Jamie Kim / Gavel Media

Faculty Discuss the 'Unholy Trinity' of Colonialism, Capitalism, and Race

History professors Ling Zhang and Stacie Kent, as well as sociology professor Charles Derber presented as part of a panel on “An Unholy Trinity of Oppression: Colonization, Capitalism, and Race,” hosted by FACES at Boston College on Thursday.

Larissa Truchan, MCAS ‘21, and An Nguyen, MCAS ‘22, the event planners for FACES, moderated the panel. Both introduced the event by explaining the definitions of racism, colonialism, and capitalism that would be used in the discussion.

Racism involves both prejudice and systemic power.

“Prejudice is when we judge someone else, assuming something without knowing all the relevant facts,” Nguyen said.

“Another part of racism is systemic power,” continued Nguyen. “Racism is a system that our country was built on, and all of our institutions are created by it.” 

This systemic power is reinforced by the institutions that were created through racism, and help to keep the racial majority in power. Racism is “two-fold,” including both prejudice and systemic power.

“By 1914, a large majority of the world had been colonized by Europe, over 75%,” Nguyen transitioned to the subject of colonialism.

Colonialism involves one nation controlling or acquiring the political power of another nation. The colonizing nation takes over the land and culture of the indigenous people because the colonizers believe only they know how to properly use these resources. The motivation of colonization is exploitation, with the resources of the colony being used to benefit the colonizing nation.

“Slavery and colonialism intersect and interlock to make the European nations that were involved even more powerful,” Nguyen said. 

Colonialism affects the world today by valuing certain cultures above others. It is also present in the way military intervention is used. 

“We are standing on land stolen from the Wampanoag nation,” Nguyen reminded audience members, before the panel transitioned to capitalism. 

“The definition that we’re [FACES] using is when the production of goods and services is done for the sake of profit and is in private hands,” Truchan defined. 

Karl Marx’s ideal version of a market is where a person has a product, sells the product, buys a new product, and the cycle repeats. The exchange goes product, money, product. 

However, in a capitalist market the exchange starts with money, which a person invests in a product, and then makes more money. In this market the exchange is money, product, money. 

“In capitalism, there is no responsibility. The goal is to make profit and only benefit the capitalist from making that profit,” Truchan said. 

After defining the terms of the discussion, FACES invited the BC professors to share more about their biographies, as well as their reasons for joining the panel. All three panelists talked about the classes they would be teaching next semester. 

Zhang spoke of the change between colonialism of the past, which emphasised the visible power dynamics of a master slave economy, to the invisible colonialism of the present. The colonialism of today is traceless, promoting a complete lack of responsibility.  

Derber answered a question on the connection between race and capitalism in the criminal justice system, by explaining the capitalist theory that underpins it. Derber used the metaphor of an upstairs and a downstairs house. Capitalism is supposed to make sure that through a meritocracy, people in the downstairs can work their way to the upstairs. 

“The problem becomes when the stairs narrow,” he said. 

In order to keep the downstairs from banding together, the upstairs divides the downstairs based on race. The upstairs then prevents class solidarity by introducing hyper-nationalism to divide the downstairs into distinct countries that are further divided by race. 

The moderators asked Kent, “How would you describe the role of capitalism and racism in amplifying the American opioid epidemic?”

“The idea here is that the pharmaceutical companies make money by growing markets for drugs,” Kent explained. 

These markets include complex relationships between how we understand pain, how we understand patient-doctor relationships, and the relationship between doctors and the pharmaceutical agency. 

“How is pain understood in our country, such that opioids are the solution for it?” Kent asked. 

All three professors agreed that the “unholy alliance” between capitalism, colonialism, and racism is still functioning in our society. 

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