)

2. Gareth Austin, “Capitalism and the Colonies,” in Larry Neal and Jeffrey Williamson, eds., The Cambridge History of Capitalism Vol. 2 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pg. 301-47

3. Alessandro Stanziani, “Labour Institutions in a Global Perspective, from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century,”International Review of Social History vol. 54 (2009), pg. 351-358

4. Moretn Jerven, “The Emergence of African Capitalism,” in Larry Neal and Jeffrey Williamson, eds., The Cambridge History of Capitalism Vol. 1 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pg. 431-454

5. Jan Bremen and Marcel van der Linden, “Informalizing the Economy: The Return of the Social Question at a Global Level,” Development and Change 45 (2014), pg. 920-940

6. Jason Hickel, “Aid in Reverse: How Poor Countries Develop Rich Countries,” The Guardian, January 14 (2017)

7. Fredrick Cooper, “Africa and Capitalism,” in Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State (Harvard University Press, 2014), pg. 11-37

Space and the Making of Race-Capitalism

Mia White, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, Milano and the New School for Public Engagement

This lecture erects three conceptual pillars: institutions – history – space. “Institution” is understood broadly as any structure or mechanism of social order governing the behavior of individuals while also transcending individual lives and intention. In this regard, we may call “race” an institution. “History” is a dialogic, contested process of meaning-making. “Space” (which produces imaginaries like “environment” and “land”) is the knowledge and material action that institutions and history produces.


1. Kimberly K Smith, “Strange Rendings of Nature,” “A Land Cursed by Injustice,” and “Possessing the Land,” inAfrican American Environmental Thought: Foundations (University Press of Kansas, 2007), pg. 13-97

2. Peter Newell, “Race, Class and the Global Politics of Environmental Inequality,” Global Environmental Politics 5, no. 3 (2005), pg. 27-94

3. Andrea Smith, “Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, and White Supremacy,” in Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Daniel HoSang, Oneka LaBennett, and Laura Pulido (University of California Press, 2012), pg. 66-90

4. Elizabeth A Povinelli, “Introduction,” in Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism (Duke University Press, 2011), pg. 1-46

To Watch

1. David Pellow, “The Ultimate Freedom Movement: The Limits and Possibilities of Radical Ecological Politics,” University of Tennessee Sociology Department’ Colloquium, Mar 8 (2013)

Neoliberalism and the Paradox of Persistent Racial Disparity Even Amongst High Achieving Black Americans

Darrick Hamilton, Associate Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, Milano and the New School for Social Research

Even black Americans with high levels of educational attainment exhibit large disparities in economic and health outcomes. This fact cannot be reconciled to the ‘post-racial’ politics of personal responsibility, with refuses public responsibility and turns to the punitive measures of ‘neoliberal paternalism’ to ‘manage’ the communities of color.

Stratification economics proposes an alternative interpretation of the paradox above: the added efforts and stigma imposed upon high achieving blacks produces deleterious economic and health effects. Stigma, and, ironically, individual agency, both impose physical and psychological costs. In the context of racist or stigmatizing environment, education and income play only a limited role as protective factors for blacks relative to whites.


1. William A Darity, Darrick Hamilton, and James B. Stewart, “A Tour de Force in Understanding Intergroup Inequality: An Introduction to Stratification Economics,” The Review of Black Political Economy 42, no. 1–2 (2015), pg. 1–6

2. Major Coleman and James Stewart, “The Black Political Economy Paradigm and the Dynamics of Racial Economic Inequality,” in African Americans in the U.S. Economy, edited by Cecilia Conrad, John Whitehead, Patrick L. Mason, and James Stewart (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), pg. 118-132

3. Darrick Hamilton and William Darity Jr., “The Political Economy of Education, Financial Literacy, and the Racial Wealth Gap,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Center for Household Financial Stability Research Symposium (2016)

4. Darrick Hamilton, “Issues Concerning Discrimination and Measurements of Discrimination in U.S. Labor Markets.”African American Research Perspectives (2000), pg. 116–120

5. Darrick Hamilton, “The Moral Burden on Economists.” Institute for New Economic Thinking, April 13 (2017).

To Watch

1. Marlene Kim, “The Burdens of Race Discrimination is Heaviest Where It Intersects with Gender,” Institute for New Economic Thinking, Dec 30 (2016)

