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  • Racial Capitalism, Colonialism, and Death-Dealing Abstraction
  • Iyko Day (bio)
The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies. By Tiffany Lethabo King. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. xx + 284 pages. $104.95 (cloth). $27.95 (paper).
Colonial Lives of Property: Law, Land, and the Racial Regimes of Ownership. By Brenna Bhandar. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. xi + 265 pages. $99.95 (cloth). $26.95 (paper).
Empire's Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad. By Manu Karuka. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019. xv + 297 pages. $85.00 (cloth). $29.95 (paper).
Theft Is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory. By Robert Nichols. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020. 233 pages. $99.95 (cloth). $25.95 (paper).

"Racial capitalism is all capitalism" writes Ruth Wilson Gilmore. "There was not one minute in the entire story of capitalism that it was not racial."1 And so this story goes: the "explorer," the survey, the map, the property owner, the corporation, and the shareholder stake a claim to the future that is "dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt."2 The four monographs discussed here offer powerful illumination and insight to Gilmore's words, demonstrating the need to unravel the relations of capitalism and colonialism in order to grasp the promise of abolition and decolonization. Extending the interventions of scholars working in and across Native and Indigenous studies, Black studies, and critical ethnic studies, these authors showcase the rewards of critical reassessment and reorientation, transporting us beyond conventional distinctions between land and labor, structure and event, theft and property. Cheryl Harris's iconic "Whiteness as Property" appears in these works as an indispensable critical touchstone, as does Karl Marx's theory of "so-called primitive accumulation." Sylvia Wynter's critique of liberal humanism comes [End Page 1033] into focus as a critical nexus that bridges Black and Native studies. These works bring deep historical texture and bold theoretical interventions to the imperial project of "shareholder whiteness" (Karuka) and "conquistador humanism" (King) while delineating the colonial modality of "recursive dispossession" (Nichols) and the interplay of racism and abstraction embedded in property relations (Bhandar).

Although the concerns of these texts are deeply interconnected, their methods remain distinctive. The scope of Brenna Bhandar's monograph draws on a transnational archive of legal history, while Robert Nichols offers a historical and genealogical reconstruction of critical theory as it pertains to Anglocolonialism. Tiffany Lethabo King offers the rich and conceptually versatile motif of the shoal—a geologic and oceanic term to refer to the zone between sand and sea—to approach the contact zone between Black and Native studies. Manu Karuka presents his methodology as a "meditation" that is opposed to the "impulse of discovery [or] the desire for novelty (xv). Approaching meditation as a practice of liberation, he defines this effort as one attuned to "realize questions and capacities that have been there all along" (xv). While Nichols's and Bhandar's works zero in on the vicissitudes of property and dispossession in settler colonies such as Canada, the US, Australia, South Africa, and Israel/Palestine, Karuka and King broaden the conceptual frame of Anglo settler colonialism toward a theorization of continental imperialism (Karuka) and genocidal conquest (King).

One of the many achievements of Nichols's Theft Is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory is the way it brings historical, genealogical, and conceptual specificity to the concept of dispossession and its relation to land and racial bodies. Nichols's main contention is that within the Marxian tradition, dispossession is subordinated by other categories of analysis, namely labor exploitation, which obscures its role as a unique and contemporary means of colonial violence. A key example is in Marx's interpretation of so-called primitive accumulation, which challenges a bourgeois political economic account of the origins of capitalism that emerged as a peaceful emancipation from feudalism. In contrast, Marx's account expounds on the horrifying extra-economic violence of the transition to capitalism. As Nichols delineates, Marx saw the transition from feudalism to capitalism as a sequential development with four stages: dispossession, proletarianization, market formation, and the separation of agricultural from urban industry (59), whose violence would eventually give...


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