Race, Sovereignty, and U.S. Child Welfare Policy

Hana Brown, Wake Forest University

Despite growing interest in states as race-makers, it remains unknown how race-making obtains across a complex and diversified state. To address this gap, I examine the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978) which sought to end generations of state policy that denied tribal sovereignty and forcibly removed Native children from their homes. Although the U.S. had long treated “Indian” as a race, ICWA redefined it as a political-legal category, extending the law’s protections to children based on tribal citizenship. Marshalling 40 years of archival data from the government agencies charged with ICWA enforcement, I examine how agents in a range of state institutions (child welfare agencies, state and federal courts) responded to this racial rupture. I find that authorities routinely eschew the mandate to treat Indian as a citizenship category, re-defining it as a race. Yet when and how state agents “make race” varies by three characteristics of administrative context: decision-making visibility, evidentiary standards, and jurisdiction. Institutional incentive structures further shape these cognitive and ideological race-making processes. If administrative scaffolding is a prerequisite for the accumulation of symbolic power (Loveman 2005), the structure of administrative institutions influences precisely how states exercise symbolic violence across a fragmented state apparatus.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 235. Immigration, Race, and State Gatekeepers