Decolonising labour regimes

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Decolonising labour regimes

Issues Paper for Public Services International - December 2023
Nancy Kachingwe - Gender and Public Policy Advisor

Tackling racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance in the context of workers’ and labour rights and access to universal quality public services for all.

Table of contents

Tackling racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance in the context of workers’ and labour rights and access to universal quality public services for all.

This paper attempts to look at some of the work that has been done by anti-racist and decolonial scholars and activists globally to offer propositions as to (i) why racism and white supremacy (as a legacy of slavery, imperialism and colonialism) remain entrenched in the global political economy and (ii) how the resurgence of both overt and covert racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance are constitutive of neoliberal globalisation.

“Racism is the single most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change. Racism has been consciously and systematically erected, and it can be undone only if people understand what it is, where it comes from, how it functions, and why it is perpetuated.”

 (The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond – Undoing Racism)[i]


On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, PSI is launching a new report which looks at tackling racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance in the context of workers’ and labour rights and access to universal quality public services for all.

Trailer: Decolonising labour regimes

Problematising racism in labour regimes 

Decolonisation, anti-racism and labour regimes 

Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance have their roots in slavery, colonialism and imperialism, which sought the denial of social, political, and economic rights according to race, class, caste, gender, sexuality and geography in order to advance the European capitalist imperialist project. In addition to seizing control over natural resources in vast swathes of the world, Western imperialism sought to gain control over human labour, through slavery and when slavery was abolished, through other means of controlling and ensuring access to cheap and often forced or coerced labour on a massive scale. Addressing root causes of racism therefore needs an understanding of the historical and contemporary relationship between capital, the construction of racial (and other) hierarchies and capital’s imperative to control labour for the purposes of profit and wealth accumulation. 

This paper attempts to look at some of the work that has been done by anti-racist and decolonial scholars and activists globally to offer propositions as to (i) why racism and white supremacy (as a legacy of slavery, imperialism and colonialism) remain entrenched in the global political economy and (ii) how the resurgence of both overt and covert racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance are constitutive of neoliberal globalisation. The paper uses the United Nations World Conference Against Racism’s formulation of “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance[ii]” to capture the many forms of discrimination and othering[iii] that persist, even in contexts where we may not be speaking directly about white supremacist racism, or as coined by bell hooks[iv], “white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy”. The concern of this paper is to understand racism as structural and integral to neoliberal capitalism just as it was to imperialism, and in turn to view the re-mainstreaming of supremacist, xenophobic and chauvinist ethno-nationalist-religious fundamentalist narratives into macro-political discourses as a pillar of the neoliberal project. The argument of the paper is that contemporary manifestations of racism, discrimination and xenophobia across the globe cannot be viewed separately (eg. as a ‘tribal conflict’) but as a manifestation of an enduring racial capitalism[v]. Much as we consider ourselves to be a ‘post racial’ global community in reality, we are still in Anibal Quijano’s ‘colonial matrix of power’[vi] also referred to as racial capitalism.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore explains:

“Racial capitalism, which is to say all capitalism, is not a thing, it’s a relation. However, if we look back through the history of capitalism as it developed, we see that the understanding that those who own the means of production had of their differences from those whose labour they exploited were understandings that we can recognize today as racial practice. So, all capitalism is racial from its beginning—which is to say the capitalism that we have inherited, that is constantly producing and reproducing itself—and it will continue to depend on racial practice and racial hierarchy, no matter what. This is another way of saying we can't undo racism without undoing capitalism.[vii]”

Trade union and worker movements globally were at the forefront of liberation struggles to end these systems of oppression, discrimination and inequality whether in the forms of capitalism, colonialism, imperialism or apartheid[viii]. Across the colonised world, liberation struggles were waged and political revolutions were realised in the form of mass strikes over brutal exploitative working conditions, in which (i) colonised peoples protested the dispossession of their land, livelihoods and natural resources and coercion into colonial waged labour and (ii) the labour exploitation of the dispossessed was justified on the basis of race and gender under the imperialist claim of ‘a civilising mission’ over a four hundred year period. Trade unions, workers, civil rights and liberation movements considered that decolonisation and the attainment of workers’ rights as human rights were inseparable. 

These struggles were finally victorious in overthrowing a global system of labour exploitation in the post-World War II era by entrenching new norms, rules and principles in international law, from the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to All Colonial Countries and People[ix]. UN Treaties and Conventions, which constitute what we understand today as ‘international law’ have gone a long way to criminalising racial discrimination, particularly institutional forms of discrimination and xenophobia.  The 1969 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination states that: ‘any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere.’[x] 

With regard to racial discrimination in the world of work, other international conventions have included:

  • ILO Convention 97 on Migration for Employment (1949)

  • ILO Convention 111 on the Prohibition of Discrimination in Employment (1958)

  • ILO Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration (1965)

  • International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights

  • UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1975)

 Through these many struggles, racism and racial discrimination have become socially unacceptable and legally impermissible in all spheres of life. Apartheid— “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”  was decreed  a crime against humanity by Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998. This demonstrated how the international community, under pressure from social movements’ struggles and shifting global public opinion was determined to delegitimise any form of organised racism and racist discrimination by States. In 2001, the UN World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance took place in Durban, South Africa and resulted in the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action[xi]. 

A record of progress and denial 

These various international treaties do not necessarily transform realities on the ground in eliminating racism, but they are important in establishing common norms and values against which countries can measure themselves and each other, and against which citizens can hold States to account. As a marker of progress, they indicate a desire to address human rights violations, and the role played by racism in those violations--and to legally hold States responsible and accountable in addressing racism. However, changing the everyday reality of inequality, discrimination and exploitation means that groups that enjoyed historical unearned and undeserved privileges and entitlements have to be willing to—or be forced—to give those up. And this, in the famous words of Frederick Douglass,[xii] is a long and endless struggle:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

While many rights issues are seen as contentious, questions of racism and racial discrimination seem to trigger a peculiar set of sensitivities; no person or group wants to be called racist, and yet the reality of racism persists, even as most people or groups vehemently deny being perpetrators of racist practices and indeed are deeply offended by any such accusations! The unequivocal normative victories of civil rights, decolonisation, feminist and worker movements, and the horrors of the Holocaust within Europe’s own borders exposed white supremacy and racism for the aberrations that they are, forcing the Global North to finally shift from hundreds of years of supremacist imperialist rule, to one where people and nations transacted on the basis of a notional non-racial, non-sexist and non-classist egalitarianism.  

