Debates in Latin American Social Theory

Asynchronous Assignment on “The Subject of Race” (Pages 10-20)

Asynchronous Assignment


1. Read pages 10-20 from the essay “The Subject of Race” by Achille Mbembe.

3. Pick ONE of the following prompts and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 2/09 before the class. 200-word minimum.


Why does Mbembe conceptually tie the concept of race to that of European colonialism? What are his arguments regarding Blackness as something that is produced to allow a “social link of subjection”?


Elaborate on Mbembe’s conception of the Atlantic as an “epicenter of a new concatenation of worlds, the locus (space) of a new planetary consciousness” that emerged between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries. How did the Atlantic function as an incubator of a “Black condition”?


Describe the complexity of plantocracies in the Americas. Why does Mbembe define them as systems of unstable exploitation and “hunted by the specter of extermination”?


How the “subjects of race” were legally constructed and thus dehumanized? How slavery was at the core of the western structures of labor and wealth production?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about “The Subject of Race” do you want to bring into the discussion?

9 thoughts on “Asynchronous Assignment on “The Subject of Race” (Pages 10-20)”

  1. Why does Mbembe conceptually tie the concept of race to that of European colonialism? What are his arguments regarding Blackness as something that is produced to allow a “social link of subjection”?

    “Race” was created during European Colonialism as an excuse to justify the abduction of Black victims into servitude for capital. The goal was to present “blackness” or those from Africa as fundamentally inferior, perhaps not even human. Stories about the barbaric nature of Africans who lived in chaotic states of devolvement inferred that they were better of as enslaved people because otherwise they were sure to become extinct; in fact, their extinction was an evolutionary inevitability. These ideas continued to disseminate and were propagated even by the church.

    Mbembe says to produce blackness is to produce a social link of subjection and a body of extraction, that is, a body entirely exposed to the will of the master, a body from which great effort is made to extract maximum profit. That is to say that Blackness was created to make a false distinction of superiority between White and Black so that they could continue exploiting blacks as objects with their value being simply that of capital. Even the ones that operated as “free” still needed to function within the insular system created by the colonizers and had to accept their subjugated role as inferior within that system.

    1. I agree with you Jacquelyn Ortiz “race” was created for an idea of superiority between whites and blacks by looking at the appearances of people to be the distinction that people look at. To continue, in the reading it was mentioned that there was a fear of some whites to be considered equal to black people, because of their social status and feeling that there was a thin line that can be crossed for them to be viewed the same. Also, it was mentioned how some free slaves even owned some slaves or would be giving power over other slaves, which eliminates this possibility of people ever coming together and revolt as a community. There is this lack of trust that is fundamentally being formed between the community. We see that even after slavery is ended there is laws put in place and lack of opportunities for the Black community which puts them in a disadvantage compare to white people who have used them as a source of profit and to settle in this country.

    2. Hi Jacquelyn,
      I agree with you that race was created to during European colonialism so Whites can assert their superiority over Black people. I also agree that Mbembe states that blackness is something that produced a social link of subjection and a body of extraction because the slaves entire being was to do what the master asked. Mbembe states that a Black persons body was “a symbol of a person at the mercy of the whip.” This ties back to race being constructed for White dominance . If the colonists were able to dehumanize Black slaves then they believed they had every right to own slaves because they are White. The concept of White dominance is demonstrated in Black face. When a white man paints their face black and performs racist stereotypes of black people, they are asserting their whiteness. They believed they proved their whiteness in painting their face black and being able to take it off and being able to belittle black people. In slavery, they were proving their whiteness by being able to belittle, dehumanize and torture black slaves.

  2. How the “subjects of race” were legally constructed and thus dehumanized? How slavery was at the core of the western structures of labor and wealth production?

    “Race is a form of primal representation” as stated in the lecture. Thanks to race, people have identified themselves based on their physical and social qualities given by society. It was established by society, and it was a matter of time to spread the sense of race to the world. Even though race was legally constructed, it has also been a generator of fears, terror, humiliations, and even ‘catastrophes’. At first, being able to belong or identify to a certain race was a direct path to discrimination and suffering. As shown in the lecture, “in the case of people of African origin, consists in dissolving human beings into things, objects, and merchandise” meaning that having a sense of race was only to dissolve or extinguish their essence to simple things or objects. Race and slavery have a lot in common, and these similarities are based on how both have changed people’s lives and that both were used to establish solid bases to develop human rights and respect as we have the pleasure to enjoy these years.
    Slavery was the core of the western structures of labor and wealth because slave trading was a popular business for wealthy people. As we know, the first raid full of Black victims took place in Portugal in 1444, and then it kept spreading to many more places. The wealth and labor of Western structures depended on the slave’s hard work. Buying slaves and mistreating them were daily activities in western years, however, these activities caused the loss of many people and the destruction of families.

