This essay illustrates how Sylvia Wynter's “Black Metamorphosis” reconceptualizes the question of labor as it relates to the history of blacks in the Americas and generally to the being of Being Human. It does so by situating Wynter's distinctive intervention within the context of both Marxism and the engagement by black intellectuals of the issues of labor and class. Moving beyond the presuppositions of liberal humanism, Marxism, and Black Cultural Nationalism, Wynter put forth an interpretation of the cultural forms of blacks in the Americas (both as slaves and postslavery subjects) that could provide insight into the formation and stabilization of human cultural orders. “Black Metamorphosis” can therefore be seen as an earlier elaboration of what she later identified as the laws of human auto-institution, the process by which humans performatively enact our governing symbolic codes of life and death. The issue of material provisioning remains an indispensable but only proximate mechanism for a comprehensive explanation of human behaviors, since capitalism, Wynter argues, serves the central function of instituting and verifying our present conception or genre of being human as Homo oeconomicus, Economic Man.

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