But the very fact of making racism and discrimination a taboo subject has also made it difficult to tackle the ways that racism has endured to protect a system of race, gendered, class or caste hierarchies and to perpetuate an imperialist capitalist system that is built on and has profited from inequality and discrimination over centuries. Racism exists and is alive and well but, bereft of legitimising “civilisational” legal, moral and institutional scaffolding to sustain it, those that benefit from racialised, gendered and class hierarchies have had to find more sophisticated ways to justify a system of privileges, entitlements and exclusions and ‘othering’ that enable and reinforce a global system of dispossession and exploitation on one end and supremacy and accumulation at the other. 

Racism in an era of post-racialism

 As racism and racist practices have become more and more taboo, its systemic role within a system of imperialist capitalism has been erased, or to be more precise, camouflaged. Racism more often than not, has come to be seen as a set of unpleasant behaviours and attitudes of some backward individuals and fringe groups that have refused to catch up with the enlightened, progressive, liberal ideals of post-World War II where human rights, equality, opportunity and mobility are accessible to all regardless of their race, gender and sexuality, ethnicity, caste, class or location. Indeed, the world convinced itself that it had entered a ‘post-racial’ era—in the North because laws had been passed that prohibited racism and, in the South, societies had rid themselves of racism by getting rid of colonialism. Racism therefore has been treated as a residual but dying problem—the exception rather than the rule—to be eradicated as new and better educated enlightened generations were born. 

Kehinde Andrews, one of a long line of contemporary anti racist, decolonial and feminist scholars to lay waste to the illusion of post-racialism:

“If the greatest trick the devil pulled was convincing the world he does not exist, then the proudest achievement of Western imperialism is the delusion that we have moved towards beyond racism, that we are in a post-racial society. We are assured that the real people losing out are not minorities, or those in the underdeveloped world, but White people who are left behind by a changing world. It is multiculturalism, immigration and globalization that are all conspiring to hold White people down. In this climate, the right have even managed to hijack the legacy of Martin Luther King.”

Racial capitalism therefore finds its way to survive by inventing an Olympics of the Oppressed behind a veil of a post-racialist society which de-historicises racial oppression. In addition, racial capitalism redefines racism not as the structural or political economy question that it is (as articulated in the UN Conventions cited above) but as an individual or social problem of specific behaviours, cultures and attitudes. Antiracist and feminist scholars have pointed out that racism is not only systemic, but also and always has been primarily political-ie about power and control. As Alana Lentin[xiii] explains, racism is not simply a result of natural human responses to difference, but rather the outcome of a political process of racialisation:

 “Racialisation is the process through which the supposed inferiority of Black colonised, non-whites and non-Western people is constructed. Today, the idea of xeno-racism describes the fact that, in the post-Communist era, racism against white, Eastern European immigrants in the West follows the same patterns of racialization. Today’s global racism divides the rich and the poor worlds and is no longer a simple black-and-white issue.”

Racism persists because
racialisation persists

Racism also persists because it serves a purpose for those in power, as a system to help them maintain their power. Racism alongside other forms of ‘othering’ is foundational to bell hooks’ “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” referenced above:

“We can’t begin to understand the nature of domination if we don’t understand how these systems connect with one another. Significantly, this phrase (imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy) has always moved me because it doesn’t value one system over another. For so many years in the feminist movement, women were saying that gender is the only aspect of identity that really matters, that domination only came into the world because of rape. Then we had so many race-oriented folks who were saying, “Race is the most important thing. We don’t even need to be talking about class or gender.” So, for me, that phrase always reminds me of a global context, of the context of class, of empire, of capitalism, of racism and of patriarchy. Those things are all linked — an interlocking system.” [xiv] 

The myth of post-racialism and the conventional wisdom that the world has moved towards a non-racial multicultural global, liberal, harmonious ‘rainbow village’ was dealt its most recent blow with the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The nature and circumstances of the killing of George Floyd means that the term ‘lynching’[xv] would be more accurate. By the time of George Floyd’s murder, the Movement for Black Lives, popularly referred to as #BlackLivesMatter[xvi] had been seven years in existence (2013) brought about by a similar and repeated extra-judicial killing of Black men, women and non-binary persons in the United States by the police or self-appointed vigilante White anti-crime enforcers, who almost without exception went unpunished for their crimes. What was exceptional about George Floyd’s murder is that rather than being interpreted as one in a series of isolated incidents particular to the US context, it laid bare the extent to which racism—ie. racial persecution--remains pervasive across the globe, manifested by the ways in which Black people, people of colour, migrants, Indigenous people and other marginalised, minoritized, colonised and oppressed groups continue to find themselves not only exploited and discriminated against, but also policed, criminalised, incarcerated, or killed in order to perpetuate their exploitation. 

Going back to the quote from bell hooks, racism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism and hetero-patriarchy work together to keep capitalist domination intact. Too often movements have fought each of these separately from the other, and this is as true of trade union and worker movements, as it is in the feminist and anti-racist movements described by bell hooks. Just as feminists have found resistance within largely heteropatriarchal trade unions to take action on questions of gender equality, so too have anti-racist activists found resistance in considering the racial dimensions of worker struggles and the list goes on from one form of injustice to the next. 

The time is long overdue to put racism, white supremacy, xenophobia and their hate filled offshoots back to the front of the global policy agenda. 

Back to decolonisation 

The 1970’s onwards saw the emergence of what is commonly known as post-colonial studies or postcolonialism by scholars of the Global South. Many of the questions that we pose about contemporary manifestations of racism find answers in the theoretical work that has been done to define, understand and analyse ‘the post colony’ or ‘post-coloniality’. This cross disciplinary field covers questions of economics, politics, social relations (including labour, gender, agrarian reform, culture, literature. “Postcolonial scholarship has been integral to the exercise of opening out and questioning the implied assumptions of the dominant discourses by way of which we attempt to make sense of the world we inhabit.”[xvii] In similar vein, the decolonial intellectual movement has brought the concept of ‘coloniality’ that has further developed thinking around the post-colonial condition. While they may seem to be isolated in the ivory towers of academia, in reality these intellectual schools have been instrumental to a new generation of ‘grassroots’ youth political activism that put decolonisation at the centre of its calls for social justice and change. 

The South African #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movements were a catalyst in problematising decolonisation and “the myth of liberation” ie. the enduring racism of settler colonialism and global inequality in post-apartheid as the focus of their struggles. Writing about the #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa, Katlego Disemelo[xviii] unpacked their demands as follows:  

“Our protest is not just about “one thing”, even if that ubiquitous hashtag suggests otherwise. It is inherently intersectional, spanning various yet interrelated socio-political and economic issues. 

It is, firstly, about access to equal and quality education. It is about teasing out the ever-so-confusing intricacies of class relations in post-apartheid South Africa. It is about eradicating the painful exclusions and daily micro aggressions which go hand-in-hand with institutional racism within these spaces. 

