What is Black Radicalism? 

  • Radicalism: “The beliefs or actions of people who advocate thorough or complete political or social reform.”
  • The Black Radical Tradition: “A collection of cultural, intellectual, action-oriented labor aimed at disrupting social, political, economic, and cultural norms originating in anticolonial and antislavery efforts.”


Black Radicalism is a term first coined by Cedric Robinson, professor, author, leader, and activist.

Described as “soft-spoken but never quiet,” he attended the University of California, Berkeley, and was a prominent campus activist whose efforts helped bring Malcolm X to the campus, as well as earned him a one-semester suspension for protesting the Bay of Pigs invasion. 

During that time he traveled to Mexico and spent time among the rural and urban poor, which greatly altered his views on capitalist imperialism. 

I have seen in four days more poverty, deprivation, and practical deformity of the human condition than thought possible. The villagers of the Western coast are not indolent or inferior, but have been simply defiled to the point of becoming pitiful robots, mechanized to their expecting duties and roles.”

Robinson continued to dedicate his life to challenging and critiquing the political order whose roots are deeply connected to the European feudal system that depended on slavery, imperialism, and segregation for its success. He suggests that “all capitalism is structured by ‘racialism’ and produces inequalities among groups. Thus, all capitalism should be recognized as racial capitalism.”

In perhaps his best-known book, Black Marxism, he explores the concept of Black Radicalism, explaining that it’s not simply another form of Western radicalism “whose proponents happen to be Black.” Instead, it’s a “specifically African response” to the oppression from European development and the “inception of Western civilisation.” 

And what Cedric started lives on. “The Black radical tradition is an international legacy of resistance that continues until the present.” Many organizations today, like The Movement for Black Lives, are continuing his legacy of questioning and pushing back against a “global racialized capitalist system.”

My only loyalties are to the morally just world; and my happiest and most stunning opportunity for raising hell with corruption and deceit are with other Black people.”

For an in-depth look at the life of Cedric Robinson and the Black Radicalism Tradition, check out this article from the Boston Review.