Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.
Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.
Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.
Author ORCID Identifier
Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Adam J. Dahl
Keith P. Feldman
African American Studies | American Studies | Indigenous Studies | Political Theory | Race and Ethnicity
This dissertation examines the relationship between anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, and American neoliberal capitalism. By developing a critical theory of racial capitalism, I historicize post-1978 economic restructuring within American capitalism’s longstanding structural entanglement with the expropriation of Black labor and Indigenous land. In doing so, I surface the distinctive forms of state-sanctioned and economic violence that Black and Indigenous populations experience, in contrast to populations racialized as white. My analysis thus highlights both continuities and ruptures in the violences of contemporary capitalism, revealing how the American political-economic system reconfigures earlier forms of racial/colonial domination.
My argument proceeds through three interconnected registers. Firstly, I rethink political theories of neoliberalism through the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement’s critique of anti-Black oppression. I argue that dominant critiques of neoliberalism homogenize the impact of neoliberal transformations across non-white racialized groups, as well as cast anti-racist struggles as divisive to egalitarian class politics. In contrast, by engaging with BLM’s primary documents, Cedric Robinson’s original analysis of racial capitalism, and contemporary scholarship in political theory, Black Studies, settler colonial studies, and critical ethnic studies, I articulate how American capitalism operates through both the generalized extraction of surplus value from working-class populations and “extra-economic” forms of labor and resource expropriation from Black and Indigenous populations. Secondly, to deepen this insight, I introduce the concept of “racial/colonial primitive accumulation,” elucidating the ways capital’s exploitation of normative (“white”) wage-labor is predicated on the “anti-Black relation,” encompassing racial slavery and its afterlives, and the “colonial relation,” including the conquest and ongoing occupation of Indigenous lands. Finally, I illustrate how neoliberal logics of “financial expropriation” build on earlier modes of racial/colonial expropriation. Specifically, I highlight two under-examined roots of the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2010: the predatory financial inclusion of Black populations in the 1960s and early 1970s and the emergence of home mortgage foreclosure in colonial America. Through these two illustrative examples, I reveal how anti-Black domination and settler notions of property saturate neoliberal financialization.
I conclude by reflecting on the Covid-19 pandemic and BLM’s positive democratic vision. I suggest that the framework of racial capitalism enables forms of solidarity that eschew an emphasis on homogeneity, thus redirecting left politics past false binaries between anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist struggles.
Issar, Siddhant, "Thinking with Black Lives Matter: Towards a Critical Theory of Racial Capitalism" (2021). Doctoral Dissertations. 2341.