And it is also about laying bare the failures of the heterosexual, patriarchal, neoliberal capitalist values which have become so characteristic of the country’s universities.

These may seem like disparate ideological positions. They aren’t. They all address the conditions of structural disenfranchisement under which many non-white and non-privileged students and outsourced workers languish on a daily basis in these institutions. The #RhodesMustFall, #OpenStellenbosch, and #FeesMustFall student movements, to name just a few among countless others throughout the country, have all been galvanised by the need for access to those opportunities through which we can improve our lives and those of our loved ones.

#FeesMustFall is of particular interest to this discussion on racism, white supremacy and labour regimes – the students’ movement was not simply about the failure of higher education to live up to its post-apartheid promise of access, equity, equality and reparation, but also about the neoliberalisation of higher education, where universities had outsourced their cleaning and ground services to the labour brokerage system, leaving these workers—whom the student demonstrators identified with as family or community members—in situations of precarious and racially abusive employment,  even in the post-apartheid dispensation. This was a context that easily demonstrates the notion of coloniality – or more precisely ‘the coloniality of power’. 

The coloniality of power – the political economy of racism and racial capitalism 

Latin American scholar Anibal Quijano coined the phrase ‘the coloniality of power’. Quijano proffers that two historical processes constituted the new model of power in the Americas with the advent of European imperialism[xix]:

“One was the codification of the differences between conquerors and conquered in the idea of “race,” a supposedly different biological structure that placed some in a natural situation of inferiority to the others. The conquistadors assumed this idea as the constitutive, founding element of the relations of domination that the conquest imposed. On this basis, the population of America, and later the world, was classified within the new model of power. The other process was the constitution of a new structure of control of labour and its resources and products. This new structure was an articulation of all historically known previous structures of control of labour, slavery, serfdom, small independent commodity production and reciprocity, together around and upon the basis of capital and the world market.”

The term coloniality of power refers to the fact that even after colonialism, this Eurocentric model of power has endured and has sustained a global hierarchy of superior (European/white/Western) and inferior (the rest) which still structures relations between capitalism and labour, through a machinery of racial and gender discrimination. Racism cannot be tackled without an understanding of its political-economic centrality within capitalism – rather than simply seeing it as an undesirable social or cultural phenomenon that can be addressed through behavioural or legal changes. Globalisation has entrenched these divisions of labour between a racialised ‘centre and periphery’ which now operates beyond the former colonial metropole of the Global North, but within the Global South as well. 

According to Quijano, in addition to control over labour, the colonial matrix of power seeks to exercise control over knowledge and subjectivity, over gender and sexuality, over institutions of authority, over resources and economy based on Eurocentric, white supremacist, patriarchal domination.

Nelson Maldonado Torres describes the expanse of coloniality thus:

“Coloniality is different from colonialism. Colonialism denotes a political and economic relation in which the sovereignty of a nation or a people rests on the power of another nation, which makes such nation an empire. Coloniality, instead, refers to long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labour, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. Thus, coloniality survives colonialism. It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience. In a way, as modern subjects we breathe coloniality all the time and everyday. [xx]” 

The theory of coloniality of power has travelled widely in the Global South as it brings together an understanding of all the levers of control that have allowed Western/white supremacist political, economic and cultural hegemony to endure and expand. It is a particularly useful framework for understanding how to tackle racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance within social justice movements that wish to see a global labour regime transformed in an intersectional, decolonial, feminist, emancipatory, liberatory and internationalist way. For example, labour relations under capitalism have tended to understand ‘workers’ as those who are waged (historically men) and working in formal labour markets. This definition does not account for why a large number of groups who do provide labour and are vital to the economy, are excluded from being counted as workers (for example ‘housewives’), and why policy and legislation stubbornly refuses to recognise ‘workers’ beyond a rigid narrow set of categories. 

Tackling the blind spots and taboos of a false post-racialism

 The gains of anti-racist struggles have changed the destinies of generations and have won the victory of making racism socially and politically reprehensible. However, the persistence of racism has shown the fallacies of a dominant narrative of ‘post racialism’. Post racialism denounces racism, but simultaneously creates a taboo about talking about, naming or describing racism in its new forms, as well as creating blind spots to its very real, structural roots in the capitalist/neoliberal political economy. Anti-racist scholars such as Angela Davis have pointed out, ‘racism is constitutive of capitalism’ and have coined the term ‘racial capitalism’ to emphasise this fact. So why do we leave out race when we speak about capitalism? These taboos and blind spots to the structural nature of racism in an imperialist capitalist global political economy have been responsible for some of the failures in successfully tackling racism in real life, despite the many sincere commitments to anti-racism in social movements. 

Work done by postcolonial, decolonial, anti-imperialist and intersectional feminist scholars, activists and movements provides a basis for new theories of change to create genuine non-racist, anti-racist and socially just futures. In the Global South, but increasingly in the Global North, organising for decent work and labour rights means for a large part organising outside the traditional workplace, connecting dots by looking at how white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, neoliberalism, globalisation and heteropatriarchy weaponise race, gender and sexual orientation, caste, indigeneity, religion, citizenship, migration status etc to regain control of labour regimes through dispossession, precarisation, exploitation and accumulation. Connecting those dots is also indispensable for mobilising what might seem like a disparate array of oppressed workers to find common cause. Understanding and learning the vocabularies of racism, strengthening our racial literacy in both the North and the South, admitting to the need to both decolonise and depatriarchalize our own practices in working with each other is indispensable to making our struggles more effective.

Racism in the global governance architecture

North / South dimensions of racism and xenophobia in global labour regimes

 This paper has referred to ‘labour regimes’ rather than ‘labour markets’ to emphasise the fact that the way labour markets and the world of work operate are the product of a set of rules, regulations and norms that are constantly evolving as a reflection of power dynamics. A regime is ‘a particular way of operative, or organising a system’[xxi], or ‘a system of principles, rules, or regulations for administration’[xxii]. During the 20th century, workers’ struggles—alongside struggles for decolonisation, civil rights, women’s liberation—redefined labour regimes with a particular view to affirm principles of dignity, equality and non-discrimination and equity in national labour legislation and in international law. While many norms have become fairly universal – for example on questions of forced labour and slavery, child labour, social protection, discrimination—we know that from country to country and from region to region the extent to which workers enjoy what qualifies as ‘decent work’ varies between and within countries. Despite these variations, it is fair to say that both global labour markets and national labour markets are shaped by coloniality – in other words, we can speak about the coloniality of labour regimes as a feature of all regions. With globalisation this coloniality has deepened rather than—as we would want—faded away. 

