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Do Colonialism and Slavery Belong to the Previous? The Racial Politics of COVID-19


In December 2019, little did anybody know that the hushed discovery of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China would wreak world havoc of an unprecedented scale effectively into the next yr and past. However what additionally couldn’t have been foreseen was the way in which by which the later named ‘extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)’ or ‘COVID-19’ would function such a ruthless exposé of the programs that underpin in the present day’s globalised society. Amongst myriad different social points, the entrenched financial, cultural, and epistemic buildings of Colonialism’s legacy, corresponding to examples of up to date racism and labour exploitation, have develop into ever clearer with the continuing trajectory of this pandemic specifically. In answering the query ‘Do Colonialism and Slavery Actually Belong to the Previous?’, this essay makes use of the empirical context of the COVID-19 pandemic and references postpositivist idea to argue that while these practices ought to undoubtedly be relegated to historical past, it’s profoundly evident that colonial logic remains to be endemic within the 2020s, making this a lower than easy activity.

You will need to notice that exposing the continuing nature of colonial initiatives is all the time an bold enterprise for plenty of causes – not least as a result of racial points are so widespread and deeply-rooted in a Eurocentric world society corresponding to our personal, but additionally as a result of revealing the signs of a colonial legacy is inherently private and infrequently painfully affecting by the way in which ‘the trend, sorrow, and despair’ of these ‘whose existence IR has always displaced and ignored’ (Biswas 2016, p. 229) are examined. Subsequently, it have to be made clear that this piece attracts on “snapshot” proof to determine solely essentially the most pronounced circumstances of racial violence uncovered by the COVID-19 pandemic. By systematically exploring three distinct phenomena – the Sinophobic sentiment of the discourse surrounding COVID-19, the disproportionately excessive COVID-19 threat and loss of life charges in Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) populations, and the realisation of the implications of racial capitalism on Folks of Color (POC) throughout a pandemic – it’s meant that the mere extent to which a lot of colonialism’s ‘buildings and relations of energy are nonetheless in place’ (Abrahamsen 2003, p. 195) is effectively illustrated.

The Sinophobic Sentiment of COVID-19 Discourse

It’s turning into more and more clear that the COVID-19 virus has brought on two distinct outbreaks: the primary being the overt risk of lethal illness, however the second being a rising tradition of Sinophobic racism directed at Chinese language nationals and even individuals of different Asian descent in Anglo-centric societies. On the time of writing, the American Academy of Pediatrics cited ‘nearly 1900 experiences of discrimination towards Asian People since March 19th, 2020’ (Cheah et al. 2020, p.2). This quantity is probably going an enormous underrepresentation of the true scale of the difficulty. Though the novel coronavirus has instantly claimed tens of millions of lives (and counting), this rhetoric of racial discrimination is arguably equally as virulent within the longstanding legacy it leaves and the damaging binaries and hierarchies of energy it centralises. While it could come as a shock to some that these seemingly outmoded reactions of racialised blame and hatred floor at a time the place world togetherness ought to certainly be promoted, Alexandre White, a historian and medical sociologist argues that it’s little marvel that such a response has arisen given the historic trajectory of ‘xenophobic responses to infectious illness threats’ (2020, p. 1250).

While the worry and panic generated by a pandemic can considerably understandably give rise to irrational reactions from impressionable people, it have to be acknowledged that the racism facilitated on a systemic degree, most notably by the US, the world’s solely dominating superpower, is a really deliberate social assemble. Trump’s inflammatory intentions had been made completely clear upon his labelling of COVID-19 the ‘kung flu’ at a rally in Tulsa, to not point out his earlier coining of the phrase ‘Chinese language virus’ (The Guardian, 21st June 2020). Such discourse is precisely the sort that performs into the longstanding and arguably inevitable pattern of colonial logic, one which Césaire goes so far as evaluating to a ‘boomerang’ (2000, p. 41), and one that may be accounted for by the inextricably linked tenets of Poststructuralism’s power-knowledge nexus. Foucault is evident in his assertation that the realm of the discursive is one by which identities and regimes of reality are constructed, as is clearly seen with Trump’s anti-Chinese language sentiment. It’s inevitable, nevertheless, Foucault argues, that when a discourse like this pervades, sure knowledges develop into ‘subjugated’. That’s to say that exact truths are ‘buried and disguised in a functionalist coherence or formal systematisation’ and can’t be absolutely insurrected till they exist as ‘historic contents’ (1980, p. 81). On the time of writing, this pandemic exists at current or as very current historical past – and so the discourse of the Chinese language individuals (versus that of their authoritarian authorities) is but to be absolutely realised while it stays wholly quashed by the white individual’s narrative.

This isn’t an remoted incidence, both. There’s a palpable trickle-down impact because the racial otherisation rooted in official governmental discourse transfers to a media system capitalising on worry and binary shows of nuanced conditions, ultimately reaching residents who’re motivated to behave violently on their particular person prejudices. This phenomenon has been seen earlier than, most notably through the 2014 Ebola disaster. Sarah Monson writes of how ‘the media triggered People’ worry and conceptualization of Ebola as “different” and “African”, sparking a discourse of panic and propelling the otherization of Africa and Africans’ (2017, p. 3). In the identical means that Western ‘otherization reproduced and perpetuated the Ebola-is-African, Ebola-is-all-over-Africa, and Africa-is-a-country narratives’ (Monson 2017, p. 3) in 2014, orientalist stigmatisations of China depicted it as a ‘backwards’, ‘horribly overpopulated’ nation whose individuals and their ‘archaic’ tradition had been in charge for the COVID-19 outbreak (Borja et al., 2020). It can’t be ignored that historic worldwide administration of infectious illness ‘has largely been formed by a distinctly European perspective, prioritising epidemic threats that arose from colonial (or now post-colonial) websites that threatened to unfold illness and have an effect on commerce’, which has remodeled into an exclusionary and stereotyping ‘Eurocentric or US-centric view’ of recent pandemics that does ‘far more hurt than good’ (White 2020, p.1251). Put merely, the general public discourse surrounding COVID-19 proves that colonialism’s legacy is sadly nonetheless very a lot alive and effectively in modern Anglo-centric society, because of basic perception of the ‘white middle-class Westerner’ that the Chinese language are ‘not fairly as human as we’re’ (Saïd 1978, p.108).

Heightened COVID-19 Danger in BAME Populations

Colonialism’s legacy isn’t just affecting the discourse round COVID-19, both: there are pronounced and extremely publicised figures that time in the direction of the disproportionate well being impacts of the virus on individuals from BAME teams. Public Well being England information of their ‘Disparities within the Danger and Outcomes of COVID-19’ report that ‘the best age standardised analysis charges of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants had been in individuals of Black ethnic teams (486 in females and 649 in males) and the bottom had been in individuals of White ethnic teams (220 in females and 224 in males)’. Moreover, POC within the UK current with a ten% to 50% increased probability of dying from COVID-19 than individuals of a White British background ([1] 2020. p. 39). NHS employees loss of life charges are notably telling of this pattern: BAME people account for under 44% of medical employees, while roughly 95% of deaths on this employees group by April 2020 had been members of BAME populations (Prepare dinner, Kursumovic, and Lennane 2020). Above all else, you will need to notice that that is certainly not as a result of any kind of organic predisposition to the virus in sure races. Even Public Well being England is prepared to confess in an extra analytical report that ‘the pandemic uncovered and exacerbated longstanding inequalities affecting BAME teams within the UK’ ([2] 2020, p. 6), as soon as once more bringing into sharp focus the structurally entrenched racial disparities that function on a day-to-day foundation in white-majority society, and that may be traced again to inherently discriminatory colonial logic.

Proof that factors to particular threat components that put individuals of BAME communities at elevated threat of buying the an infection makes it blatantly clear that colonial traits are fully internalised inside the UK’s consciousness (and most likely that of different white-majority nations). Typically attributed to the liberal notion of the “class divide”, cited determinants of heightened an infection threat embody the elevated chance of BAME people residing in ‘city areas’, ‘overcrowded households’, ‘disadvantaged areas’ and having ‘jobs that expose them to increased threat’ (Public Well being England [1] 2020, p. 40). The issue with this logic, nevertheless, is that it makes the difficulty at hand appear simply fixable, when in actuality, this such “class divide” exists as a hangover from a a lot deeper-rooted mode of perpetual racialised thought that continues to solid POC because the ‘fashionable barbarian’ (Césaire 2000, p. 76).

The identical systemically divisive logic that performed a component in legislative failures corresponding to Theresa Could’s “Hostile Surroundings” coverage and the ensuing Windrush scandal, and different extra lethal catastrophes, such because the Grenfell Tower hearth in 2017, is making a resurgence as soon as extra throughout this pandemic. BAME immigrants to the UK, and certainly the West typically, are seemingly thought of simply as they had been within the 20th Century: ‘an unlucky however essential by-product of sustaining the connection between Britain and the Outdated (white) Dominions’ (El-Enany 2019, p. 52). Behind each Black or Asian individual pressured to perform in a ‘intently interconnected social community[s]’ throughout a lethal pandemic is a legacy that considers their ‘households with prolonged kinship’ as “uncivilised” and thus undeserving of specialized help, and an financial construction that lumbers them with ‘lowered alternative to do business from home’ amongst many, many different burdens (Mathur 2020, p. 1866). Subsequently, it’s hardly shocking that the welfare programs of the West proceed to fail ethnic minorities time and time once more. Non-white populations are persistently handled as an afterthought, relying for survival on programs that don’t perform with them in thoughts. As soon as once more, the latent existence of colonial practices within the fashionable Western world may be very obvious – and, while there are makes an attempt to resolve the issues exacerbated by this, the ‘mechanisms of energy’ (Foucault 1980, p. 99) that convey these signs about haven’t but been addressed within the essential means required in an effort to eradicate them completely.

The Implications of Racial Capitalism on POC through the Pandemic

By the identical token, the fashionable capitalist system can’t be neglected for its existence as an inherently and cyclically racist phenomenon that has put BAME populations at specific threat through the COVID-19 pandemic. Cedric J. Robinson, a black Marxist and founding father of the notion of racial capitalism, asserts that capital ‘can solely accumulate by producing and shifting via relations of extreme inequality amongst human teams’ (Melamed 2015, p. 77). It’s greater than clear that ethnicity is among the most predominant types of this ‘extreme inequality’ within the 21st Century, that means that the ‘central options of white supremacist capitalist growth’ give rise to ‘slavery, colonialism, genocide, incarceration regimes, migrant exploitation, and modern racial warfare’ (Melamed 2015, p. 77) that notably encumber POC. In different phrases, the exact same colonial logic that perpetuates the idea that the ‘western shopper’ is ‘entitled to personal or develop (or each) the vast majority of world sources’ (Saïd 1978, p.108) casts BAME populations to the underside of ladder of neoliberal progress, casting them as victims, somewhat than victors, of Capitalism.

The case of London transport employee Stomach Mujinga is a primary instance of the outcomes of the entrenched buildings of Racial Capitalism. In line with The Guardian, the main points surrounding the occasions that finally led to her loss of life on the 5th April 2020 are hazy: it’s unclear whether or not the person that spat on her while she was enterprise her duties on the station concourse had truly been constructive for COVID-19, and whether or not it was a direct consequence of his actions that she later examined constructive herself and died in hospital from issues of the illness (Kale 2020). On this analytical context, nevertheless, these particulars aren’t of specific relevance. What was delivered to mild within the aftermath of this tragic occasion was the truth that a 47-year-old Congolese mom with underlying respiratory points was put at pointless threat as a frontline employee throughout a pandemic lethal to susceptible individuals like herself. Stomach Mujinga was murdered by a system that disproportionately relegates individuals of non-white origin to blue-collar industries after which tells ‘those that nonetheless have low-wage service jobs to put down their lives in an effort to afford for groceries’ (Boodman 2020).