2. William A. Darity, Interview, “Can We Overcome the Economic Legacy of Racism?,” Institute for New Economic Thinking, Sep. 28 (2016 )

3. Rev. Dr. William Barber III, Keynote Address, “A Moral Challenge to Economics”, Institute for New Economic Thinking, Nov. 11 (2016)

4. Brendan O’Flaherty, Interview, “Exploring the Economics of Race”, institute for New Economic Thinking, Nov. 30 (2016)

Student Response: Interview with Darrick Hamilton by Narender Strong

The Ghetto, Revenue Generating Policing, and Vagrancy Laws: Then and Now

Terry Williams, Professor of Sociology, The New School for Social Research

This talk examines revenue-generating policing on low-income African American municipalities across the United States, including ‘stop, frisk, and question’ tactics, ticketing, arrest practices, and jail- and prison-related debts.


1. Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America: Problems in Race, Political Economy, and Society (South End Press, 1983)

2. Bryan L Sykes and Michelle Maroto, “A Wealth of Inequalities: Mass Incarceration, Employment, and Racial Disparities in U.S. Household Wealth, 1996 to 2011.” RSF 2, no. 6 (2016), pg. 129–52

3. Didier Fassin, “Interactions,” in Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing (Polity Press, 2013), pg. 85-112

4. Richard Quinney, “Knowledge and Order,” in Critique of Legal Order: Crime Control in Capitalist Society(Transaction Publishers, 1974), pg. 17-50

5. Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism—An Introduction,” American Quarterly 64, no. 3 (2012), pg. 361–85

6. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, “Policing Racism: Jim Crow Justice in Urban North,” in The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard University Press, 2011), pg. 226-268

7. Donna Murch, “Paying for Punishment: The New Debtors’ Prison” Boston Review, (Aug. 1, 2016)

To Watch

1. Thomas Sugrue, Interview, “What Caused Detroit’s Demise?”, Institute for New Economic Thinking

Black Capitalism

Nathan Connolly, Associate Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University

“The Civil Property Rights Movement”

Historically, black movements have always included economic arguments, both from the perspective of the labor-left (the typical protagonists in civil rights ‘origin’ stories) and from that of black entrepreneurs and professionals, who were equally aware of the connection between housing, jobs, and education. For well over a century, property — involving specific law, political, and cultural precedents and meanings — has stood at the center of the legislative aims of black movements. Assessing movement gains and losses under a property rights movement framework points to limitations inherent within both capitalism and liberalism.

Shirley Thompson, Associate Professor of History, University of TX-Austin

“Making Black Lives Matter at the Nadir”

In recent years, #BlackLivesMatter has returned anti-racist activism to first principles by insisting on the bodily integrity of black people and the precious value of their lives. In the early twentieth century, African Americans also attempted to secure the sancity of black bodies and the values of black lives by pursuing a variety of economic strategies against their ‘separate-but-equal’ citizenship. At once creative and conventional, black-owned life insurance companies stood at the center of the institutional bonds and increasingly dense networks of mutual reliance that sought to shore up self-proprietary claims of black people, individually and communally. Yet these liberal commitments to the sanctity of private property and the tenet of bodily inviolability often contained a messy underbelly.


1. Beryl Satter, Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America (Metropolitan Books, 2009)

2. David M.P. Freund, “Marketing the Free Market: State Intervention and the Politics of Prosperity in Metropolitan America,” in The New Suburban History, edited by Kevin Michael Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2007), pg. 11-32

3. Andrew W Kahrl, “Building Black Privatopias,” The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South (Harvard University Press, 2012), pg. 86-114

4. I ra Katznelson, “Welfare in Black and White,” in When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (Norton, 2005), pg. 25-52

Whiteness as Property, Choice, and Neoliberal Citizenship: Raced Rights and Inequality in Public Education under Neoliberalism

Ujju Aggarwal, Postdoctoral Fellow, National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation; Visiting Research Scholar Center for Place, Culture, Politics, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Since Brown v. Board of Education, public education has been both the most universally accessible and yet also the most unequal institution in the United States. Public education was also among the first public goods to experiment with the concept of choice. The history of public education in the second half of the twentieth century reveals how freedom, rights, and citizenship were re-imagined, re-structured, and constrained after the Civil Rights movement. Drawing on critical race theory, feminist theory, the concept of racial capitalism, and ethnographic research, this lecture presents a critical genealogy of choice. Organized through race, “choice” is a principle of reform and management and a core component of neoliberal consumer citizenship.