Coloniality is an equally important framework for understanding post-colonial dynamics of racism, xenophobia, discrimination across the South itself, whether this is in the form of Afro-phobia, colourism, caste, ethnicity and ethno-nationalisms, anti-indigeneity, Islamophobia, but also homophobia and transphobia.

As put by Sabelo Gatsheni Ndlhovu:

“Today global coloniality operates as an invisible power matrix that is shaping and sustaining asymmetrical power relations between the Global North and the Global South. Even the current global power transformations which have enabled the re-emergence of a Sinocentric economic power and de-Westernisation processes including the rise of South-South power blocs such as BRICS, do not mean that the modern world system has now undergone genuine decolonisation and deimperialisation to the extent of being amenable to the creation of other futures. Global coloniality continues to frustrate decolonial initiatives aimed at creating postcolonial futures free from coloniality.” 

Governments emerging from colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s attempted to address the divide and rule tactics of colonial rule through nationalist unity, development and nation building: these efforts resulted in the expansion of civic, political, economic and social rights for many swathes of their populations, but also left many groups behind. Feminists have pointed out that anti-colonial nationalist movements that took power at independence still maintained many aspects of colonial gender and labour regimes imposed on native populations as a means of maintaining legitimacy for their nation building projects.

As Shirin Rai points out:

“Nation-states as products of nationalist struggles remain fractured and fraught terrains for women. Upon these terrains of development crafted as a means and goal of progressive society and economy, and as emblematic of legitimacy of the new nation-state. I argue that while women remained central to the continuing construction of national identity, they were marginalised in the new discourse of development […] ‘Discourses of nationalism are again with us in complex and contemporaneous forms in the post-Cold War period—through the seeking of nationhood on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion and economy. The process of ‘othering’ communities, populations and groups continues to affect the drawing up of development agendas in Eastern and Central Europe, in parts of Africa and of Asia.’[xxiii] 

Looking at how coloniality drives continued racism in the Global North and South, it is inevitable that hierarchies will continue to persist in the Global South, particularly (as in the quote by Rai above) as states and political elites are able to deploy these forms of othering to concentrate power and buttress their legitimacy nationally, while also pursuing their quest to join the ranks of their Western counterparts in the global elite. 

Racism and white supremacy in international global economic governance

 Despite decolonisation, the assertion of international social and economic rights norms and the emergence of new economic powerhouses in the Global South, the global division of labour remains both racialised and white supremacist. This has worsened since the introduction of neoliberal policies and globalisation which have decimated opportunities for marginalised Black, Indigenous and people of colour for decent work in developing countries through a combination of debt bondage, austerity, militarism and a massive expansion of extractivism.

 There are a large number of ways in which structural racism is obvious in the global political economy. Firstly, there is an inherent racism in the construction of narratives as to why there has been rising inequality between the Global North and Global South and persistent underdevelopment in parts of the Global South. Poverty in the Global South, or that of Black, Indigenous and people of colour in the Global North tends to be overwhelmingly attributed to deficiencies inherent in those particular groups, rather than a result of structural and historical discrimination. Where populations are victims of poverty, food insecurity, conflict, natural disasters, epidemics and other ills, their circumstances are implicitly or overtly attributed to their backwardness, laziness, lack of intelligence or barbarism, or to the notion that they are governed by regimes that are incorrigibly corrupt, dictatorial, incompetent and incapable to addressing their plight (unlike governments and states of ‘civilised’ nations). The massive wealth of the Global North on the other hand is presented in narratives as the result of enlightened ‘Western values’, hard work, superior knowledge and innovation. In that sense, explanations as to why some regions of the world suffer more from the problems of under-development than others are undergirded by supremacist discourses.

Kehinde Andrews observes:

 “The global economy today is built in the image of white supremacy that was so neatly outlined by the Enlightenment thinker. Africa is the poorest continent on earth, while countries with White majorities are the richest. We only need to look at Linnaeus’ ladder of the species to understand the political and economic system. These debates are not simply about the past, because the Enlightenment shapes our present: a society can only be as fair as the knowledge it is built on, and established Western intellectual thought is rooted in racism.”[xxiv]

 The IMF and World Bank have been largely responsible for overseeing macro-economic policies in the Global South since the 1970s debt crisis. These austerity policies have inflicted levels of hardship and brutality for large swathes of the population that would be impossible to inflict on populations of Western countries, who even after the financial crisis of 2007/2008 have never had to suffer such extreme forms of withdrawal of state support and overnight deprivation, such as the 1994 devaluation of the CFA franc by 50% in 1994. IMF/World Bank policies in particular have focussed on ripping apart labour rights and various social protection measures put in place by governments to cushion populations from economic volatility and shocks, support livelihoods of rural communities, ensure social and economic rights, particularly the right to education and health. One can point at the World Banks’ hugely influential Ease of Doing Business Report which scored countries higher for lower labour standards, and was eventually abandoned due to internal complaints of manipulation[xxv].  Even the World Bank measure of extreme poverty of $1.90 per day (just 23 cents an hour calculated on an eight hour work day) suggests a view of Global South countries, particularly the poorest, where poverty, low incomes, starvation and death are more than comfortably tolerated. In global economic management, there are populations which are expected to have to bear levels of pain, suffering and deprivation that are unacceptable for white or middle class populations. 

This global system of racism and white supremacy is also evident in our understanding of war and the value of lives in the Global South. There is no doubt that the West’s need to control natural resources has been the cause of some of the most lethal military interventions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, costing millions of lives. Not only is it clear which lives matter as a result of these interventions, particularly in West Asia, but the application of double standards in terms of guilt, accountability and reparations always favours one side (the G7 Western imperial powers) while either ignoring, trivialising or dismissing the justifications and grievances of the other side.

 Globalisation has delocalised the production and supply of goods and services across global supply chains controlled by an increasingly small number of powerful interconnected corporations. As global capital seeks to increase profit in low wage economies, the incentive and pressure on governments to keep wages at their lowest is increased if they are to gain entry to these tightly controlled monopolistic and financialised supply chains. Many markets in the Global North now depend on the Global South not only for raw materials, but now also (once again) for the cheap labour required for industry.  In the Global North, consumers—particularly in the middle classes--can enjoy increased and lower cost consumer goods at the expense of the labour and natural resource rights of the workers and communities in the Global South. Here again, the general acceptance of the fact that millions of workers are producing goods at below subsistence wages has its roots in a system of global racism and white supremacy where the hyper profits of capital in the Global North at the expense of hyper-exploitation workers the Global South can go without comment in mainstream debates. 

Racial capitalism affects the entirety of the globe; it interacts with and shapes local power dynamics, social relations and institutions. Conflicts and tensions in the Global South are presented in the mainstream as isolated, standalone ‘tribal’, ‘ethnic’ or ‘sectarian’ conflicts, but more often than not, they are affected by or are the result of global coloniality in some way. Neoliberalism seeks to ensure the continual expansion of capitalist markets into Global South regions which may have been isolated or peripheral. As this happens practices of discrimination, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance are further entrenched. These global dynamics are rarely mentioned, less still do we see real accountability for capital’s contribution to these ills. 

Transnational labour regimes: migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers 

As increasing numbers of workers worldwide find themselves having to migrate across borders to find work. Racism and xenophobia against migrant populations have been on the rise, and migrant workers from poor countries have found themselves particularly stigmatised. In the Global North, the concept of ‘economic migrants’ or ‘economic refugees’ has been deployed in the mass media  to delegitimise the right of all workers to move freely in search of work, particularly when the wealth of their own nations is being sucked out from South to North. Of course, when workers from the North move to the South to work temporarily or permanently, equally for economic reasons, they are called ‘expatriates’ or ‘investors’, never ‘economic migrants’ even if that is exactly what they are. The category of ‘migrant’ has now been highly racialised and stigmatised, thereby opening pathways for further deprivation of the rights of migrant workers. 

Flows of migrant workers between countries and regions of the South are also expanding. Often this migration is driven by economic or political crises in neighbouring countries, but also in a backdrop of economic distress in labour exporting countries. For example South Africa has made headlines for xenophobic attacks against migrant workers and business owners from Africa, a situation that is far from being resolved. Those perpetuating the attacks—themselves from deprived communities--speak of foreign workers bringing crime, but also importantly taking their jobs, and the slogan ‘South Africa First’ is common on social media in anti-migrant discourses. It is impossible to delink the xenophobic attacks from the failures of the post-apartheid neoliberal dispensation, which has done little to create employment, redistribute land and wealth, seek restitution and reparations and generally share the country’s incredible wealth more fairly. South Africa remains one of the countries with the highest levels of inequality in the world, with the majority of wealth clearly held by a white minority whose wealth was gained through rape, pillage and mass murder. Yet this population—despite strident claims of ‘white genocide’ from right wing groups—is left to enjoy the fruits of their historically ill-gotten wealth in peace and comfort. 

The rich countries of the Middle East have had to rely on migrant labour at all levels for economic development, but also rely heavily on migrant labourers as domestic workers and other social reproductive work. Here again, there have been international headlines and outrage regarding the treatment of low income migrant workers from the South, who are also often victims of trafficking and modern slavery[xxvi] eg. under the kafala system. Notably, these countries do also rely on migrant workers from the West (and skilled workers from the Global South), whose working conditions are completely different from those of ‘lower skilled’ manual workers. This point was noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism who reported following her visit to Qatar[xxvii] that:

“structural forms of racial discrimination against non- nationals because of the way that bilateral agreements, transnational labour recruitment practices, Qatari labour and residency laws, private sector contracts and practices, and other factors combine in complex ways to condition human rights significantly on the basis of national origin and nationality.”

The need to import labour in the Middle East and Gulf countries is not disputed and migrant workers enter the country legally. However, the fact that the conditions of labour are determined by national origin and nationality also relates to the global economic and political hierarchies between and amongst labour exporting and importing nations. Migrant workers from richer countries are protected by their home countries’ wealth and power, and by their race, while those from poor countries—with little negotiating power vis-à-vis their richer counterparts are in less of a position to negotiate better terms for their workers, even where they might be inclined to do so. 

Climate change and loss of livelihoods, economic crises and conflict have created growing internal and transnational migration flows in all regions. One prominent example is the flow of migrants and refugees from West and North Africa and the Middle East to Europe. In the case of North Africa, the overthrow of Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya created a new window for dangerous migration routes across the Sahel and Mediterranean into Europe. However, agreements between the European Union and some North African countries, in which the latter agreed to act as border police for the EU, has resulted in racist atrocities being committed against mainly African migrants—including the creation of slave markets in Libya[xxviii] where migrants found themselves trapped. This year, Moroccan and Spanish forces are reported to have shot and killed 37 migrants in a single incident, mainly from Sudan attempting to cross the Mellila/Ceuta border into Spain[xxix]. The relentless dehumanisation of migrants—a now racialised term—continues to cause alarm. The UN Special Rapporteur on Migration expressed his concern at the ‘continuing spread of dehumanizing border governance tactics’ which rely on untested use of new and emerging technologies as well as militarised borders, extraterritorial border control, expedited return procedures and the criminalization of irregularly arriving migrants.[xxx] 

The violation of the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers demonstrates firstly that the concept of the universality, indivisibility and inalienability of human rights is being weakened across racial lines. Neoliberal globalisation has opened up countries’ free movement of goods, services and capital, but this freedom has not extended to the movement of people where the goods and capital come from.

Harsha Walia uses the term ‘border imperialism’ to call attention:

“not only to the ways borders are operationalized, but also interrogates the relationships they have with intensifying neoliberal practices of empire. The term urges us to think beyond national boundaries as mere static delineations of territories and to make the necessary connections between borders and colonialism, dispossession, displacement, and racism, all of which interlock and continue today.”[xxxi] 

The escalating mistreatment of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers demonstrates the coloniality of labour regimes given the importance of mobility for the survival, emancipation and self-determination of millions across the history of humanity. Border imperialism shows the insidious ways in which the neocolonial policing of peoples for their exploitation is fundamental to inventing new ways of maintaining systems of global apartheid.

In Walia’s words:

“Border controls are most severely deployed by those Western regimes that create mass displacement and are most severely deployed against those whose very recourse to migration results from the ravages of capital and military occupations. Practices of arrest without charge, expulsion, indefinite detention, torture and killings have become the unexceptional norm in militarized border zones. The racist, classist, heteropatriarchal, and ableist construction of the legal/desirable migrant, which then emboldens the conditions for capital to further exploit the labour of migrants.” 

Domestic workers: race, coloniality and the global gendered division of labour

 The prevailing inequitable gendered division of labour is frequently separated from its racist and colonial roots. It is not by accident—or by nature—that women perform the bulk of unpaid and underpaid reproductive work. Women’s unpaid reproductive labour ---biological, physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural—has to date not been a part of macro-economic policy, even though this reproductive work (social reproduction)  is crucial for the continued supply of a labour force for capitalism. It is taken for granted that it has no economic value, even though, as the pandemic showed, life itself cannot continue without it, let alone markets.

 The case of domestic migrant workers feeding into and expanding the web of ‘global care chains’ is illustrative of these connections. Louisa Acciari’s study of domestic workers unionising in Brazil demonstrates how coloniality and its intersecting forms of oppression (intersectionality) play out in the labour market where the majority of domestic workers are Afro-Brazilians.

