Represent and Destroy

Rationalizing Violence in the New Racial Capitalism

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Jodi Melamed

In the global convulsions in the aftermath of World War II, one dominant world racial order broke apart and a new one emerged. This is the story Jodi Melamed tells in Represent and Destroy, portraying the postwar racial break as a transition from white supremacist modernity to a formally antiracist liberal capitalist modernity in which racial violence works normatively by policing representations of difference.

Following the institutionalization of literature as a privileged domain for Americans to get to know difference—to describe, teach, and situate themselves with respect to race—Melamed focuses on literary studies as a cultural technology for transmitting liberal racial orders. She examines official antiracism in the United States and finds that these were key to ratifying the country’s global ascendancy. She shows how racial liberalism, liberal multiculturalism, and neoliberal multiculturalism made racism appear to be disappearing, even as they incorporated the assumptions of global capitalism into accepted notions of racial equality.

Yet Represent and Destroy also recovers an anticapitalist “race radical” tradition that provides a materialist opposition to official antiracisms in the postwar United States—a literature that sounds out the violence of liberal racial orders, relinks racial inequality to material conditions, and compels desire for something better than U.S. multiculturalism.

Background photo by Evelyn Clement on Unsplash

Recent Publications from the Author

  • With Lisa Cacho, “How Police Abuse the Charge of Resisting Arrest” in the Boston Review.
  • With Chandan Reddy, “Using Liberal Rights to Enforce Racial Capitalism” in Items, a digital forum for insights from the social sciences.


  • rights
    Portions of chapter 1 were published as “The Killing Joke of Sympathy: Chester Himes’s The End of a Primitive Sounds the Limits of Midcentury Racial Liberalism,” American Literature 80, no. 4 (December 2008): 769–98; reprinted by permission of the publisher. Portions of chapter 3 were published as “The Spirit of Neoliberalism: From Racial Liberalism to Neoliberal Multiculturalism,” Social Text 89 (Winter 2006): 1–24; reprinted by permission of the publisher. Portions of chapter 3 were published simultaneously as “Reading Tehran in Lolita: Seizing Literary Value for Neoliberal Multiculturalism,” in Strange Affinities: The Gender and Sexual Politics of Comparative Racialization, ed. Grace Kyungwon Hong and Roderick Ferguson (Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 2011); reprinted by permission of the publisher.

    Excerpt from “Moving towards Home” by June Jordan from Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005); copyright 2005 June Jordan Literary Estate Trust; reprinted by permission.

    Excerpts from Blood Run by Allison Hedge Coke (Salt Publishing, 2006); reprinted by permission of the author.

    Copyright 2011 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
  • publisher
    University of Minnesota Press
  • publisher place
    Minneapolis, MN
  • restrictions
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
  • rights holder
    Regents of the University of Minnesota
  • series title