AAA President Reflects on Race

AAA President, Leith Mullings, has a must-read post on Anthropology News: Trayvon Martin, Race and Anthropology.

Anthropology is the discipline that fostered and nurtured “scientific racism,” a world view that transforms certain perceived differences into genetically determined inequality and provides a rationale for slavery, colonialism, segregation, eugenics, and terror. Our discipline also has a significant tradition of anti-racism that emerged from the tumult leading to World War II.

What I like about it is it’s self-critical stance, something I felt was missing from all the gushing over Obama’s comments on race. (Maybe he could do something about the “war on drugs“?) Namely, it criticized the AAA’s Race exhibit and racial disparities within the discipline. About the Race exhibit she writes:


Although the American Anthropological Association’s Race: Are We So Different? initiative has made a major contribution to addressing the racial ideologies of the world that anthropologists helped to make, what we have not always done so well is to demonstrate that though race is socially constructed, racism is a lethal social reality, constraining the potential, if not threatening the lives, of millions of people.

And about racial disparities within the discipline she writes:

In 2007, former AAA President Alan Goodman created a Commission on Race and Racism within Anthropology and the AAA. The commission’s findings about practices in many anthropology departments were, to say the least, discouraging. Anthropology is one of the least integrated disciplines. The commission found that sister organizations, including the American Sociological Association, the American Psychological Association, and even the American Economics Association and the American Political Science Association had more robust, proactive and aggressive strategies to retain and attract scholars of color.

Both of these points are welcome, and overdue. Mullings talks about the new Task Force on Race and Racism, which seems like a good start, but we still have a long way to go as a discipline.

PS: I’ve been collecting some of the reactions to the Trayvon Martin trial on my personal blog – stories that reflect upon institutional racism in the U.S. This seems like as good an opportunity as any to share that list with our readers.

7 thoughts on “AAA President Reflects on Race

  1. I think this Barbara J King tweet speaks to the larger problem of why anthropology continues to be so racist and segregated: “Amer. Inst. Physics: that over 1/3 of physics depts lacks even 1 woman on faculty is not discrimination #ha #gender http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/23/report-says-all-male-physics-departments-dont-result-bias …”

    How often so White female anthropologists complain about sexism in the academy without extend the same arguments to race? How often do (White) anthropologists look at a lack of under-represented minority faculty and advance the same argument of discrimination? interesting that I have been pilloried for pointing out this same issue of complete absence of some kinds of faculty from certain anthropology programs, and then can’t even comment on the *documented* racial terrorizing reaction I got from certain professors for pointing out this same pattern of de facto discrimination.

    Double standard?

    If we can’t be honest about the racism in anthropology and why it exists, nothing is actually going to change for the better.

    So yes, as I said in my censored and now deleted comment: Leith Mullings isn’t saying anything I haven’t said for years, but because of her position she will not be openly attacked, smeared, and discredited as a stupid and violent black criminal from the ghetto making invalid comments about hostile racial climates in anthropology departments when no such problem actually exists.

  2. As the comments to this AAA posted reflection on the death of Trayvon Martin make clear (see link, below), I underestimated the extent to which even Leith Mullings in her capacity as AAA president would be attacked and pelted with antiblack racism and racist stereotype (so how much worse for those at the bottom of Anthropology’s academic hierarchy; especially when attacks can be in private and covered up?).

    http://blog.aaanet.org/2013/07/22/reflections-on-the-killing-of-a-black-boy/

    Worth relating back to Christakis’ argument (per Rex’s post) that ‘we’ all know racial profiling is bad. Apparently not.

    Certainly worth really taking an unflinching look at ongoing racism within Anthropology, even as we criticize the racism of those outside it.

  3. Over on Living Anthropologically, Jason Antrosio has made two observations that it would be nice to see Savage Minds take up directly in a post, especially in light of Kerim’s comments above that he appreciated Letih Mullings self-critique of racist practices in anthropology (departments), and John McCreery’s advice not to call out actions (or people engaging in them, especially if willfully and repeatedly, and with full knowledge of abusive outcomes and disparate treatment/outcomes) as ‘racist':

    (1) “Unfortunately, I have too often believed while teaching race that clearing up delusions about race would diminish racism, rather than tackling how racism makes race salient–see Social Construction of Race = Conservative Goldmine.”
    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/2012/07/23/teaching-race-anthropology/?utm_source=buffer&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer0816a&utm_medium=twitter

    (2) “It also seems the mood has shifted from ignoring or denying these inequalities to outright attacks on people who try to address them.”
    http://www.livinganthropologically.com/2011/03/28/race-remixed/

    Can Savage Minds extend this self-critique of why anthropology is one of the most racially segregated disciplines, and what practices–concretely and specifically–perpetuate ‘white public space’? If so many anthropologists profess a commitment to ‘race as a social construction’ and not being ‘racist’, then why are actual practices in the discipline not living up to these espoused antiracist commitments?

    More specifically, is race simply a ‘conservative goldmine’ when many anthropologists also have implicit biases which justify racial profiling or make comments like “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home if you want to be friends” and “nonwhites get jobs and fellowships thrown at them” (an enunciation of a politics of resentment that anthropologists are quick to critique if made by a conservative Republican politician carping about ‘those people’ ‘stealing’ ‘our jobs’, but which is greeted with silence and non-repudiation if made by white male anthropologists). And this last comment is not a personal attack violating the comments policy, but a concrete example of the ‘connecting all the dots’ discussed here, in an AAA blog post directly following up on President Mullings’ Trayvon Martin statement:
    “As white folks, we have the luxury and the privilege to ignore, deny, pretend, soften, moderate, believe that we are nice people who never do bad things so these systemic patterns have nothing to do with us, and we can be horrified but do nothing. We can reap the privileges of a system that continuously provides us with benefits of the doubt, second chances, and be allowed to believe it’s all solely because of our individual effort.”
    http://blog.aaanet.org/2013/07/26/time-to-connect-all-the-dots/

    What does it take to get anthropologists to be more self-critical, and practice the zero tolerance for racism they preach? What practices in anthropology are standing in the way?

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