What Is Antiracism?

What Is Antiracism?:And Why It Means Anticapitalism

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This scintillating intellectual and political history provides a new understanding of racism, and a better way to fight it

Liberals have been arguing for nearly a century that racism is fundamentally an individual problem of extremist beliefs. Responding to Nazism, thinkers like gay rights pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld and anthropologist Ruth Benedict called for teaching people, especially poor people, to be less prejudiced. Here lies the origin of today's liberal antiracism, from diversity training to Hollywood activism. Meanwhile, a more radical antiracism flowered in the Third World. Anticolonial revolutionaries traced racism to the broad economic and political structures of modernity. Thinkers like C.L.R. James, Claudia Jones, and Frantz Fanon showed how racism was connected to colonialism and capitalism, a perspective adopted even by Martin Luther King.

Today, liberal antiracism has proven powerless against structural oppression. As Arun Kundnani demonstrates, white liberals can heroically confront their own whiteness all they want, yet these structures remain.

This deeply researched and swift-moving narrative history tells the story of the two antiracisms and their fates. As neoliberalism reordered the world in the last decades of the twentieth century, the case became clear: fighting racism means striking at its capitalist roots.


  • Drawing lessons from a long tradition of anticolonial, anti-imperialist, and Marxist intellectuals and movements, Arun Kundnani demonstrates how racism and capitalism are indivisible parts of one global system. And unless we can see the whole, we'll never know how to fight.

    Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams
  • This is the book we need to deepen our understanding of how ideas of racism and anti-racism became divorced from questions of who has what and why. Kundnani explains in gorgeous detail how in the twentieth century, people who were struggling to build a new world came to comprehend racism, capitalism, and colonialism as codependent systems. And he shows us how neoliberalism has shaped new racisms-involving, for example, 'the terrorist' and 'the welfare queen'--pointing to key areas of the fight today.

    Amna A. Akbar, professor of law, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
  • An important and absorbing intervention into debates around racism today, illuminating the profound structural links between imperialism, racism and capitalism. Kundnani shows us how an understanding of this long history is a vital resource for our fights against exploitation and oppression today.

    Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire