Brittney Chew / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

October 18, 2016

Professor Discusses ‘Radical Humanism,’ Combatting Racial Capitalism

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Prof. Gary Wilder ’86, anthropology, City University of New York, discussed the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, an African-American civil rights activist, and his ideas for abolishing the color bar to reconst American democracy at a lecture Monday.

Wilder called on people to attend to the “tradition of radical humanism” to better understand “canonical black Atlantic thinkers” like W.E.B. Du Bois and better “grasp the issues with which they grappled.”

Wilder said African peoples have been the most affected by the racial violence authorized by European conceptions of humanity.

“Central to many of this community’s most important radical thinkers inseparable from their reflections on freedom, is their commitment to what can only be called radical humanism,” he said. “This we often forget … is partly symptomatic of, and a missed opportunity for, critical thinking and left politics today.”

Wilder framed his talk around Du Bois’ depression-era program for a black self-management, which Du Bois believed could help produce a new “non-racial and post-capitalist democracy.”

“This talk of W.E.B. Du Bois is drawn from a new research project that examines this black radical thinking, as it developed and circulated in the United States, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa across imperial divisions in both Anglophone and Francophone contexts,” Wilder said.

Wilder also addressed Du Bois’ realization of the deep structural forces within the United States that sustained racism.

“[Du Bois] realized that the color bar could not be abolished with rational arguments or purely legal measures,” he said. “It would require a new habitus and a different set of social arrangements which could only be realized through sustained struggle and could take generations to accomplish.”

Wilder examined the intersection of racism with the white labor movement in the American labor movement’s refusal to address social justice or admit black members.

“Because most American workers’ material interests were largely founded upon white supremacy, [the white Americans’] racism was motivated and active,” Wilder explained, citing Du Bois.

Wilder said Du Bois’ plan to eliminate the color bar called for “the creation of self-managing associations of black consumers who would largely withdraw from the economy in order to establish autonomous systems of cooperative production and distribution without labor exploitation.”

Wilder concluded that this “black Atlantic tradition left a legacy of deep reflection on the problem of freedom, the meaning of emancipation and the project of humanizing human life.”

“Du Bois inherited and extended this legacy which we now shall not let languish in a locked chamber of a lifeless past,” he said.