Melamed attributes the term "racial capitalism" to Cedric Robinson, distinguished professor of black studies and author of Black Marxism: The Making of Black Radical Tradition, published in 1983. Robinson's thesis states that Marxist theory was a limited way in which to understand capitalism as it relates to a racial component. Both authors explain that, in contradiction to Marx's claims, capitalism was never a direct line from feudalism but is an extension of race-based slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and genocide.
Melamed writes from a perspective of Indigenous Canadian activism. She begins by explaining that the antidote to race-based capitalist exploitation is community. She contends that the beginning of racial capitalism in the Northern hemisphere began by breaking tribal bonds first in Africa during the slave trade and continued through a systemic effort of quashing Black community wherever it appeared—through family separation, sundown laws, segregation, gentrification, and incarceration.
Indigenous activism has suffered a setback in that efforts to decolonize (reclaim) Indigenous lands and rights in Canada have been thwarted in a misguided effort to embrace multiculturalism. One example of the damage done in an effort to make segregated spaces more inclusive is that inclusion necessarily denies reparations. Melamed gives the example of the lakes, streams, and other bodies of water that were under tribal protection until 2015, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his platform to reverse protections based on eminent domain in an effort to expedite oil pipelines through previously protected lands. Trudeau made a promise to protect Indigenous sovereignty and then turned around and withdrew support for protection of that sovereignty.
In conclusion, the author singles out Idle No More, an activist organization founded by Canadian Indigenous women and their allies in response to the reversal of protections promised to Indigenous territories in all nations. Melamed suggests that the time has come for a non-governmental approach to Indigenous activism, much like the Socialist/Labor activism of the turn of the 20th century, when commonalities in circumstance rather than national identity drove activist organizations. For example, Indigenous communities around the world developing bonds among themselves in an effort to combat climate crises in an economic system that protects their sovereignty and benefits them economically, regardless of the stated goals of the nation to which they (in terms of geography) belong.
The new affinities coalescing around Idle No More necessitate caution from the point of view of Indigenous decolonization, for resistance to racial capitalism can shore up settler colonialism despite the fact that both rely on the violences of primitive accumulation. Yet the merging of interests may point to something emergent and unifying, a generalized interest in the integrative potential of Indigenous worldings to point the way to new relations for nurturing total social being (which is more than human) through the material activities of living.
In essence, even though the imperial government of each nation could resist their efforts, possibly through violence—as witnessed in 2016 in Standing Rock, South Dakota—a connection among Indigenous activists worldwide might bring about more positive changes than we could predict under our limited capitalist understanding.
Melamed, J. (22 March 2015). Racial capitalism. Journal of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association. Retrieved from Gale Academic OneFile: A436231327.