One other story that made world headlines for comparable causes to the Stomach Mujinga case was that of the Amazon employees on the JFK8 warehouse in New York Metropolis who went on strike after a number of employees examined constructive for COVID-19. The strikers demanded ‘elevated protecting gear and hazard pay’ all through the pandemic (Evelyn 2020). This comes after knowledge was launched in 2014 and 2015 that demonstrated that just about 1 / 4 of the corporate’s 77,179-person-strong US workforce was both Black or Hispanic, with a respective 24% and 12% share of Black and Hispanic employees within the ‘labourers and helpers’ class, but solely 5% Black and 5% Hispanic within the ‘non-labourer’ workforce (Greene 2015). It definitely appears that by compelling disproportionate numbers of POC to work in such poor situations throughout a pandemic while the white-majority center courses ‘keep safely at dwelling with their on-line jobs’ (Boodman 2020), counting on the providers of those multinational firms, the neoliberal capitalist system exerts considerably of the ‘violence, management, and financial exploitation’ (Bales, cited in Manzo 2018, p. 300) frequent to practices of labour exploitation and a few circumstances of recent slavery. Certainly, in line with Manzo, if all types of ‘violence, management, and financial exploitation are labeled as slavery, then the tens of millions of unlawful and badly-paid migrant employees on the earth essentially belong in that class’ (2018, p. 300-301), highlighting the unnerving and oft hid frequent components shared by capitalism and colonialism.

Not solely are the structural results of ongoing colonial initiatives facilitated by neoliberal Capitalism felt within the Western world, however after all their affect extends globally, difficult the biopolitical notion of the common proper to breathe. Achille Mbembe writes of an ensuing interval of ‘pressure’ and ‘brutality’ that can come up publish pandemic. The after-effects of COVID-19 will catalyse an ever extra ‘vicious partitioning of the globe’ by the hands of the fashionable division of wealth and sources the place the ‘dividing strains will develop into much more entrenched’ (2020). Naturally then, heeding Robinson’s authority, POC worldwide shall endure most because of this – not solely will practices corresponding to ‘energy-intensive extraction, agricultural growth, predatory gross sales of land and destruction of forests’ proceed ‘unabated’, principally concentrating on the ‘International South’ (Mbembe 2020), however the norm of exploiting the “Third World” will probably be redefined as soon as once more, locking the globe into a brand new period of banishing non-white residents to their ‘jungles’ (Fanon 2008, p. 121).


Total, the pronounced degree at which colonial logic operates within the modern context is evident from this evaluation, even whether it is oftentimes facilitated by covert systemic norms. Regardless of that, calls to completely consign it and its hostile implications to the previous are rising extra insistent: a petition calling for justice for Stomach Mujinga has been signed by over 2 million individuals (Kale 2020), and there have been quite a few actions for the reason that loss of life of George Floyd that demand the structural decolonisation of formally imperialist Western nations through reforming curricula and different social, cultural, and financial phenomena. Others go a step additional and declare that Abolitionism is the one means ahead – drawing on the black Marxist notion that each one capitalism is racial capitalism, this motion seeks ‘a imaginative and prescient that refers back to the realities uncovered by the pandemic’, aiming to construct ‘a brand new mode of collective care’ that helps ‘mobilization and mutual support’ (Boodman 2020). Both means, these are each examples of strategies that search to ‘minimize off the King’s head’ (Foucault 1980, p. 121) and readdress the present relations of energy, one thing that’s greater than essential in a system by which ‘the tip of formal colonial rule has not ended historic patterns of financial management and exploitation any greater than the abolition of slavery has eradicated enslavement’ (Manzo 2018, p. 316), whether or not we consult with it as a postcolonial or neocolonial society. In the end, neither colonialism nor slavery really but belong to the previous, even when that’s the present will of ever-larger swathes of society. Will isn’t sufficient with practices so ingrained as these: solely a basic restructuring of society as we all know it would convey really vital change about.


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Written at: The College of Manchester
Written for: Cristina Masters
Date written: January 2021

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