In this never before published short interview with Dr. James Turner, legendary founding Chair of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, summarizes his interpretation and application of the concept of Internal Colonialism Theory. The interview is from February 17, 2010. #TurnerTaughtMe

Across every important social indices there is no equality or equity. And even further they’re not talking about equity any longer. And the problem is from the point of view of the dominant state they have never said what their position is. They have never said (from Roosevelt…) our position is for the wholesome, full citizenship rights to Black people. What they have said is slavery is no more. We won’t subject you to abject slavery any more. Then next when pushed in the 20th century we won’t subject you to full apartheid any more. Now you will in theory have the right to vote and the position as citizen. But we don’t offer any equality to you. And liberals and conservatives are united on that point. That that’s constitutional activism beyond which they are {not} willing to go.

“You people want equality of outcome. We’re offering you equality of opportunity, theoretically, of access. But we don’t assure outcomes. So we’re not giving you relief for anything that you had in the past that has accumulated to the present or that may be going on in the present and the future.” That’s what they say you all {Black people} want, is a guarantee that equal access means some equality in outcome. And we’re saying sure {otherwise} access don’t mean shit. What does that mean if it doesn’t some way have some direction toward outcome?

The other is that there is not a discussion with us about subordination. You see, and I almost think Jared {that} subordination is a better analytic term than exploitation. Subordination means domination which means exploitation as well but it means also that you are completely dominated as a people in all spheres and are susceptible to appropriation of whatever the “mother country” so-called, the dominant race wants to appropriate from you as resources. It could be your labor, it could be your land, it could be the product on your land, i.e. Oklahoma, the bombing of so-called “Black Wall Street.” It is as Ida B. Wells pointed out that these lynching don’t have anything to do with sex and white women. It has to do with white men who want something that these Black men have. Usually it is because of business competition or something. They come in there and take it. It means that the police apparatus of the state are at liberty to do what they want with you. And you can go and make a case to the supreme court that this is unusual and cruel punishment and they say, “well we don’t see that.” Or {you could say} that this is racist because it has disproportionate number of bloods going {to prison} and they say… even in the death penalty, “well, we don’t recognize that.”

So our position is one of subordination as an internal nation. We are subordinated in all aspects and, therefore, also underdeveloped. We are going to be underdeveloped. Now there will be a certain strata, you know, a native middle class that will be allowed to rise. That’s the consequence of this deep struggle of the ‘60s and ‘70s. This deep struggle that took place… they realized that in order to calm that kind of radical uprising and insurgency they have to allow for the rise of a comprador class to use Marx’s terms or Mao’s terms; a domestic, a native elite, because we have to invest them in this system in order to be a buffer zone between them and the masses of Black people who are unemployed, who are under-employed, who are enmeshed in health calamity and being imprisoned, living in sub-standard living conditions… and if we do that then we disconnect the so-called rising bourgeois class or petty Black bourgeoisie from the lumpen proletariat.

Because they see what happened in the ’60s and ‘70s. There was a rising of a native radical intellectual class, i.e. SNCC, The Black Panther Party, these were young intellectual activists. And they became radicalized by talking about this very question; our people are dominated. And it’s not just a matter of integration, that ain’t gonna transform anything. These people aren’t talking about making available the resources for development. The inner-city or the ghetto is not just simply a question of lack of integration. It is the fact that they are living in areas undeveloped.

And then lastly, we are still last in terms of ownership. We don’t own any means of production. We don’t own any large commercial activity. We don’t own any substantial parcels of land. So we don’t have any basis upon which to leverage. We are a supplicant class. Even when we vote we vote for one member of the ruling race or the other and we have to accept what they say. We don’t even have the capacity to leverage, to say to president Obama, look, if you don’t represent us and our interests your pockets, your coffers are going to be less well of than they are now. No, because all we have to do is trade our vote. But in a capitalist so-called “democracy” you have to trade vote and money. In fact, money is more important than votes. So that’s why the people who control the largest share of financial contributions into the electoral system get their way even if they don’t get the vote they want. And so that’s the cycle we’re in.

And then people say, well, Barack Obama he don’t pay attention to ya’ll because you guys don’t vote. Well, this last election put the lie to that. Black people across the class structures came out to vote for him. But now he’s saying you ain’t got no special bundle of money to do nothing, I got to raise $1 billion. Now think of that, $2 billion for one election. That’s more than some countries GDP. $2 billion. And that’s only the formal part of what’s being spent, not the ancillary money. So we are never in this game.

Now this guy Robinson who writes for the Washington Post has just completed this book, Black Disintegration, and he has these categories of three of four sectors of the Black community: the new and emerging elite, the middle-class, the working class and then the underclass. And he is saying the Black middle-class is disconnected from both of those two at the bottom. And the rising elite class, a few who are on corporate boards who have gotten to be CEOs like at Fannie Mae, and the guy from Viacom, and Bob Johnson, the people in the sphere there with Oprah. They are on the move. And for all intents and purposes, nothing is hurting them until and unless they get caught up in a thing like Skip Gates. Then you’re just another dark man walking out there in the street. Or like the editor of Black Enterprise and his son. Two or three years ago at Grand Central Station in New York. Well you know they live out there somewhere on the Hudson, Croton in the Hudson, somewhere up there in Scarsdale.

