ENGL 537 A: Topics In American Studies

Black Studies and Racial Capitalism: Two Threads

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
* *
Alys Weinbaum
Alys Eve Weinbaum

Syllabus Description:

English 537

Fall 2020

Tues/Thurs 1:30-3:00


Seminar Zoom Link


Passcode:  Weinbaum


Black Studies and Racial Capitalism:  Two Threads


This course examines a range of recent works in Black studies that treat the devastations of racial capitalism.  There are two threads, or lines of inquiry, that this course follows along.  The first has to do with the ways in which many new works in Black studies treat the relationship of historical reciprocity between racism and capitalism by examining the relationship between slavery and settler colonialism, Black dehumanization and indigenous genocide.  The second thread has to do with how a range of works in Black studies have sought to explore the gendered and sexualized modalities of anti-Black racial capitalist violence and the insurgency against this violence that is expressed by black women in slavery and beyond.   As we follow the first thread, we will explore how the violence of genocide has been racialized, and how the racial dynamics of settler colonialism differ from those of enslavement.  We will consider the stakes of bringing Black and indigenous studies into dialogue, and the possibilities and pitfalls of thinking slave racial capitalism and settler colonialism together.  As we track along the second thread, we will consider how and why expressly feminist contributions to Black studies are at the forefront of thinking the question of resistance, and thus how and why Black feminism has been so central to creation of radical Black studies scholarship.   As we proceed through the quarter we will also, by necessity, consider how each reading contributes to an evolving understanding of the current crisis, and to the national and global uprising against anti-Blackness.



Schedule of Readings

Please note that the readings are subject to change because I seek to keep the course responsive to emergent concerns and the evolving emphases in our discussion.  It is your responsibility to keep abreast of all changes to the readings, and to come to each class properly prepared.  Alternative readings are noted below in some instances, and, in others, not yet identified, alternatives may emerge as we go along.


Week 1: Introduction to the course

Thurs, Oct. 1: 

Some readings to get you started (not required):

Robin D. G. Kelley, “The Rebellion Against Racial Capitalism,” The Intercept interview (podcast and expanded transcript) https://theintercept.com/2020/06/24/the-rebellion-against-racial-capitalism/

Hannah Nicole Jones, “What is Owed,” The New York Times Magazine https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/24/magazine/reparations-slavery.html

Coulthard, Glen. 2013. “For Our Nations to Live, Capitalism Must Die.” Unsettling America: Decolonization in Theory and Practice, November 5. https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/for-our-nations-to-live-capitalism-must-die/     


Week 2:  Thinking slavery, settler colonialism, and racial capitalism

Tues, Oct 6: 

Cedric Robinson, “Racial Capitalism:  the nonobjective character of capitalist development”  from Black Marxism

Thurs, Oct 8:

Barbara Fields, “Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States”


Supplementary reading:

Robin D. G. Kelley, “What did Cedric Robinson mean by racial capitalism?” http://bostonreview.net/race/robin-d-g-kelley-what-did-cedric-robinson-mean-racial-capitalism

Jodi Melamed, “Racial Capitalism”


Week 3: 

Tues, Oct 13:

Lisa Lowe, “The Intimacy of Four Continents”

Thurs, Oct 15:

Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism or the Elimination of the Native”

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Settler Colonialism as Structure:  A Framework for Comparative Studies US Race and Gender Formation”


Supplementary reading:

Kehaulani Kauanui and Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism Then and Now: A Conversation”

Patrick Wolfe, “Land, Labor, and Difference:  Elementary Structures of Race”


Week 4

Tues, Oct 20:

Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals, Preface, Introduction, Chapters 2 and 3

Thurs, Oct 22:

Frank B. Wilderson II and Tiffany Lethabo King, “Staying Ready for Black Study:  A Conversation”


Supplementary reading/viewing:

Robin D. G. Kelley, “The Rest of Us:  Rethinking Settler and Native”

Iyko Day, “Being and Nothingness:  Indigeneity, Antiblackness, and Settler Colonial Critique”

Jared Sexton, “The Vel of Slavery:  Tracking the Figure of the Unsovereign”

Julie Dash dir., Daughters of the Dust (1991)


Week 5:  Gendered and sexualized racial domination and refusal

Tues, Oct 27:

Hortense Spiller, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe.”

Thurs, Oct 29:

 Sylvia Wynter, “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings:  Un/Silencing the Demonic Ground.”


Week 6

Tues, Nov 3:

Katherine McKittrick, On Demonic Ground, Introduction, Chapter 2 and 5.

Thurs, Nov 5:

McKittrick completed


Week 7

Tues, Nov 10:  

Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here, Introduction and Chapters 1, 2, and  5

Thur, Nov 12:

Haley completed


Alternate reading:

Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, Introduction and Chapters 4, 5, and 6.

