“The (Anti-Racist) Politics of Anti-Racism Research” – Additional Notes, References, and Other Resources

This is a hastily-thrown-together companion page for the “The (Anti-Racist) Politics of Anti-Racism Research,” a presentation I’m giving as the CAPAL Research & Scholarship Committee’s 2nd Annual Lecture on Research and Scholarship on May 11, 2021.

First, more information on and legal fund donation options for the 1492 Land Back Lane land reclamation camp I mention are available at their Go Fund Me page. There’s also a pretty active social media presence for the camp, including on their Facebook page and Twitter profile. You can also visit www.protectthetract.com for more in-depth context.

I had to cut a lot out of the talk (which is already pretty rough around the edges to begin with), but I’ve listed some of these below as points for further exploration. I also thought that folks might be interested in the details of some of the works I reference and other suggested listening, watching, and reading on the concept of racial capitalism.

Things I was going to touch on, but had to cut out

  • The complexities of the relationship between scholarship and liberation struggles. I’m certainly not in any way assuming that (anti-racist) scholarship is somehow automatically liberatory or benevolent (even if I might agree with its analysis). There are lots of questions we could explore about the ways in which scholarly knowledge production can serve as a site through which racial capitalism is reproduced (again, even where the analysis within that scholarship is ostensibly solid).
  • The implications of operating with narrow definitions of scholarship. Even though I’m focusing mostly on formally published scholarly work in this lecture, I was going to elaborate the qualification that I’m not assuming in general that “scholarly” means “institutionally affiliated,” nor am I assuming that scholarship is the only form of nuanced analysis or intricate intellectual work that exists in the world.
  • The implications of Patrick Wolfe’s words on “race” as a social construct for anti-racism scholarship in LIS. In addition to touching on the point in the lecture from which the quote was taken, Wolfe also talks in greater detail about the construction of race in the introduction to his book Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race. It seems to me that integrating this kind of analysis into our work in LIS would allow us to think critically not only about the sorts of standard approaches based around demographics and representation, but also about simplistic claims made about positionality, especially the sorts of automatic assumptions made about who knows what, who has what kinds of political consciousness and interests and allegiances, and so on, based on how they are understood to be positioned in racial terms.
  • The profound inadequacy of white privilege as an anti-racist analytic (and not simply, or even primarily, because it tends, in practice, to manifest as navel gazing). While discussing my working understanding of structural racism, I was going to reflect a bit on the idea that the violence of white supremacy is about more than structural advantage and disadvantage.
  • Distinguishing the understanding of racial capitalism that I’m working with from other definitions. As I mention in the talk, I’m working with the more common understanding that all capitalism is racial capitalism, that the racially animated violence of white supremacy is a central and sustaining feature of capitalism (see references below). But if you Google “racial capitalism,” there’s an article by Nancy Leong that pops up as one of the first results. Because of the prominence of this article, I was going to spend some time highlighting the limits of its far narrower definition of racial capitalism (which is essentially about the use of racial differentiation as an institutional branding tool).
  • Some examples of phenomena we can explore as evidence of the ways in which the academic-library-as-such operates as an institution of racial capitalism through banal, seemingly deracialized practices. I had also hoped to point to things we might explore even beyond the subject headings, the cops in libraries, the security guards called on sleeping patrons. I’m very interested in hearing from others about this.
  • The use of Critical Race Theory in LIS scholarship and the reality that it doesn’t per se represent a departure from EDI logics. This is in spite of the fact that it’s often cited as bringing with it a critique of racial liberalism (though it seems there are a variety of different understandings of what constitutes racial liberalism).
  • The concept of reformist reforms and non-reformist reforms. In her foreword to Dan Berger’s Struggle Within: Prisons, Political Prisoners, and Mass Movements in the United States (2014), Ruth Wilson-Gilmore makes this distinction in the following way: “Big problems require big solutions. Nothing happens all at once; big answers are the painstaking accumulation of smaller achievements. But dividing a problem into pieces in order to solve the whole thing is altogether different from defining a problem solely in terms of the bits that seem easiest to fix. In the first instance, the remedy for each piece must develop in relation to its effect on actual or possible remedies for the other pieces. The other way is to solve a small part without considering whether the outcome strengthens or weakens the big problem’s hold on the world […] The distinction sketched out above is the difference between reformist reform—tweak Armageddon—and non-reformist reform—deliberate change that does not create more obstacles in the larger struggle” (viii). I think there are ways that we could connect this to thinking about how we frame our anti-racism scholarship, about the political project within which we situate it.
  • The full extent of my dissatisfaction with traditional library workplace journal clubs. Seriously. I was going to rant about it, as well as elaborating in greater detail on the slow-reading practice we practice in the collective study groups of which I’m a part.
  • All the various things I’ve tried (and failed at) to deepen my understandings of political economy. Oh, how I’ve tried. I’m current accepting applications for personal tutors.
  • The centrality of stories of self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, and property ownership within racial capitalism. Its worth thinking about individualism as a specific mythology that sustains racial capitalism, and considering what that means for challenging such individualism in research and scholarship.

