Jennifer James

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Jennifer JamesJennifer James is an associate professor of English and director of the Africana Studies Program at George Washington University. Her A Freedom Bought with Blood: African American War Literature, the Civil War-World War II was recognized as a CHOICE Outstanding Academic title in 2008.

From “Buried in Guano”: Race, Labor, and Sustainability

The only way we can imagine a healthy planetary future with capitalism is if we willfully deny its “second contradiction”: its irrational tendency to harm the environments on which its own survival depends.2 This is where the disavowed “dark subtext” of sustainability threatens to surface (131). “To sustain” can also mean to be the recipient of injury, as when one “sustains” a wound (131). But sustaining a wound is not the same as succumbing to one; it connotes that the harmed has endured the injury for a period of time and has survived it. As Medovoi explains capitalism has no intention of wantonly killing us all, as other decriers of neoliberalism might believe. More efficiently, it “seeks to gauge the kind and amount of life that must not be killed now so that … extraction can continue indefinitely into the future” (142). It needs us—at least some of us—to “tolerate” the escalating injury it will inflict as it continues to sustain itself (142). Thus, the very discourse of “sustainability,” with its disavowed subtext always trying to emerge, comes uncannily close to revealing capitalism’s own disavowal: it damages and then endeavors to cover that damage by marketing us a solution.

Continue reading “Buried in Guano”: Race, Labor, and Sustainability at Oxford Journals.


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