“I contend that an intersectional lens is indispensable to understanding the situation of domestic workers; indeed, studies quite unanimously present them as cumulating all the vectors of oppression, both nationally and on a global scale. In Brazil, it is the specific combination of gender, race, and class oppressions in the (post)colonial and capitalist economy that has constituted domestic workers as an underclass of servants, excluded from labour laws for decades. Their extreme vulnerability also exposes them to sexual assault and violence in the workplace, revealing the depth of gender and racial oppression in Brazil. As black Brazilian feminists argue, domestic work continues to be perceived as the “natural” place of black women, thereby perpetuating the legacy of slavery and justifying their lower social status. This position of marginality further reflects the devaluation of care work in general, framed as a natural feminine task rather than an actual valuable work, which translates into lower wages, lack of social recognition and adequate labour regulations for care workers.”

Similar arguments can be made in the case of migrant care workers. There is a growing gap in the demand and supply of household and institutional demand for care workers, particularly in wealthy labour scarce countries and regions. Global care chains rely on migrant labour precisely at a time when countries needing that labour are ramping up anti-immigrant rhetoric. The irony of creating a hostile environment for migrants, asylum seekers or refugees while at the same time, creating highly organised transnational supply chains to meet a demand for care workers cannot be understated. But this contradiction can only exist through a powerful but invisible racist superstructure which can simultaneously devalue groups of workers whose labour is essential to the reproduction of those societies! The trick of course is to pretend that none of these injustices is about race! The Care Manifesto signed by civil society organisations[xxxii] and trade unions at the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic was forthright in drawing the connections between exploitability, gender and race stating that:

“At home and within communities, through global care chains where women living in poverty, black and brown women from the Global South fill in the care gap while being underpaid and in precarious work conditions through services, both public and private. This injustice is doubled and tripled in the case of women who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination because of their class, race, sexual orientation/ identification, disability, age or migrant status, amongst other dimensions.” 

Escalating racial violence under neoliberalism


The war on terror launched after the 9/11 attacks on the United States has entrenched and normalised Islamophobic attitudes within politics, mainstream media and institutions. Islamophobia has justified invasions, occupations and bombing and destabilisation and repression in the oil rich Middle East on the basis of fighting terrorism. The rising institutionalised Islamophobia in the Global North has led to it being called ‘the new anti-Semitism’ by virtue of its pernicious and normalised hatred against Muslims and against Islam. A 2019 European Islamophobia report by Enes Bayrakli and Farid Hafez proposes three drivers of Islamophobia (i) International far-right networks that trigger Islamophobic terror attacks. (ii) Institutional racism, i.e. structural forms that discriminate against Muslim citizens (iii) The impact of counterterrorism policies on human rights.[xxxiii]  The ways in which gender and race intersect has also been brought into sharp relief through the targeting of Muslim women wearing the hijab[xxxiv] and attempts to ban it in public spaces in Europe, and then in France the ‘burkini ban’[xxxv] targeted at women wearing full body swimsuits. In the Global South, The UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedoms presented a report on growing global Islamophobia including that perpetrated by States in the Global North as well as in the Global South in India, Sri Lanka, China, Myanmar amongst others.[xxxvi] 

“II. Marziya: A typical Saturday morning in the city of Perth, only interrupted by a man who walks up behind you, and unexpectedly shouts, “Terrorist!” Your first reaction is to jump away from where you are standing.

Somewhere in your mind, you know you should be taking note of what he’s saying, should be walking away. You’re not quite sure how to react.

Without really thinking about it, you turn on your heel and look at him, exclaiming, “What? Where?”

You feel half-dried, worn-out, alone, trying to understand the labels that have been slapped on you: Muslim. Woman. Kenyan. Pakistani. Student. Hijabi. Oppressed. Headstrong. Struggling. Lost.[xxxvii]” 

Caste based discrimination

The caste system is a form of social organisation found most commonly across South Asia, but also present in Africa and the Middle East, the Pacific and Diaspora communities according to the Special Rapporteur on Minorities.[xxxviii] Caste discrimination and oppression are different from racism since caste has existed prior to imperial conquest. Caste is also different from class, as people may enjoy mobility from one class to another, but caste systems offer no such mobility. The precolonial roots of caste does not mean that caste systems have not been shaped and manipulated by imperialism, neoliberalism and neocolonialism in ways that exacerbate discrimination and exploitation as well as limiting the opportunities for intervention by the state to eliminate discrimination. 

With reference to India, Prabhat Patnaik notes that neoliberalism – privatisation and the shrinking of the public sector--has reduced what limited opportunities the Indian post-independence state had created for oppressed castes through affirmative action. With the shrinking of these opportunities, “the caste divide gets exacerbated under neoliberal capitalism.”[xxxix] He further notes that in addition to the caste divide, caste-prejudice is also exacerbated: 

“The upper caste children who do get better-paid jobs do not attribute their success to their relative affluence, to being better-placed in society compared to the “lower caste” children. On the contrary they internalize the ideological claim of capitalism that rewards under it are distributed according to talent. […] It increasingly accepts instead the obnoxious and “racist” view that some social groups are innately more talented than others. In other words, an ideology of prejudice develops as a necessary accompaniment and justification for the widening gulf with regard to opportunities between the “upper caste” and “lower caste” children and reaches its inevitable denouement in the demand that “reservations[xl]” be abandoned altogether.”

Indigenous and Colonised Peoples 

Australia, New Zealand and Canada—settler colonial states—still continue discriminatory practices against First Nations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Such discrimination is reported to be on the rise.[xli] In Canada, the shocking revelations about the mass murders of children in residential schools run mainly by the Catholic Church threw a light on the practice of cultural genocide of First Nations people in Canada (but also in Australia and the United States). Despite Canada’s reputation for tolerance, a report found that First Nations peoples live in socially worse conditions than African Americans in the United States. [xlii] 

In North and Latin America and Oceania, indigenous peoples have endured a history of persecution and genocide. They continue to lose their territories through dispossession, natural resource extraction and destruction and access to their resources. Indigenous people’s attempts to assert their rights in the face of expanding extractivism have met with extreme violence. There has been concern about the murders of environmental rights defenders globally. 

In 2019, a report by Global Witness found that murders of environmental rights defenders had escalated to an average of 4 per day globally. Two thirds of the killings recorded were in Latin America, and a disproportionate number of these were indigenous people. In addition to environmental rights defenders, indigenous people suffer extraordinarily high levels of violence and killings. In the United States, Canada and Latin America, campaigns have been launched to address a long neglected epidemic of of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Writing from Canada, First nation journalist Brandi Morin notes the link between extractive industries operating in indigenous territories and high number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and the high levels of sexual violence against them:

“Ironically, industry projects like pipelines are part of the problem. They bring camps of outside workers, mainly non-Indigenous men, to Indigenous areas. These man camps contribute to the crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Our women continue to disappear and die. There have been approximately 4,000 or more Indigenous murdered or missing women and girls in the last 30 years. That works out to about 133 a year, or three a week.

