Property in Perspective: The White Supremacist Beliefs Behind American Land Distribution
As landscape architects, land is our medium. We understand that land can be private property or public domain. And yet, we rarely question the ideas behind land possession in America. This talk puts some of our assumptions about land in historical context: how 15th century papal bulls supported the dispossession of Indigenous nations; how the diminishment of the commons was used to suppress Black freedom after Emancipation; and how current governmental land policy perpetuates fundamentally racist ideas.
· The American idea of real property, based on John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, was revolutionary in its time
· The doctrine of discovery, conceived in support of global colonization, retains its legacy in federal law and popular thought to this day
o Indigenous dispossession goes far beyond treaties and the Trail of Tears: creation of National Parks, eminent domain, allotment, etc.
§ Land theft = cultural destruction
· American settlers sacrificed a long-standing ‘right to roam’ in part to maintain a cheap labor force after the Civil War
o First trespassing laws enacted in southern states
o Dispossession continues with the help of market forces
§ Access to housing
§ Loss of agricultural holdings among Black farmers
· Awareness of the novelty of our system of land ownership is critical to a fully-informed landscape architectural practice.