Settler Colonialism as Structure

This morning my Quaker meeting will be discussing resources in preparation for upcoming meetings related to the question, How Is White Supremacy Keeping Us From Hearing God’s Voice? Following is the abstract of one of those resources.

Abstract
Understanding settler colonialism as an ongoing structure rather than a past historical event serves as the basis for an historically grounded and inclusive analysis of U.S. race and gender formation. The settler goal of seizing and establishing property rights over land and resources required the removal of indigenes, which was accomplished by various forms of direct and indirect violence, including militarized genocide. Settlers sought to control space, resources, and people not only by occupying land but also by establishing an exclusionary private property regime and coercive labor systems, including chattel slavery to work the land, extract resources, and build infrastructure.

Settler Colonialism as Structure: A Framework for Comparative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation by Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 2015, Vol 1(1) 54-74

This happens to be what I wrote about yesterday in the post “Property”.

I continue to struggle to convince others that we cannot make progress toward justice as long as we are content to remain in systems that continue to cause injustice. Racism is built into the social, economic and political structures of the land called the United States. All the work that so many do to try to improve these systems is doomed to failure because the systems remain.

Property, Quakers, Social Justice and Revolution, Jeff Kisling, 2/27/2021

Yesterday I also worked on another version of a diagram of relationships flowing from settler colonialism.

This diagram is consistent with the Settler Colonialism as Structure abstract citied above. “Settlers sought to control space, resources, and people not only by occupying land but also by establishing an exclusionary private property regime and coercive labor systems, including chattel slavery to work the land, extract resources, and build infrastructure.”

The following is from the summary and conclusions Settler Colonialism as Structure.

I have offered the concept of “settler colonialism as structure,” as a framework that encourages and facilitates comparativity within and across regions and time. I believe that a settler colonial structural analysis reveals the underlying systems of beliefs, practices, and institutional systems that undergird and link the racialization and management of Native Americans, blacks, Mexicans and other Latinos, and Chinese and other Asian Americans that I have described herein. What are these underlying systems/structures?

First, the defining characteristic of settler colonialism is its intention to acquire and occupy land on which to settle permanently, instead of merely to exploit resources. In order to realize this goal, the indigenous people who occupy the land have to be eliminated. Thus, one logic of settler colonial policy has been the ultimate erasure of Native Americans. This goal was pursued through various forms of genocide, ranging from military violence to biological and cultural assimilation. British settler colonialism in what became the United States was particularly effective because it promoted family settlement right from the beginning. Thus, the growth of the settler population and its westward movement was continuous and relentless.

Settler ideology justified elimination via the belief that the savage, heathen, uncivilized indigenes were not making productive use of the land or its resources. Thus, they inevitably had to give way to enlightened and civilized Europeans. The difference between indigenes and settlers was simultaneously racialized and gendered. While racializing Native ways of life and Native Americans as “other,” settlers developed their selfidentities as “white,” equating civilization and democracy with whiteness. Indian masculinity was viewed as primitive and violent, while Indian women were viewed as lacking feminine modesty and restraint. With independence from the metropole, the founders imagined the new nation as a white republic governed by and for white men.

Second, in order to realize a profitable return from the land, settlers sought to intensively cultivate it for agriculture, extract resources, and build the infrastructure for both cultivation and extraction. For this purpose, especially on large-scale holdings that were available in the New World, extensive labor power was needed. As we have seen, settlers in all regions enslaved Native Americans, and the transnational trade in Native slaves helped to finance the building of Southern plantations.

However, in the long run, settlers could not amass a large enough Indigenous slave workforce both because indigenes died in large numbers from European diseases and because they could sometimes escape and then survive in the wilderness. Settlers thus turned to African slave labor. Slave labor power could generate profit for the owner in a variety of ways: by performing field labor, processing raw materials, and producing goods for use or sale and by being leased out to others to earn money for the owner.

Settler Colonialism as Structure: A Framework for Comparative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation by Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 2015, Vol 1(1) 54-74

As I wrote yesterday, “The colonization of America was built on the idea of people and land as property. “The exclusive right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of a thing: ownership”. Exclusive is key, because it suggests that the property owner can do anything they want with the property, be that land or people.

Indigenous peoples were swindled out of their land because they did/do not think of land as property, as being owned. And believed in sacred promises, such as honoring treaties. Colonists violently seized all the land, and broke every treaty.

Incredible as it seems, people and their labor were/are designated as property. People from Africa and other places were captured and enslaved. Families separated. Native land was stolen by classifying it as property. Millions of people are essentially enslaved today as they work for poverty wages, if they are able to find a job.


What linked land taking from indigenes and black chattel slavery was a private property regime that converted people, ideas, and things into property that could be bought, owned, and sold. The purchase, ownership, and sale of property, whether inanimate or human, were regularized by property law or in the case of chattel slaves, by slave law. Generally, ownership entails the right to do whatever one wants with one’s property—to sell, lend, or rent it and to seize the profits extracted from its use.

Settler Colonialism as Structure: A Framework for Comparative Studies of U.S. Race and Gender Formation by Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 2015, Vol 1(1) 54-74

As my friend Ronnie James writes,

“I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James

Ronnie and I and our accomplices have been working on such vision, which is Mutual Aid.
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