When European colonizers came to this continent many centuries ago, the indigenous people here did not construe ground, trees, sky, water, animals as property—something objectified and quantifiable for the purpose of possession. They understood belonging differently—as in, we belong to the earth, not the earth and its inhabitants belong to us.
The sensibility of colonizing people seeking ownership of land, trees, animals, rivers, and people may derive from a feudal system unfamiliar to indigenous people who would not connect living beings with possession.
What happens when people who envision a moving river, a thriving forest, a grazing herd, a community of humans as property—that which can be apportioned, divided, controlled, managed, bought and sold—encounter people who lack the vision that objectifies and commodifies?
Once the imagination apprehends the possibility of living, breathing beings as property, everybeing changes.
Forests are felled, species exterminated. Oceans and waterways polluted and diverted. Animals slaughtered, habitats destroyed. Wildness domesticated, authenticity truncated. Humans enslaved. Once one group takes ownership of another, once people construe living beings as property, no one’s humanity or divinity remains intact.
People of color on this land mass became the bricks and mortar, the logs and chink used to build “the great American enterprise.” Wealthy white men used power, violence, terror to transmogrify black and brown people into building blocks of a market economy that became the new god—determiner of fate, pinnacle of importance, deus ex machina—an economy that must remain “open” no matter what the cost to black and brown life.
Now, again, we observe sections of several cities erupt in flame. Property gets destroyed. Police, deputized by the state, arm against civilians, many of whom descend from people bought, sold, traded, defiled as property. As we watch police in riot gear shoot rubber bullets into unarmed people and yank journalists off the street in response to three officers who knelt on a man: knee to knee, back, neck for nine minutes—as we witness buildings burn and any hope for justice incinerate— what do we see?
Our vision will corrupt us or save us.
As a one-eyed daughter of the trees, I see beings transformed into objects and wonder how long an objectified heart can continue to beat.
Howard Mansfield in The Habit of Turning the World Upside Down, wrote about “our belief in property and the cost of that belief.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in a recent L.A. Times opinion piece wrote, “African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years.”
With my one eye I see black and brown people as the building burning, timbers falling everywhere. When we envision any living being as property we invert what matters. Everybeing changes. We try to buy and build our kin and ultimately sell our souls.
The trees bear silent witness and weep.