1. Racial Capitalism and Colonialism


Art of a turtle looking onwards a city with the title "The Understory"

Welcome to our first module on Racial Capitalism and Colonialism. In this module we’re going to discuss the interconnections between capitalism, colonialism and racism. Racial capitalism is a term coined by Black Studies theorist Cedric Robinson. It explains how racism and capitalism are inseparable, and how notions of racial superiority and white supremacy underlie and uphold our global economic system. Capitalism requires the construction of the idea of race to function, while as a global system it begins at the moment of colonial contact; so capitalism and colonialism grow and evolve together, historically and in the present.

Illustration by Tina Huang, CC BY-NC 3.0

If these ideas feel big or daunting, don’t worry! This module will help you connect the dots of this complex system.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Describe the intersections between capitalism, racism and colonialism
  • Critically assess how the fabricated notions of racial superiority and racial hierarchy sustain those positioned at the top
  • Identify how slavery and indentureship create the conditions for wealth and accumulation-based society
  • Analyze how global systems today depend on the perpetuation of these conditions through institutional structures and ideas of white supremacy and entitlement

How to Use This Module

This module begins with a 10 minute video that introduces you to these key ideas and concepts. The sections following the video will provide additional content to help you dive deeper into these topics. Learning activities are integrated throughout. It may take you 2 to 6 hours to complete this module, including all learning activities. However, this will vary greatly by individual. Depending on your social location, lived experience and disciplinary background (area of study), you will engage with these materials in different ways.

If you have not yet, visit the section on Self-Guided Learning in the introduction for reminders on how you can support your learning process. There are many ways to engage with this module. Please decide what works best for you.


Reflection Journal 

Please open the google doc template for the Racial Capitalism and Colonialism reflection journal. You can save your own copy to your Google Drive. Alternatively, if you don’t have access to google drive, you can download a word copy to your desktop or phone. You will be asked to respond to the questions in your journal throughout the module. 



Another way of starting to explore the themes in this module is to listen to our Racial Capitalism and Colonialism playlist, available in the following formats:

You will also encounter music videos throughout the module to support further learning, reflection and movement.



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Global Justice and Change Copyright © 2022 by Nisha Toomey and Emma Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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