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The Significance of Native Americans and their History in “Whiteness as Property”

In the article, “Whiteness as Property,” Cheryl I. Harris addresses the racism that has been embedded into the American society as a result of white privilege being protected under the law. Harris introduces her believe that the origin of this phenomenon stems from the justification of whites conquering the land that was once inhabited by the Native Americans. Harris writes, “the conquest, removal, and extermination of Native American life and culture were ratified by conferring and acknowledging the property rights of whites in Native American land. Only white possession and occupation of land was validated and therefore privileged as a basis for property rights” (278). She incorporates the history of whites conquering the land of the Native Americans’ into her argument as an example to further illustrate America’s history of whites’ dehumanization of minorities and how the nation was formed as a result of oppressing a race that whites have deemed as inferior to themselves. From day one, the American society was constructed to favor whites over other races. It was justified for the whites to conquer the Native American land because they felt that they had the privilege to exploit everyone, even though they were living on this land before them. This addition was necessary to Harris’ article because she shows how the American society was built on the foundation that whites are superior and therefore entitled to enjoy privileges that other races cannot. The racism that is prevalent today originates from whites having this self-proclaimed superiority since America’s beginning.

What is sad, frustrating and disappointing; is that over five hundred years have passed since this moment and white supremacy is still prevalent today. The United States is a nation divided by varying racial and political beliefs. Harris is able to use her personal experiences to address the privilege that America’s society has given to whites, dating back to the justification of conquest of the land that once belonged to the Native Americans. But, what can be done to change the ways that whites have been entitled throughout America’s history?

One thought on “The Significance of Native Americans and their History in “Whiteness as Property””

  1. Your post hones in on Harris’s insistence on recognizing the construction of racial difference as integral to the U.S.’s legal *founding*. Harris does have some ideas about how to answer the question you end with – about how the recognition of the close historical ties between whiteness and property might serve as a tool for addressing historical injustices in the present. What are they?


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