Reading between the (Blood) Lines
22 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2010
Date Written: May 7, 2010
Legal scholars and historians have depicted the rule of hypodescent - that "one drop" of African blood categorized one as Black - as one of the powerful ways that law and society deployed to construct racial identities and deny equal citizenship. Ariela J. Gross's new book, "What Blood Won't Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America," boldly complicates the dominant narrative about hypodescent rules in legal scholarship. On the one hand, "What Blood Won't Tell" argues that the legal and social construction of race was far more complex, flexible and subject to manipulation than the scholarship regarding the rules about blood distinctions has suggested. On the other hand, "What Blood Won't Tell" highlights circumstances, both historically and in recent memory, of the ways in which blood distinctions played crucial roles in shaping the identity of people of color, including indigenous peoples. Importantly, "What Blood Won't Tell" also examines how blood quantum rules relate to contemporary efforts to reassert indigenous peoples' sovereignty and claims to lands.
This Review highlights the important contributions of "What Blood Won't Tell" to our understanding of the racial experience of indigenous peoples and the contemporary methods used to remedy the present-day effects of indigenous peoples' colonial experience. "What Blood Won't Tell" advances a more robust account of the racialization of people of color through rules about blood differences in at least three ways. First, it places the colonial experience of indigenous peoples within the larger historical contexts of racial subordination and efforts to promote White domination and privilege. Second, it underscores the federal government's ongoing responsibility to counteract the long-standing effects of its past misdeeds by addressing indigenous peoples' unresolved claims to lands that have been stolen from them. Third, it allows us to take a careful look at the relationship between blood quantum rules and the right of indigenous peoples to exercise self-determination. Taken together, these three perspectives reveal the immense challenges inherent to remedying the long-term effects of the racialization and colonization of indigenous peoples.
Keywords: Race, Blood Quantum, Property, Indigeneity
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