- The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty by Aileen Moreton-Robinson
The White Possessive is a substantive addition to intersectional work linking critical race theory and settler-colonial, Indigenous, and whiteness [End Page 212] studies. The book’s three parts bring together Moreton-Robinson’s work from the past decade. Aileen Moreton-Robinson is a prolific and influential scholar in settler-colonial, whiteness, Indigenous, and postcolonial studies; the director of the Indigenous Studies Research Network; a professor of Indigenous studies at Queensland University of Technology; and a member of the Goenpul tribe, part of the Quandamooka nation on Stradbroke Island in Queensland. In The White Possessive, Moreton-Robinson builds off Cheryl Harris’s foundational work in “Whiteness as Property,” which argues that whiteness became a form of property originally through the appropriation of Indigenous lands and subsequent enslavement of African Americans. In this book, Moreton-Robinson echoes Harris’s claim that white identity is historically formed through genocide, dispossession, and slavery. Using Harris’s theoretical framework, Moreton-Robinson performs an Indigenous reading of the “possessive logics” of patriarchal white sovereignty as it is expressed through the form of the nation-state. The book works against a binary conception of race that places race outside of colonial history in order to address the gap in whiteness studies that has largely ignored Indigeneity. The primary thesis of The White Possessive is that “patriarchal white sovereignty operates ideologically, materially, and discursively to reproduce and maintain its investment in the nation as a white possession” (139). As such, The White Possessive is an extended inquiry into the links between Indigenous sovereignty, racialization, and legal structures of ownership in settler colonial states.
The three sections of the text follow what it argues are the divisions of humanity from the sixteenth century onward—defined by the three categories of owning property, becoming propertyless, and being property. The first third of the book, “Owning Property,” begins with a chapter that unsettles white Australia’s sense of belonging by emphasizing Indigenous ontological relations to land; chapter 2 examines the roots of white belonging in British colonialism; and chapter 3 anchors the borders of gendered and raced belonging in the production of the beach as a white possession. Chapter 4 broadens to consider the emergence of whiteness studies in the United States. “Owning Property” concludes with a call to expand the study of whiteness beyond the black-white binary, a binary that Moreton-Robinson argues reinscribes an ontology of the United States as a white possession.
Part 2, “Becoming Propertyless,” traces specific ways in which patriarchal [End Page 213] whiteness denies Indigenous people’s means of capital accumulation. Chapter 5 examines two key amendments in Australia’s Native Title Act and their influence on United Nations policy. Chapter 6 follows these policies to the subsequent denial of Native title in Australia’s Yorta Yorta decision, to show how Australian property law upholds Harris’s claim that only white possession and occupation are considered valid property rights. Chapter 7 looks to a recent specific case study of the discrimination of color-blindness racism in the workplace and finds that individual behaviors demonstrate a pattern indicative of white ownership. Chapter 8 tracks the legacy of white possession in Australian society to Captain Cook’s choice to bypass Indigenous consent while explaining communal ownership through state-of-nature tropes. Each chapter in this section concludes by emphasizing the historic and continued persistence of Indigenous resistance and sovereignty.
The third and final section, “Being Property,” centers on Michel Foucault’s genealogy of sovereign and biopolitical power, to explore the sociology of white sovereignty. Moreton-Robinson interprets Foucault’s terms to suit the case at hand, while closely following Foucault’s formulations to argue for a new research agenda that engages the “intersection of biopower, Indigenous sovereignty, whiteness, and race” in chapter 9 (129). In the remaining chapters, the author models this research by examining the discourses of security and pathology as central elements of patriarchal white sovereignty...