The White Possessive and Whiteness Studies


  • George Lipsitz



Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s The White Possessive performs its own important truths through evidence, ideas, and arguments about property, power, and Indigenous sovereignty. Its arguments about the links between Indigenous dispossession and whiteness are compelling in themselves, but they also serve as provocations to think more generally about how scholarly truths are forged through often uninterrogated deployments of temporality, causality, universality, and particularity. The book’s challenges to the naturalization of the racial state in US whiteness studies, and to the institutionalization of sovereignty and cultural difference in Indigenous studies, are part of a broader pattern in the study of social identities and power. The defeats suffered by the egalitarian and democratic movements of the mid-twentieth century and the rise of neoliberal regimes of racialized austerity and (in)security have given rise to the realization that it is not enough to change leaders and laws: a more radical transformation of social relations and identities, culture, and knowledge needs to take place. Critical race theory and feminist studies, postcolonial critique and decoloniality, queer and disability studies, animality studies and Afro-pessimism, subaltern studies and poststructuralism all emanate from similar frustrations about the gap between the structures of domination and our understandings of them. Moreton-Robinson’s work helps us see the important role in that trajectory of placing Indigenous dispossession at the center of our studies. Doing so will not be easy, but it can no longer be avoided.