Racialization and Racism

Tracing race, ethnicity, and civilization in the Anthropocene

This study critically reconsiders how the Anthropocene concept defines today’s trends in rapid anthropogenic climate change. As the proposed label for a new geological epoch, it is influencing contemporary debates in many fields of research, because these changes allegedly are caused by all human beings. This explanation, however, is simplistic. Material inequalities between different racial, ethnic, and class groups are the outcome of conflicts won and lost in historical time. Unequal economic growth has produced small concentrations of winners and large groups of losers along existing racial, class, and ethnic divisions in human societies. The destructive material by-products of such inequality now appear to be registering in geological time due to rapid climate change. The Anthropocene concept, in turn, must be challenged on how it constructs theoretical binaries, like self/other, us/them, nature/culture, or happenstance/design, in social theory and collective action. The analysis suggests many understandings of the Anthropocene are politicized interpretations of anthropogenic events in the environment that wrongly attribute them to all humanity as a species when they largely have been caused by a few privileged human beings in white, wealthy Western countries. The argument traces the impact of those social forces in history with specific technological, political, financial, and cultural capacities for mystifying how science and technology reproduce enlightenment as whiteness. Such social forces appear far more responsible for the extreme anthropogenic changes behind the Anthropocene than all humanity as such. This outcome also generates special benefits for them, as planetary managers, while they deploy scientific and technical authority to impose heavy costs on the managed. Given how the material effects of such inequality are altering global environments, the Anthropocene concept is a political problem that merits closer critical reconsideration.

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Volume 38 Issue 1

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