What I’m Reading (AND Writing) :: The History of #Anthropology — African Diaspora Trajectories

Singer/Songwriter, Tracy Chapman — my favorite artist, who is also a cultural anthropologist! Image source:

Seriously, what am I not reading?

I had to sign up for a History of Anthropology course for this quarter. It was a requirement and one of the core classes we are to take in this program. The bad thing is that not much really changes, with sitting around hearing about a lot of racist white men (and women) and how they participated in this discipline; it definitely is part of the story and must be told as a part of its history, I totally understand. But tell me something I don’t know.  The awesome thing, though, is that the professor allowed any student who wanted to do so to ‘opt out’ of the class sessions and independently write our own paper on some aspect of anthropology’s history, if we opposed to sitting around and discussing said racists. I’d say that’s quite an incredible gesture for a prof to make. Can you guess which one I picked?!

I’ve mentioned on here before that when I was an undergrad I was so fed up with sitting around and hearing about ‘dead white men’ and their practices, and about how we as aspiring anthros were supposed to abide by their theories and methodologies that did nothing but exploit people, and how frustrated that left me. I was on the cusp of quitting, literally, and for me it was like the 11th hour. Until that point I was the only Black anthropology student that I knew of and besides that I didn’t even realize that there was another story and people who had the same feelings. During undergrad I never had one. single. professor. ever. discuss a person of color who practiced anthropology and who opposed the ideas set forth by these white dudes they were teaching us about. I was into social justice and thought that studying anthropology would provide an opportunity to participate in this but that’s not what I was seeing — so I was so outta there — perhaps to study sociology, after all (Sociology is what I thought I was going to study initially when I returned to school until I accidentally stumbled across anthropology). And then I found Faye V. Harrison’s work — a radical, social political Black Feminist Anthropologist — and then I exhaled. Being exposed to this paradigm that turned the anthropology I was used to on its head, by saying something along the lines of  ‘not only can anthropology be used to promote social justice, but it should be. Here, there and everywhere. And in the field — going off to study people, instead of using ethnography to see how the ‘Other’ operates, we need to be practicing social activism, exposing global situations. Oh, and BTW, the white men that have dominated the discipline for so long, based on scientific racism and white privilege need to have a seat. We need to think and re-think who we’ve put in charge. This overwhelmingly Eurocentric and masculinist discipline needs to be put in check — reconfigured.’ Well, I’m paraphrasing, but she said something along those lines. Plus a whole lot more that really resonated with me, and well, the rest is — herstory. And this is the only reason I’m still here. It changed my life.

But that’s the short version.

I did an independent study back then after I found Dr. Harrison and her work, looking for Black women who practiced. I found quite a number of them: Zora Neale Hurston, Manet Fowler, Irene Diggs, Dr. Irma Mcclaurin, Johnetta B. Cole, and more.

Since that time during undergrad I’ve had a ton of exposure to the works of Black folks in anth, but I’m still finding new stuff, back again looking at history. I’m looking for everybody. I already know that many Blacks were drawn to this discipline in order to combat the very racism that anthropology helped create — sort of like beating it at its own game, and since then have used anthropology as a tool of activism and resistance. But I want to go more in-depth. I want to know exactly why and how they participated on a large-scale basis — as much as I can — globally. Well, my paper will be 40-50 pages, so primarily I’ve been looking at ‘firsts’ and profound impacts. For example, I’m looking at who began to question the origins of the racist anthropology. How has anthropology been used as a tool by people of the African Diaspora around the world? Also, I’ll be writing about the beginnings of dance anthropology with Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, the beginnings of Black LGBT anthropology, which is why I’m using Jafari Allen’s text and Mignon Moore’s (even though Mignon Moore is a sociologist she conducted ethnographic research on her one-of-a-kind study on Black gay women and their families, which makes her participate using a primary tool of anthropology). You get my drift.

