This article deploys a genealogy of looting to mark out a history of the present. Looting entered the English language in the mid-nineteenth century. During its first decades of use, the term helped naturalize racial violence enacted along imperial infrastructures. Looting’s early history not only gives us insight into the lineaments of imperial liberalism, but also provides ways of reconceptualizing neoliberal racial capitalism. Insofar as we see the afterlives of imperialism at work in the present, we can better grasp the racial structuring of circulation – a sphere of accumulation that has, since the 1970s, gained a renewed centrality.