    1. Hi Daysi, I completely agree that race is a social construct. I think that it has caused irreversible damage and it has negatively affected society in so many ways. Essentially, it was created to divide and show people how different they are, instead of showing their similarities. This reminds me of when someone in class said that stereotypes were originally created for survival. If you saw someone that looked like you then you were probably safer with them than with someone who was a different color than you or someone with different features than you. I also agree that slavery was the core of the western structures of labor and wealth production. For this reason, US Americans did not completely abolish slavery after the American Revolution. Americans didn’t want to lose something that they so heavily depended on even if it was wrong. It was interesting to me when the reading brought up that Haiti had not only abolished slavery in their constitution but they had also confiscated the lands of the French settlers (Mbembe). This made me wonder how different things would have been if America has confiscated the lands of slave owners after the American Revolution; this would have greatly lessened the power of this once-dominant class so much quicker.

    2. Hi Daisy, I completely agree with you on race being a form of primal representation. The whole idealogy & concept of race has caused people to fail in recognizing others as human beings, just like them very selves due to colonization. As well as people categorized of other kinds, are almost automatically not taken serious, excempted from economic wealth/society. Through Mbeme’s thoughts, we can see that racism does not only have a past nor restricticed to one specific ethnical background, but for all kinds as a future for different types of racism is very much in fruition. Ones those types mentioned by Mbeme is the use of medical techniques of molecular engineering to reshape this very life by racial determinism. Presenting racial pracitices that have the idealogies of Islamphobia into America & Europe. Mbeme also mentions the aftermath colonism, slavery, & apartheid has left on the black man. As the task of self-reconstruction becomes a pivotal thing. Being degraded & having to deal with multiple generatons of great suffering because of racism & unethical motives displays how race is unfortunately a primal representation for unjust reasons.

  3. Option 4:

    The essay by Achille Membe discusses the ways in which the “subjects of race” were legally constructed and dehumanized, in addition to how slavery was at the core of wealth production. The essay discusses how for a very long time, the concept of race served to describe “non-European human groups”, but later became used to describe people as less than. The subject of race allowed for people to create a divide, and point out what was different between groups of people. This is reflected on plantations where Blacks took on different roles and were treated differently based on the color of their skin. Later on, it is clear that these differences allowed for hierarchies to be created, where people who were deemed as less then were slaves or the poor, and based on their living conditions had to work in order to live and survive, as opposed to those who were slave masters or the wealthy. Slaves became the primary way in which “the wealthy” ran their businesses and got their work done, becoming the center of wealth production. This can be seen years later as well through child labor, prison labor, and the large wage gaps seen between Whites and minorities.

    1. option 5:

      Hi Liliana, I completely agree with you. Race has had many ideologies and definitions; but the main way people use it is to describe individuals by their color. and because of their “color” you were deemed either part of the wealthy part of the hierarchy or you stayed at the bottom with those considered inferior. Meanwhile in all reality the bottom of the hierarchy are the most skilled, and hardworking of people, and like you said they helped “wealthy” people run all types of businesses. So why is it, the minorities, “less than” when they prove to be more than the majority? I also wanna include that if you were medium tones or hispanic, where is it that you fit in. genetics has a lot to do with this term race. if you were European with curly hair or tan with straight hair, where would you fit into? I know for a long time many people associated curly, nappy, any of the 3a-4c textured hair to be black but even way back when how were people able to differentiate between that?

  4. Answering the following question: How the “subjects of race” were legally constructed and thus dehumanized? How slavery was at the core of the western structures of labor and wealth production?

    The social construction or the ideology of race had to be invented in order to serve western capitalism and capitalists as a whole in order to keep their wealth accumulating without interruption. And not to serve the notion of white superiority, but to serve as a tool to keep profiting out of the exploitation of Africans who were enslaved. I can best explain this with the construction of Religion in present Indian, where British colonizers used the categorization of Religion or the ideology of Religion in India. They accomplished this by having British census takers ask what they identified themselves as Hindu or Muslim. When in reality people from India didn’t see themselves as such, because religious practices were blurred. But the reason Colonial-settlers did this was to separate the masses for the East India Company to keep on building wealth for Britain by keeping control of the region. Again the invention of differences was used to keep colonizers profits safe from a rebellion.

    The reason why you would need a construction of race, is to specify that non-europeans are sub-humans to begin with, and therefore it explains why africans who are enslaved have no rights, used as a free-labor, under subordination because they aren’t full humans who need someone to look over them. This is placed in concrete way of thinking through the western academic world and through courts. Mbembe called western thinking the “Gregarious phase” of western thinking. They state the following quote out of the gregarious western thinking, “prototype of prehuman figure incapable of emancipating itself from its bestiality, of reproducing itself, or of raising itself up to the level of its god.”(pg.17) .

    Then came the legal construction of race, only after the establishment of systematic slavery and plantation society. To clearly set who are indentured whites and who are enslaved Africans for life. Out of the many slave codes set into American law, black people had to be noted as legally incapacitated, unable to think for themselves. Which reminds me how this is still going on today, with conservatorships, taking away an individual’s free will to take decisions for their own life.

    It is very straight forward how slavery build the wealth of the Western Hemisphere, through the transatlantic trade where Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean had an interconnected economy. Apart from building wealth for plantation owners, slavery also fuel the revenue to fuel the industrial revolution in England. Mbembe writes how the creation of blackness also was the source of capital for new ways of “transportation, production, commerce, and insurance.” (pg 20)

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