What I think is neato about Black people in anthropology is the way we have worked not only on transforming anthropology itself, but to use it to create critical changes in our communities AND others. I know that people of the African diaspora are not the only who have worked towards this goal, but I think there’s a certain light that should be shined on those who work to radically reappropriate and reconfigure something with such a racist foundation, where they themselves were the ones who always ended up on the exact opposite end of ‘humanity’ when it came to seeing just who was ‘civilized’ and who wasn’t, as the founding ‘fathers’ suggested. We perpetually landed at the bottom. This is why Faye Harrison said that ‘historically, Blackness has been depicted as the most radical form of racial otherness,’ among any group, and that’s definitely the case with the history of anthropology. It has been used to dominate but can be used to liberate. And with this understanding it has definitely shaped the numbers of Blacks who studied anthropology, influencing the low numbers, but over the years those numbers have increased and continue to rise and we work to interact with and challenge this legacy — and then use its instrumental tools to create impacting and lasting positive changes. And I think that is pretty bad ass.

My paper is too long to post here, but I thought I’d share the reading list which is below. Right now, the bibliography is a ‘working’ one, because I’m still writing the paper but I think there are a decent amount of texts that I’m going to use and then some. I’m really excited about this project and have been reading, taking notes and writing like crazy. If you want the ‘actual’ and ‘real’ bibliography then make sure to check back around the middle of June. That’s when the paper is due and so the final product will be posted.

But in the meantime — what else should be on this list?

[Update]: The bibliography below is the updated version that was submitted with my paper. This was my most favorite paper I’ve ever written. It challenged me to my core but it was just as rewarding. With this one, I was able to focus on many people and their practices and hear what they had to say and how they said it and what they did and how they did it — that really matters a lot to me. I hope you enjoy this list and that you find it useful. BTW, my final grade on my paper = A. My final grade in the class = A! And you can read my entire paper by clicking here.

  • Association of Black Anthropologists

‘about us’ Date accessed May 9, 2014.

  • African American Registry

From Ohio to the World: Tracy Chapman. Date accessed May 7, 2014.

  • Arthur de Gobineau. New World Encyclopedia: Organizing knowledge for happiness,  prosperity and world peace. Date accessed June 16, 2014.
  • Aschenbrenner, Joyce

1981 Katherine Dunham: Reflections on the Social and Political Contexts of Afro-American Dance. New York. CORD, Inc.

  •  Aschenbrenner, Joyce

1999 Katherine Dunham: Anthropologist, Artist, Humanist. In African American Pioneers in Anthropology. Faye V. Harrison and Ira E. Harrison, eds. Pp 137-153. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

  •  Bolles, A. Lynn

2001 Seeking the Ancestors. In Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory Politics, Praxis and Poetics. Irma Mcclaurin, ed. Pp 24-48. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention

2013 Progress in Increasing Breastfeeding and Reducing Racial/Ethnic Differences, United States 2000-2008     Births. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 62(05): 77-80.

  •  Chapman, Tracy

2005 3,000 Miles. Where You Live: Elektra.

  •  Chapman, Tracy

1992 Heaven’s Here On Earth. New Beginning: Elektra.

  • Cole, Johnetta B.

2000 Forward. In Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory Politics, Praxis and Poetics. Irma Mcclaurin, ed. Pp 24-48. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

  • Comte De Gobineau, Arthur

1967 The Inequality of the Human Races. U.S.: Howard Fertid, Inc.

  • Dunham, Katherine

1941 Thesis Turned Broadway. In Kaiso: Writings by and about Katherine Dunham. Veve A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson, eds. Pp 214-216. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

  • Dunham, Katherine

1942 The Anthropological Approach to Dance. In Kaiso: Writings by and about Katherine Dunham. Veve A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson, eds. Pg 508-513. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

  • Dunham, Katherine

1983 Dances of Haiti. Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies.

  • Eison Simmons, Kimberly

2001 A Passion for Sameness. In Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory Politics, Praxis and Poetics. Irma Mcclaurin, ed. Pp 77-101. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

  • Firmin, Antenor

2002 The Equality of Human Races: Positivist Anthropology. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

  • Forte, Maximilian

2008 Stuff White People Like: Anthropology, apparently. Zero Anthropology: Date accessed May 8, 2014.

  • Garbarino, Merwyn S.