If white women were being stolen at this rate there would be worldwide outrage.[xliii]”

“Colonization is violence.  Colonization has had an impact on both Indigenous women and men’s roles in all relationships but Indigenous women have taken the brunt of the impacts of colonization.  Direct attacks against Indigenous women are attempts to erase them from existence so that there will be no future generations. These are attacks against the future of our Indigenous nations.  Indigenous women are now dealing with the high statistics of violence against them and the highest numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women, not only in Canada but also globally.”[xliv]

Many indigenous communities are or consider themselves to still be living under direct colonialism and are being denied their right to self-determination. In Palestine, Israel continues to perpetuate what many human rights groups and governments have concluded to be a system of apartheid, where Palestinians are being dispossessed of their lands and homes in violation of international law and with impunity. Colonised  peoples still exist and as with indigenous peoples and First Nations are denied the right to self-determination and sovereignty. 

Roma populations 

In Europe centuries long discrimination against Roma communities continues;[xlv]  Roma populations are:

“heterogeneous groups, the members of which live in various countries under different social, economic, cultural and other conditions. The term Roma thus does not denote a specific group but rather refers to the multifaceted Roma universe, which is comprised of groups and subgroups that overlap but are united by common historical roots, linguistic communalities and a shared experience of discrimination in relation to majority groups. “Roma” is therefore a multidimensional term that corresponds to the multiple and fluid nature of Roma identity.”

Although European Roma, who are the largest ethnic minority in the region are the most visible, Roma populations are found in Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia and North America. European Roma were targeted for extermination during the Holocaust though this fact, given the magnitude of the tragedy, is under-recognised. Anti-gypsism is acceptable, and Roma communities are often the target of political leaders and hate speech. Even if they are European citizens, they are treated as undesirable foreigners and subjected to violence by other citizens:

“In Western Europe, the rise in xenophobic discourses has been linked partially to the influx of Eastern Europeans, more precisely the influx of Roma from Romania and Bulgaria. By making use of xenophobic discourses, European right-wing parties have used the Roma to strengthen their political base. In France, extreme-right parties such as Mouvement National Républicain and Parti de la France, as well as the National Front, use such discourses in the form of hate speech to promote an anti-minority agenda (RED European Network, 2012). In 2013 the National Front planned to make the Roma issue a central campaign theme for the municipal elections in the hope of scoring more votes against President Hollande (Ponthus and John, 2013). Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of France’s National Front, accused the Roma population of being “habitual thieves” (‘Jean-Marie Le Pen fined…’, 2013). Le Pen called the Roma community in Nice “smelly” and “rash-inducing” (Bielfsky, 2013). On September 25, 2013, BBC News quoted French Prime Minister – then Interior Minister – Manuel Valls as saying: “The majority [of Eastern European Roma] must be returned to the borders. There is no other solution” (‘French Minister Valls…’, 2014). In January 2014, a French MP was caught on camera stating that “Hitler maybe didn’t kill enough of them [Roma]” [xlvi] (Jivanda, 2014). 


Racism affects people of all shades and hues. The process of racialisation often has nothing to do with skin colour.  It is well documented that the invention of superiority and inferiority along skin colour was created to justify white supremacy and imperialism. The desire to expropriate the labour of Black Africans to work in the settler colonies of the New World put Black people at the centre of racist ideology. Different groups suffer different types of racial stereotyping, but colonialism and imperialism set up hierarchies of colour between people, putting Black people at the bottom of the hierarchy and white people at the top with everyone in between according to their skin tone. Anti-Black racism—is a global phenomenon, including in countries of the Global South, a reflection of enduring legacies of global imperialism. [xlvii] 

Just as anti-Blackness was created for the purpose of Western imperial expansion and accumulation centuries ago, anti-Blackness still serves the same purpose today. Scholars Adam Bledsoe and Willie Jamaal Wright, writing about ‘the anti-Blackness of global capital’ note that while violent forms of domination targeted at all manner of people accompany the reproduction and global capitalism, and the new phase of capitalism subjects ever expanding groups to precarity, ‘experiences of anti-Blackness remain unique’.

“The logics underpinning anti-Black violence are inheritances of chattel slavery. These logics cast Black geographies as empty and threatening, open to occupation, and subject to surveillance and assault. Indeed, capitalism’s perpetuation relies as much on anti-Blackness as it ever has.

Capitalism’s new rounds of accumulation require access to spaces that previously had different relations to capitalist practices. The assumed a-spatiality of Black populations often leads to purveyors of capitalism treating locations inhabited by Black people as available for emerging modes of accumulation. Put another way, spaces that were once marginal or peripheral to the perpetuation of capital accumulation become sites of appropriation precisely because the (Black) populations occupying them receive no recognition as viable spatial actors. The spaces necessary for new forms of accumulation are thus conceptually open because of this assumed a-spatiality and subsequently physically opened via the spatial removal and dispersal of Black residents. This dispersal entails violent actions that are a priori legitimate because of the assumed lack of Black spatial agency. In other words, new spaces of “investment have been mapped onto previous racial and colonial (imperial) discourses and practices” evidencing an inextricable relationship between anti-Black notions of space, capitalism’s logic of perpetual expansion, and the acceptable subordination of Black physical presence. 

As in the case of the many groups described above, the manifestations of anti-Blackness make up a long list: stereotyping, policing, violence, marginalisation, killing with George Floyd being a tragic case in point, but since then every day, week or month brings a new case, if not on the global stage then in the lives and homes of families and communities left with the triple injustice of death, racism and indifference. 

As at the start of this paper, these murders point to the ways in which various strategies are used to deny, obfuscate, trivalise, conflate different types of racism that have their own distinct characteristics, specifically to avoid addressing them and keeping existing racialised hierarchies intact. It is critical to understand also that while groups that suffer discrimination may discriminate against each other- a phenomenon termed ‘xenoracism’[xlviii] this is part of the machinery of racial capitalism. It is also fundamental to understanding how building solidarities across groups is critical to dismantle white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. 


Transforming labour regimes in the 21st century – towards an agenda of decolonisation 

This paper is an attempt to contribute to a discussion on how we can transform labour regimes that continue to be engineered to serve the interest of a global capitalist elite bent on maintaining an extractivist system of increasingly extreme exploitation and accumulation. Exploitation—and hyper exploitation are is made possible because of racism and the dehumanisation that accompanies racism and xenophobia and other forms of discrimination. The persistance of white supremacist imperialism, racism, capitalitalism and cis-heteropatriarchy in more extremist ways are an indication of the unfinished business of decolonisation. Global coloniality or neocolonialism are realities that are shaping lives, economies and futures - a decolonial agenda for transformation is the only way to confront and change this disastrous course. The story of decolonisation is one that is unfinished, but it is also one that more recent struggles are telling us, is far from lost.

