Cal. Litig. 2020, Volume 33, Number 3

This Land. Your Land. My Land.

By Dawn Schock

Dawn Schock has been a certified appellate specialist in California since 1999. She also serves as senior technical advisor to international rule of law development projects in the Balkans, Middle East, and North Africa, and the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Like me, some 46 million Americans —roughly 20% of the adult population — trace their roots to settlers under the Homestead Act. Like my family, the vast majority of homesteaders were White. (Keri Leigh Merritt, Masterless Men: Poor Whites, Slavery and Capitalism in the Deep South (2017) p. 38.) As an heir to homestead land, I cannot ignore the role race has played in my family’s generational upward mobility. My immigrant forbearers established their citizenship while they perfected their claims by living on and cultivating their 160-acre parcels. As they did so, Native Americans, who had inhabited the lands for millennia, continued to be dispossessed. And emancipated African Americans, who had labored over two-and-a-half centuries to bring land in the American South into productivity, remained destitute.

Our Whiteness is not a feature reckoned in my family’s stories about my German-Russian forbearers who left what is now Ukraine to homestead the Dakota Territory in the late 1880s. We celebrate instead the settlers’ courage, tenacity, and work ethic; all true and worthy of celebration. But failing to account for race in our family myths renders them as incomplete as those of the country that deeded us our land.

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