1977 Sociocultural Theory in Anthropology: A Short History. Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc.

  • Harrison, Faye V.

2008 Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

  • Harrison, Faye V.

2012 The Cultural Politics of Race in the New Millennium at Champlain College

  • Harrison, Ira E.

1987 The Association of Black Anthropologists: A Brief History. Anthropology Today 3(1): 17-21.

  • Hill Collins, Patricia

2000 Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

  • Meeropole, Abel

1939 Strange Fruit.

  • Hunt, James

1863 The Negros Place in Nature. In Frontiers of Anthropology. Ashley Montaga, ed. Pp 202-253. Toronto: G.P. Putnam Son’s.

  • I.C .

2014 Oral Narrative on the History of Anthropology in Mozambique. Suzallo Libraries, Seattle: University of Washington.

  • History of Anthropology.

2003 Introduction to Anthropology History of anthropology. Date accessed May 24, 2014.

  • Missouri Historical Society

Katherine Dunham: Dance Technique Date accessed June 8, 2014.

  • McClaurin, Irma

2001Theorizing a Black Feminist Self. In Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory Politics, Praxis and Poetics. Irma Mcclaurin, ed. Pp 49-76. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

  • Moore, Mignon

2011 Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood among Black Women. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Painter, Nell Irvin

2010 The History of White People. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

  • Schwartz, Marie Jenkins

2006 Birthing A Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  • Schwartz Peggy and Murray Schwartz

2012 The Dance Clamed Me: A Biography of Pearl Primus. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wander, Philip C., Judith N Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama

  • 2008 The Roots of Racial Classification. In White Privilege: essential readings on the other side of racism. Paula S. Rothenberg, ed. Pp 29-34. New York: Worth Publishers
  •  Young, Gary

2002 A Militant Mellows. The Guardian Date accessed May 7, 2014.

  • 1997 No Surprise Here! Almost No Black Faculty Members in the Field of Anthropology. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 16( ): 37-39.


4 thoughts on “What I’m Reading (AND Writing) :: The History of #Anthropology — African Diaspora Trajectories

  1. much love and respect for this post and for you as a person. i’m a Black woman in anthropology as well and i completely agree with you. i think within the Black power, Pan-African, and Civil Rights movements, a very important element missing has been anthropology, especially within the pan-African movements. an anthropological look at Africa, at our diasporic communities, and at other peoples of the world is not only necessary for movements such as those, but vital for decolonization or for any revolutionary movements. i would love to keep in contact with you. my name is Nell and you can check out some of my writings here –

    1. Hi Nell! And thanks for stopping by! Connecting with another Black woman anthropologist just grabs me!

      I did check out your writing and think your stuff is just AWESOME! I had to add you to my list of anthropology blog links that I keep on here. When school ends in a few I will have more time so I can read more. You’re studying anth and AA studies? What’s your focus?

      BTW, I agree with your points about widening the scope on anthropology. Personally for me, what I find is that even though I’m looking to get a much broader view of anthropology it is difficult to find stuff outside of the westernized perspective, even though I’ve really gotten away (or, at least I think I have) from the white male aspect, kind of as far as who I’m looking to when I think of how I practice and such. My paper has been coming along but I find that even though I’m trying to integrate MORE, I’m still writing about Kathy Dunham, the ABA, and such. They are important but like you said, in order to truly work towards decolonization the scope must be widened, and we need to focus on these critical contributions of other areas.

      A friend did tell me about some history from Mozambique and also about Jomo Kenyata, but the absence of info, let’s say if I googled anything — it’s hard to find. I hope to see you around here some more.

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