Prof says individual rights fuel ‘capitalist violence’

A Marquette University professor recently argued that individual liberties, including free speech and property rights, are merely forces “that reproduce capitalist violence.”

Professor Jodi Melamed made the remarks during a lecture titled “Understanding Racial Capitalism and the Open Secret of Racial Capitalist Violence,” which she delivered at St. Olaf college on April 20. 

After “acknowledging the people of this land, especially the Wahpekute Dakota who have been relative to this land on which St. Olaf sits for melania,” Melamed stated that the purpose of her address was to “share with you guys some new work on the open secret of racial capitalist violence.” 

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The scholar went on to define racial capitalism as a “way of thinking about how racial procedures that differentially value and devalue, and devalued human being are inseparable from capitalist relations of accumulation.” According to the professor, capitalism “requires inequality” while racism “enshrines the inequality that capitalism requires.”

“In my book [Represent and Destroy] I focus on three domains of administration that reproduce capitalist violence as an open secret but all work together in practice,” she continued. “The first is police procedures, the second is the exercise of rights, especially individual rights, property rights, states rights [and] free speech as well.”

The professor argued that Americans are currently experiencing “a partial remaking of rights under the combined pressure of the ultra-capitalist radical right—a block that leads today for extractive financial and corporate capitalism and the political resurgence of a libertarian-leaning ethno-nationalism, which we can think of as a highly individualistic, lightly veiled version of white supremacy.”

According to Melamed, the “libertarian appropriations of liberal rights abstractions are radically individualistic and property supremacist” because libertarians take advantage of “free speech” to argue in favor of “the unbridled right of entrepreneurs to accumulate capital,” as well as “impunity for money to influence the state apparatus and the free speech of the radical right’s propagandists who speak on college campuses.”

Throughout her talk, the term “free speech” was accompanied by air quotes, since the professor believes that free speech is “an abstraction.”

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During the Q&A portion of the lecture, Melamed scoffed at the notion that she supports eliminating or curtailing free speech in the United States, but did tell Campus Reform that the right is an “abstraction” that is not being used to promote debate, asserting that public spaces on college campuses are being leveraged by figures like Richard Spencer to “promote white supremacy.”

In addition to her critiques of individual rights and liberties, Melamed also attacked the police as another force of white supremacy. 

“The police [is] what I call the visible hand of the market,” she said, arguing that Philando Castile was “killed by white middle class reliance upon property values for economic security.” 

“His death sent current and potential homeowners a clear message: the state via the police will protect the long term value of your home against the stain of blackness,” she added.

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When asked what economic system she prefers, Melamed told Campus Reform that she simply wants to remedy the issues that she outlined during the presentation, saying, “I hope that what I was talking about was a definition of economics that goes beyond surplus value and exchange value.”

Using Europe as an example, the professor also claimed that the “dirty secret” is that socialism “has worked well” when practiced by people who see themselves as part of the same group, but that as societies become more “racialized,” members of the dominant group tend to restrict welfare benefits for people of other groups.

Melamed also took time to criticize “state-level so-called anti-discrimination measures, such as the many anti-boycott bills that forbid states from contracting with [businesses] and individuals who support a boycott of Israel.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter @KyleHooten2