Well, his son catches Metro North coming in to Grand Central everyday going to work, their offices are somewhere in mid-town. One day he got off and they had the police waiting on him and they grabbed him with briefcase and Brooks Brothers suit and threw him up against the wall, patted him down and took him in.

They said they had gotten a call from a conductor farther up the line that there was a Black man on the train with a gun. And they grabbed this son. And Earl Graves went on and called up some of his friends and they called the police saying that they had made a mistake and gotten the wrong guy. That’s my son. But to them he is just another Black man. So that’s what it comes down to and it still shows you how race functions as a marker for subordination, not even for class. So they feel as though they can grab just any Black person.

Generally now there is the rise of this new Black elite and a Black professional middle- class, all the people who had gone through the Cornells, the Yales, the Princetons, the Dartmouths, the MITs, Michigans, Stanford, and what have you, and gone out and gotten professional degrees and made linkages with these rising white young guys who are in the elite and they have jobs and they’re making a good living and if they also have a spouse doing the same thing well then they are hittin’ it, doing quite well. Well this is what Robinson is saying is that these people are disconnected from the people at the bottom just like in a traditional colonial setting.

You have these palace elites, a few of the people who have gone to universities in France and who have gone to England to university and what not. Now the difference in classical colonialism is that the internal colony is also based on settler colonialism. From Europe these people come over and set up these settler colonies but citizenship was confined to them not to the Native Americans or the so-called American Indians and not to the Africans. They were there but they were not part of the nation. And so the settler colony by necessity had a national antagonistic relationship, not just simply a class one, a national antagonism against all of those people.

So you could say look at the Native Americans, well they are all different nations. Which one do you have a problem with? I have a problem with all of them! All of them! A dead Indian is a good Indian. Not a good Cherokee, not a good Onondaga, not a Cheyenne, all of them. They all get reduced, conflated down to this one thing no matter who they are. So they now all have to be corralled. Their land has to be taken from them. They have to be demilitarized or defeated militarily. They have no means to fight back. And they’re impoverished. All this so that they can never rise again. They have no independent means. The only way they have any economic development now is through casinos which is all dependent on the people coming from the settler colony to come in and do business with them. But there are no treaties that those people respect or obey.

So that’s the question. It’s a question of relationship. The relationship is based on the underdevelopment of those people for the purpose of the development of the other. That is the dialectical relationship. They are linked in that way. Even when the people say look, alright, we’re going to break out, let us go on our own they say no. Like the Nation of Islam. They say wait, you don’t want us here, you don’t want us to go. What do you want? Since you don’t want us, we don’t want to be with you if you don’t want to be with us. But it ain’t like that. No sir. Just like they were beating Black people to try to prevent them from moving from the South to the North {during the Great Migration of the early 20th century} trying to force them to stay. It’s the relationship.

And then the relationship goes down even deeper to psycho-cultural factors. They appropriate your culture, they take away your name, they suppress your language and your identity. How do you function like that? So you take indigenous people, native people here who always had that strong family bond and they languish now in alcoholism, mental health problems all sorts of tragedies. This is a defeated and conquered people who are in all spheres of the social order are subordinate. There is no way we can rise up and make these people pay. Who do we go to leverage to say look at what they’re doing? They’ve taken our land. Or they’re not following the Oneida treaty or this or that treaty, with the Senecas… that’s going on right now in the state {New York}. They’re trying to force the people on the reservation to pay taxes on the cigarettes that they’re selling. And they say no, this is on our land, in our nation. And the settlers say, no, forget that. Make them pay taxes on those cigarettes they’re selling.

And why? Because selling cigarettes on the reservation without taxes is undermining our business. And they should be paying taxes, they’re defrauding the state. So it is the relationship, the unequal exchange in all spheres. There is no sphere in which there is an equal exchange. They give us a relatively fair market value for our labor or for whatever resource that they want. And the same thing rolls with us. If they notice that there is a market, like in the 1920s when the Negro baseball league had attracted something like 450,000 fans in one year, Black folks were all coming out to see these Black ball players. Alright, they couldn’t join the Yankees and the Giants, they started their own. By 1926 the white owners had put together a business group to try to take over some of that business. So they started their own Negro league to compete against them to get this resource. And therefore it need be to suppress their development. They didn’t go in and say look let’s make an equal investment and we can help expand the market and we share.

The same thing goes down with our cultural production. They take it, market it and help produce it and distribute it. We’re the originators of it as a resource but we only get a portion of what its value is. And then after a while, they can take control over cultural judgment. So they can say Eminem has got the baddest rap record of the year. Well, he may or may not. But who is determining that now? And then suddenly he recovers from whatever he was going through and he’s now on the fast track. And he winds up, in the end, making more than all the Black emcees. And you say how did that happen? And they say look, you want what you got? That more than ya’ll had when ya’ll were down there spinning records in the basement.


  1. Appreciated this analysis..the laws were never constructed to view you but as a product..disposable when not needed any longer.

  2. What is to be done: A total reappraisal of The Black Power/Black Arts Movements!
    Our position on the board is check, not checkmate!

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