1. Derrick A Bell, “The Interest Convergence Covenants” and “Racism’s Economic Foundation,” in Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform (Oxford University Press, 2005), pg. 49-58, 77-86

2. Matthew F. Delmont, “Introduction,” in Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation (University of California Press, 2016), pg. 1-22

3. James Forman Jr., “The Secret History of School Choice: How Progressives Got There First,” Georgetown Law Journal 93 (2005), pg. 1287-1319

4. Matthew D. Lassiter and Joseph Crespino, “Introduction”, De Jure/De Facto Segregation: The Long Shadow of a National Myth,” in The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism (Oxford University Press, 2010), pg. 3-48

To Listen:

1. NPR Fresh Air, “How the Systematic Segregation of Schools is Maintained by ‘Individual Choices”

2. This American Life, “The Problem We All Live With”

Public Choice Theory: The Billionaires’ Bid to Undermine Democracy

Nancy MacLean, Professor of History, Duke University

Today’s plutocracy is the product of decades of right-wing activism that not only changed who rules in America, but also our fundamental rules of democratic governance. Billionaires did not launch this project; a white economist in the embattled Jim Crow South did. But once Nobel-Prize winning economist James McGill Buchanan teamed with Charles Koch, a multibillionaire on a messianic quest to rewrite the modern social contract, they created a vast, relentless strategy to underwrite the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and the rest of us. This is a chilling story of how academics and wealthy donors teamed up to put democracy in chains.


1. Kenneth J. Arrow, “What Has Economics to Say about Racial Discrimination?,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 12, no. 2 (1998), pg. 91–1000

2. Kevin M. Murphy, “How Gary Becker Saw the Scourge of Discrimination,” Chicago Booth Review (June 15, 2015)

3. Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, and Linda Houser, “Deciding to Discipline: Race, Choice, and Punishment at the Frontlines of Welfare Reform.” American Sociological Review 74, no. 3 (2009), pg. 398–422

Bonded: Migrant Workers, Global Capitalism, and the Return of Un-Freedom

Natasha Iskander, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Wagner School, New York University

In modern capitalist production systems around the world, forced labor arrangements are used in specific and deliberate ways to meet production challenges. In contemporary Qatar, forced labor arrangements erase the skill contribution of workers — an aspect of production typically treated as a neutral input in the form of human capital — even as production relies on workers’ skills to meet technical challenges and highly variable production targets. Systemic skill erasure forecloses all negotiations between labor and management over how skill is used and compensated, thus preserving maximum production and price flexibility for firms.


1. Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, “Rethinking Trafficking: Contemporary Slavery,” in From Human Trafficking to Human Rights: Reframing Contemporary Slavery , edited by Alison Brysk and Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), pg. 13-24

2. Manning Marable, “Blackness Beyond Boundaries’: Navigating the Political Economies of Global Inequality,” inTransnational Blackness: Navigating the Global Color Line, edited by Manning Marable and Vanessa Agard-Jones (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pg. 1-8

3. Joel Quirk, “Uncomfortable Silences: Contemporary Slavery and the ‘Lessons’ of History,” in From Human Trafficking to Human Rights: Reframing Contemporary Slavery , edited by Alison Brysk and Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), pg. 25-43

4. Jennifer Rankin, “Human Traffickers ‘Using Migration Crisis’ to Force More People into Slavery,” The Guardian(May 19, 2016)

Community Agreement

By enrolling in, auditing, or attending this course, or by participating in accompanying on-line discussions hosted byPublic Seminar , I agree to abide by the following community agreement:

• To listen and to read respectfully without interrupting

• ‪To engage actively with the intention of understanding others’ views

• ‪To critique ideas, not people

• ‪To honor every person’s right (and turn) to contribute

• To avoid inflammatory language and assigning blame

• To speak up if I witness bias, exclusion, prejudice or other injustice

• To be willing to try to articulate why something might feel difficult to discuss

• To examine my own assumptions

• To defend my conclusions and opinions with evidence

• To respect the personal space (physical and emotional) of others

• ‪Not to ask or to expect individuals to speak for their perceived social group

Julia Ott

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