Alys Weinbaum, “Gendering the General Strike”


Week 8:

Tues, Nov 17:

Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

Thur, Nov 19:

Hartman completed


Week 9: Rise up

Tues, Nov 24: 

Boots Riley dir., Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Thurs, Nov 26: 

Thanksgiving break


Week 10

Tues, Dec 1: 

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, Introduction and Chapters 5, 6, and 7

Thurs, Dec 3:

Taylor completed


Week 11

Tues, Dec 8:

Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones

Thur, Dec 10:

Ward completed


Alternate reading:

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons:  Fugitive Planning and Black Study. https://www.minorcompositions.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web.pdf

L. T. Quan, “ ‘It’s Hard to Stop Rebels that Time Travel’: Democratic Living and the Radical Reimagining of Old Worlds”


Final written work due on Monday, December 14.  5 pm.


Course Materials

PDFs of all readings are available in “Files” on Canvas.  This said, you may want to purchase or arrange to loan texts (and the novel) from which we will be reading three or more chapters and/or on which you will be presenting to the seminar.


Contact and Office Hours

If you wish to set up office hours or get in touch about any issue pertaining to this seminar and your participation, please contact me by email.  I will reply within 24 hours on week days.  Please do not expect response to email over weekends and holidays.

Email:  alysw@uw.edu

Office hours are by appointment only.  Please be aware of the assignment deadlines and email me the week in advance of the deadline to set up a time to meet. 


Assignments and Expectations

Seminar format:  I usually start class with some brief framing of the day’s readings; however, the majority of our seminar time will involve our collaborative working through of readings. Consequently, a significant portion of your work for seminar is preparation for and participation in each class meeting.  I expect all students to arrive prepared to enter the discussion each time we meet.  This means having your questions and comments on hand and bringing these to every class meeting.  I do not expect you to have mastered the readings prior to arriving in class, but you should have read and engaged with all materials to the best of your ability and should be prepared discuss specific passages and ideas that perplexed or interested you, and to explore the interconnections that emerge among readings.  In short, you don’t need to “get” the entire reading in order to be fully prepared to enter the discussion and to fully engage in the evolving inquiry.


Zoom meetings:  We will see how much time we collectively desire to spend on Zoom each week.  At the outset let’s plan to meet for roughly 75 to 90 minutes, twice per week. If we decide that we need to adjust, we can do so.


Student presentations:  Each student will be responsible for bringing a deeper contextualization and understanding of one of the books we treat to the second seminar devoted to that book.  This will involve reading the entire book (not just the selected chapters) and speaking to us about the how your extended engagement has enriched your understanding of the book’s central claims and methods.  We will discuss presentation format in greater detail as we go, and will trouble shoot presentations collectively.


Discussion Posts: I have created a weekly discussion board on Canvas.  Everyone should post at least one weekly question or comment (100-200 words) on either Monday or Wednesday evening (thus in advance of class).  I’ll use these to help create useful openings each time we meet.


Written work:  You can choose one of the following three options to fulfill the writing requirement for this course.


Option One:  You may choose to write two essays (6-7 pages each, double-spaced) that explore a cluster of readings and the dialogue that emerges amongst them.   The first essay will be due at the start of Week 5 and must cover readings drawn from weeks 1-4; the second essay will be due Monday, December 12th.   These essays should offer close engagement with the text(s) in question (3 texts is ample, you may not have room for more) and should engage the central claims of each.  Essay may also focus on one or more of the following:  method, political stakes, relationships of overlap and antagonism among readings.  Your essay should make clear what you found most useful and most limiting about the readings in relation to questions we are currently asking in the context of seminar, or in relation to a more specific research question you have underway.


Option Two:  This option is for those who wish to focus in a particular question or theme by treating relevant materials from the class in relation to that question or theme.   This paper should be “conference length” (roughly 12-14 double spaced pages).  It must advance an original argument; however, the argument may still be in process, at a speculative, experimental stage.  In other words, this is a chance to develop the beginning contours of a longer and more fully developed argument that you will pursue beyond the class.  If you choose this option, you must submit an formal conference abstract by the start of Week 7 (we will go over abstracts in class).  Final paper are due Monday, December 12th.


Option Three:  This option is for those who feel ready to set the questions, themes and issue this seminar raises into dialogue with work already done for a prior seminar.  If you choose this option, you need to let me know by the start of week 3.  The prior essay on which you wish to continue your work cannot exceed 15 pages.   You will arrange a meeting with me in Week 4 to share your plan for expansion of the existing work in relation to seminar materials, discussions, and questions.   If we both agree that revision of your essay is germane, you will submit both your original paper and a detailed plan for revision by the start of Week 7.  Final essays are due Monday, December 12th.


Keywords: Black Studies, Racial capitalism, Racism and racial formation, Slavery and Settler colonialism, Black feminism

Last updated: 
October 6, 2020 - 11:06am