Race and Decolonization: Whiteness as Property in the American Settler Colonial Project

Publication Title

Harvard Journal of Racial and Ethnic Justice

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2015


Challenges to institutionalized racism have been largely framed in terms of equitable access to, and redistribution of, the wealth and power accumulated and controlled by those who define themselves as White. If, however, that wealth and power owes its existence to the ongoing colonization of Indigenous lands and peoples, can non-Indigenous peoples of color assert equal rights to the spoils of conquest without tacitly legitimizing and thereby reinforcing the subordination and exploitation of American Indians, as well as Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives?

This essay begins with a brief overview of how constitutional rights have been constrained by race, focusing first on the limits imposed upon the guarantee of equal protection and then reviewing ways in which Indigenous nations have been excluded from constitutional protection. It proposes that settler colonial theory may better account for contemporary racial realities because it frames the subordination of both Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous Others not in terms of abstract rights, but in terms of the functions served by their land and labor.

Building on the insights provided by Cheryl I. Harris in her groundbreaking work, Whiteness as Property, this essay considers the integral role Whiteness has played in the construction of both land and personhood as property, concluding that racialization is inherent to property as we know it. Finally, it considers some of the liberatory options that could emerge for all peoples of color from the reconceptualization and reconstruction of property in this society.


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Recommended Citation

Natsu Taylor Saito, Race and Decolonization: Whiteness as Property in the American Settler Colonial Project, 31 Harv. J. Racial & Ethnic Just. 31 (2015).



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