Singer/Songwriter, Tracy Chapman — my favorite artist, who is also a cultural anthropologist! Image source: http://www.singers.com/performers/Tracy-Chapman/
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.