To White people, the inherent value of the land is based on resource extraction which equals money which equals power. In western society, the more land one controls, the more power one has. This is why defending property and land can be used as an excuse to be violent towards Black and Indigenous people.
As an Indigenous person it’s distressing following high-profile trials that involve the killing of a Black or Indigenous person by a White person. I can’t help but draw comparisons between such cases. First, it’s mostly all-White juries deciding the fate of these White killers. Secondly, it’s also the fact that ‘property’ is considered more valuable than the lives of Black or Brown folks – like when Gerald Stanely ‘accidentally’ killed a sleeping Colten Boushie in a car full of ‘trespassers’ fleeing Stanley’s ‘property’; or when Rittenhouse went to another city to defend businesses against ‘looters’ and ‘rioters’, killing two White men participating in a civil rights protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake; or when father and son duo, Travis and Greg McMichael, murdered Ahmaud Arbery in broad daylight because they believed he was robbing houses in their neighbourhood.
Trial after trial, the racists justify their actions that prioritize property while blaming the victim for the violence they commit against them. In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the McMichael’s defense was that Arbery, “put his hands on McMichael after being shot two times with a shotgun,” amounting the victim’s actions to aggravated assault, and indicating that Arbery should have just silently accepted his fate and died quietly.
When you look back at the history of colonization on this land it’s plain to see that White settlers were taught to hate and fear Black and Indigenous Peoples. White people came to this land to make a better life for themselves only to do it off the backs of Black people they enslaved, and through genocide committed against Indigenous Peoples. “The hyper-exploitation of Black labor was accomplished by treating Black people themselves as objects of property. Race and property were thus conflated by establishing a form of property contingent on race – only Blacks were subjugated as slaves and treated as property,” Cheryl Harris wrote in Whiteness as Property for the Harvard Law Review. “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.” After centuries of forced relocation, displacement and segregation policies the notion of ‘ownership’ of land and property continues to be used as a tool to justify murder and colonial violence today.
Since the first settlers arrived in Jamestown, trillions of dollars have been made on land resources from extraction ventures such as logging, farming, mining, and oil and gas. “The subject of colonization of this country was framed with fairly benign sounding words like homesteads and sodbusters. They rarely used ‘settlers’ – that was used back in the day without any problem, and not facing what the truth was, which was that colonization never happens benignly – there is always violence,” said director Alex Williams when interviewed about his documentary The Pass System in 2018. Williams described the Pass System as something that, “existed to contain Indigenous people to reserves to allow the unfettered exploitation of the land, and to appease cynically. That’s based on the notion of the fear of Indigenous people. That’s a very dangerous notion. The fear has an intent -its intent is to keep the land in non-Indigenous hands and allow its unfettered exploitation. That’s privilege.”
A step in this dismantling is to unlearn about one’s own colonial mentality taught to them growing up. It’s time to challenge and reject western concepts that have wreaked havoc on the world such as valuing property and land over the lives of Black and Brown people. The idea of land ‘ownership,’ justifies colonial violence is no longer acceptable.
To White people, the inherent value of the land is based on resource extraction which equals money which equals power. In western society, the more land one controls, the more power one has. This is why defending property and land can be used as an excuse to be violent towards Black and Indigenous people. However, property is something that can be replaced, someone’s life cannot. When looting and rioting occur such as during the Black Lives Matter Protests – often it’s to protest police violence and killings, or when justice is not served. The protests also act to dismantle the White concept that: property is more valuable than the lives of Black and Brown people.
David R. Roediger, wrote in Historical Foundations of Race for The Smithsonian that over centuries of colonialism the concept of whiteness has evolved from only referring to Anglo-Saxons in Europe to using it as a term to unite “the white colonists, dispossessing and marginalizing Native people, and permanently enslaving most African-descended people for generations.” If the concept of whiteness can change and evolve over time to construct a White supremacist system, it’s a construct that can be dismantled over time as well.
In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, millions of grassroots activists worked together led by journalist and activist Shaun King so that his killers could be brought to justice. The guilty verdict of his killers is just a glimmer of hope indicating that if we all work together, we can also dismantle White supremacy and forge a more equitable and fair society. A step in this dismantling is to unlearn about one’s own colonial mentality taught to them growing up. It’s time to challenge and reject western concepts that have wreaked havoc on the world such as valuing property and land over the lives of Black and Brown people. The idea of land ‘ownership,’ justifies colonial violence is no longer acceptable.