References and Other Resources

Select References

Abolition University.

Abu-Laban, Yasmeen, and Christina Gabriel. Selling Diversity: Immigration, Multiculturalism, Employment Equity, and Globalization. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2002.

Allen, Robert L. Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytical History. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1990.

Baldwin, Davarian L. In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities. New York: Bold Type Books, 2021.

Ferguson, Roderick A. The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. “Geographies of Racial Capitalism with Ruth Wilson Gilmore.” Antipode Foundation. Posted on June 1, 2020. YouTube video, 16:18.

Grande, Sandy. “Refusing the University.” In Toward What Justice? Describing Diverse Dreams of Justice in Education, edited by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, 47-65. New York: Routledge, 2018.

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions, 2013.

Hazard, Anthony Q. Postwar Anti-Racism: the United States, UNESCO, and “Race,” 1945-1968. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Kelley, Robin D.G. “Black Study, Black Struggle.” Boston Review, March 7, 2016.

Lee, Robert, and Tristan Ahtone. Land Grab Universities. 2020.

Leung, Sofia Y., and Jorge R. López-McKnight, eds. Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021.

Lomawaima, K. Tsianina, Kelly Mcdonough, Jean M. O’Brien, and Robert Warrior, eds. “Intervention: Indigenous Studies Reflections on The Land-Grab Universities Project.” Native American and Indigenous Studies 8, no. 1 (2021): 89-182. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/natiindistudj.8.issue-1

Melamed, Jodi. “Racial Capitalism.” Critical Ethnic Studies 1, no. 1 (2015): 76–85. doi:10.5749/jcritethnstud.1.1.0076.

—. Represent and Destroy: Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Seale, Maura, and Rafia Mirza. “The Coin of Love and Virtue: Academic Libraries and Value in a Global Pandemic.” Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship 6 (2020): 1–30. https://doi.org/10.33137/cjal-rcbu.v6.34457.

—. “Empty Presence: Library Labor, Prestige, and the MLS.” Library Trends 68, no. 2 (2019): 252–68. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2019.0038.

—. “Speech and Silence: Race, Neoliberalism, and Intellectual Freedom.” Journal of Radical Librarianship 5 (2019): 41–60.

—. “Who Killed the World? White Masculinity and the Technocratic Library of the Future.” In Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science, edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, 175–201. Sacramento: Library Juice Press, 2017.

Thobani, Sunera. Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Undercommoning Collective. Undercommoning. 2021.

—. “Undercommoning Within, Against, and Beyond the University-as-Such.” Roar, June 5, 2016.

Wolfe, Patrick. “Comparing Colonial and Racial Regimes.” American University of Beirut. Posted on June 17, 2013. YouTube video, 48:14.

Resources On the Concept of Racial Capitalism

This is shorter and/or more introductory material on the concept, in case you don’t yet feel up for sitting down and studying Cedric Robinson’s all 450+ pages of Black Marxism or other book-length treatments.


Gargi Bhattacharyya on racial capitalism” – ourVoices podcast episode
Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò on Racial Capitalism” – A Correction podcast episode
New Dawn (a long-running podcast about race and capitalism)


Robin D.G. Kelley – “Race and the Making of the Global Capitalist Order?”
Ruth Wilson Gilmore – “Geographies of Racial Capitalism
Robin D.G. Kelley – “What is Racial Capitalism and Why Does it Matter?”

A Few Short Writings (in rough order of denseness)

Stephen D. Ashe – “Racial Capitalism
Arun Kundnani – “What is Racial Capitalism?
Robin D.G. Kelley – “What Did Cedric Robinson Mean by Racial Capitalism?
Charisse Burden-Stelley – “Modern U.S. Racial Capitalism Some Theoretical Insights
Jodi Melamed – “Racial Capitalism” (see reference list above; dense, but short and good)