Ending the myth of post-racialism - make racism visible

The strides that the world has made to address racism haven’t been enough to eradicate this scourge—in fact racism, xenophobia and related discrimination have continued to thrive in invisible ways, particularly by pretending that it does not exist and propagating the myth of post-racialism. It is impossible to fight capitalism and imperialism without understanding where they draw their power ‘to produce and reproduce’ from. Certainly, militarism, overt violence, force or coercion is one way, but their most effective source of power is much more insidious, invisible, normalised and pervasive. Anti-racist, feminist and decolonial work has made critical contributions to open our understanding about how imperialist power has thrived in a post-colonial context and the ways that racism and xenophobia are absolutely vital for the continuation of capitalism. Far from worrying about ‘making everything about race’, in a context of social justice, activists should reject attempts to erase racism from our analyses of injustice.

Incorporating race, gender and imperialism in our critique of capitalism

Concepts like intersectionality, the coloniality of power provide activists with new frameworks for analysis and for developing theories of change. We understand the limitations of legal and constitutional reforms. We are becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of liberal electoral ‘choiceless democracy’, as termed by Thandika Mkandawire in reference to Africa, but now presciently global[xlix]. New theories of change are needed, and often the answers in understanding our socio-political realities lie in the past—which is in fact still very much in the present. Violations of human rights exist across the world, but too often we fail to see the connections between them, and how often conflicts, persecution of marginalised groups, gender based violence, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are not discrete phenomena but are generated, sustained and driven by a super structure of global primitive accumulation. 

Repoliticising struggles: political education for racial literacy

Political education is a proud tradition of social movements, but one that has been sidelined the NGO-isation of activism. Racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, homophobia, caste are subjects that, despite the scholarship around it, is very much lacking in our political analysis and an area where many activists are--including those that suffer discrimination--are unaware of. Racism has been the centerpiece of global history for the past five hundred years and yet we understand little about how racism shapes our world today, and somehow assume that we know everything there is to know about this centuries long history. It is critical for our movements to engage with scholars and activists from the Global South in particular, continuously exchange and learn from each other, and have a much better grasp of how racism and in particular white supremacy operate to keep global systems of imperial oppression intact. 

Confronting internalized racism, xenoracism, casteism, and privilege

As in all walks of life, even within movements which bring together groups facing common oppression and discrimination, dominant groups are in a position to shape agendas, define programmes and direct resources towards the concerns that interests that are priorities to them while marginalised groups have to struggle to have their interests acknowledged as real problems deserving of priority. These experiences in ‘mainstream movements’ are constantly raised for example by communities of people with disabilities, sexual minorities, people of colour and so forth who find themselves marginalised within and outside movements. This is a vast subject but critical to ensuring that our struggles are strengthened through each others’ at a time when there are intensified efforts to turn marginalised groups against each other. Solidarity is critical but it can not be unconditional: dominant groups must take the time to unpack the processes that have frequently seen them perpetuating the very ills they claim to be fighting because they fail to see or acknowledge how feelings of superiority or inferiority are ingrained into our subconscious and define how we interact with each other.

 Solidarities and coalitions with resistance movements

The creation of a global underclass of multiple groups of underpaid wage workers, peasants, indigenous and colonised people, pastoralists, poor women, migrants, Dalits, Romas, Muslims—who find themselves one way or another being ‘othered’, dispossessed and marginalised at an accelerating pace for the purpose of taking away their agency and autonomy, their self reliance, their rights, their territories and sovereignty as part of the global community of humanity is the hallmark of racial capitalism and a sign of how it is thriving.

 Their hopes for living under labour regimes and economies that are emancipatory, liberatory, pleasurable, safe and rewarding are daily being crushed. While not part of the discussion of this paper, these groups are revolting and disrupting the system every day and proposing new decolonial ways of being. New connections and collaborations between the marginalised, oppressed, excluded and exploited are being made and renewed solidarities are being found. Sustaining these movements means having a better understanding of how our various struggles are connected, and how our enemy is a common one and how new solidarities are needed towards new agendas for liberation.


[i] Peoples’ Institute for Survival and Beyond: Principles (website)

[ii] In places this is shortened to “racism and xenophobia”-  World Conference Against Racism (accessed August 2022)

[iii]  ‘to other’ – transitive verb – ‘to treat or consider (a person or a group of people) as alien to oneself or one's group (as because of different racial, sexual, or cultural characteristics)’ Merriam Webster

[iv] bell hooks (1997) Cultural Criticism and Transformation. Media Education Foundation

[v] Ashe, S. Racial Capitalism. Global Social Theory

[vi] Quinjano A. (2000) Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America  - Nepantla: Views from the South. Duke University Press


[viii] Maul D, 2017. Human Rights, Development and Decolonization. The International Labour Organization, 1940–70


[x] International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discimination

[xi] Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

[xii] Douglass F. 1857. If There is No Struggle, There is no Progress.

[xiii] Lentin A. 2007. Racism: A Beginners Guide

[xiv]  Cultural Criticism and Transformation: p7

[xv] NAACP

[xvi] BlackLivesMatter website

[xvii] Bhambra G. K. Postcolonialism. Global Social Theory. Website entry accessed August 2022



[xx] Maldonado Torres N. (2007) On the Coloniality of Being: Contributions to the Development of a Concept

[xxi] Cambridge Dictionary

[xxii] Webster Merriam

[xxiii] Rai, S M. (2002) Gender and the Political Economy of Development: From Nationalism to Globalisation

[xxiv] Andrews K. 2021. op cit

[xxv] Richards I. 2021. World Banks Doing Business Report out of Business UNCTAD Blog and Ortiz I. 2020 Time to End Controversial World Bank’s Business Report (InterPress Service)



[xxviii] Al Jazeera 2018

[xxix] AU expresses ‘deep shock’ over deaths at Spain-Morocco border Al Jazeera Report 27 June 2022








[xxxvii] The Weaving Kenya Women’s Collective: Weaving Pan-Africanism at the Place of Gathering. Feminist Africa Issue 20 2015 Feminism and PanAfricanism



[xl] quotas

[xli] ;



[xliv] Jacobs B. 2013. Decolonising the Violence Against Indigenous Women sourced via

[xlv] ;



[xlviii] Fekete L. 2001. The Emergence of Xenoracism

[xlix] Mkandawire T. From Maladjusted States to Democratic Developmental States in Africa