Category Archives: Guest blogger

A Day of Action: Justice for Black Women and Girls on May 21st, 2015

[Have a powerful Trans Day of Resilience! Savage Minds is pleased to present the fourth essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.Erin M. Stephens, the author, is a doctoral student in sociology at George Mason University and a graduate research assistant at the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR). At the IIR, she provides statistical analysis on immigrant economic participation and experiences as it relates to gender. Her dissertation uses qualitative research and social media analysis to explore emotional labor and intersectionality in the Black Lives Matter movement. She also works with The Beautiful Project to engage Black women and girls in critical discourse around the representation of Blackness in the media and broader society.]

I ride the elevator down to the MLK library basement with four other young Black adults, who (based on their conversation) I assume are going to the same event. Following them down the hall, I enter a long room with about 25 chairs set up in a large oval. More chairs line the perimeter of the room. There are only twenty or so of us here so far but the room fills quickly with bodies and light chatter over the next fifteen minutes.

All around the country people are gathering today in rallies, marches, or discussion-based events for the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls. My dissertation research on the Black Lives Matter Movement draws me to this space – but so does my own identity as a Black woman and my personal concern for the invisibility of violence against Black women and girls. This particular event is organized by Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, a national black queer feminist/womanist organization that formed in the wake of the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. The organization is limited in membership to Black activists between the ages of 18 to 35, and the majority of the people in the room fit that profile. The facilitators are women, as are most of the people in the room.

A young light skinned woman with short natural hair calls the room to attention. She is wearing a black t-shirt with white bold script “Unapologetically Black.” She explains that the purpose of this space is to lift up the experiences of black trans and cis women, femmes, and girls. After the warm welcome and introduction, she poses a question to the group to start us off: “What are examples of state violence against cis and trans Black women and girls?” The immediate answers extend beyond police violence: the prison industrial complex, the foster care to prison pipeline, disparities in access to education, sexual violence…The speakers use language and tones that convey deep concern and conviction. After about 10 minutes of discussion we transition into the next part of the agenda. Another facilitator, a slender brown skinned female, speaks on the importance of Black women ancestors who have been freedom fighters in the forefront of social movements. She leads us in an energetic song to bring their spirits into our space. It is a song I will hear many times in the months to come. Continue reading

Reclaiming Humanity for Black Lives in Jamaica

[Savage Minds is pleased to present the third essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Kimberley McKinson is a fourth year doctoral candidate in UC Irvine’s Department of Anthropology. Kimberley is currently conducting ethnographic fieldwork for her dissertation which is centered on crime, the aesthetics of security and the legacies of slavery and colonialism in Kingston. As a dancer Kimberley also engages her anthropological ideas and questions through movement. She was trained in classical ballet. Today however, her movement aesthetic represents a constant dialogue between modern practice and her inherited Afro-Caribbean traditions.]

The Simple Yet Contentious Truth

Jamaica is less than 600 miles from the mainland US, and the island nation imbibes US popular culture and news at a voracious rate. An awareness of the current plight of African Americans in the US is not beyond most Jamaicans, especially given the deep transnational networks that link the two countries. Many Jamaicans understand the history of what it means to be black in the majority white US, and understand the importance of the declaration “Black Lives Matter.” However, since beginning fieldwork in Kingston this year, and witnessing from a distance the attacks on black lives in the US, the question that I find myself asking as a young Jamaican anthropologist is whether Jamaicans understand or feel the need to assert the fact that Black Lives Matter in Jamaica. Continue reading

A Call to Action: Fieldnotes on Bringing the Black Lives Matter Movement Home

[Savage Minds is excited to present the second essay in the “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement“series. The author, Nicole Truesdell, is Senior Director of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Beloit College. Her research focuses on race, racism, citizenship and belonging, community organization and activism, inclusion and equity in higher education, and radical black thought.  A founding member of #blacklivesmatterbeloit, Nicole is committed to pushing against dominant narratives to ensure marginalized voices and bodies are seen and heard.]

What does it mean to do anti-racist activism as a black academic at a Primarily White Institution?

This is the question I asked myself after the non-indictments of officers in the shootings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I was tired of seeing black people unjustly and unfairly detained/killed/murdered by the police. I was sick of having to bottle up my anger and grief, wishing I could “call in black” to deal with having to work within a white environment seemingly oblivious to the trauma and violence black people experience on a daily basis. I was angry as hell and felt compelled to action. Continue reading

Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement (Introduction Part II)

[Savage Minds is pleased to run the second part to the introduction for the “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement” series. Here, Bianca Williams continues with her keynote address from the #WeResist community summit, which took place in Denver in March 2015.]

I paused and looked around the room to see if people were still engaged. I saw my partner-in-resistance Amy E. Brown, a local community organizer nod her head as if to tell me to keep going, and so I pressed forward.

“I read a phenomenal expression of collective resistance and community-building in a statement from the People of Color Caucus at my alma mater, Duke University. This past week a Black woman on Duke’s campus was taunted by a group of white men who sang the racist SAE fraternity chant that has gone viral because of the video from the Oklahoma. Students of color got together and released the following statement, which I believe is a powerful and clear demonstration of how intersectionality and community-building work:

They write,

‘We know that racism does not exist as a lone system of oppression. We know that what happened to the young black woman on March 22 is connected to the institution’s decision to include a LGTBQ box for high school students to check on admission applications without addressing the gay bashing, absence of gender neutral accommodations, and general psychological violence that LGBTQ people confront as students upon arrival. We know that the racism entrenched in the institution is connected to the institution’s failure to make accommodations of accessibility actually accessible as the institution often makes deliberate decisions to invisibilize people with disabilities, such as making ramps difficult to find by placing them in the back of buildings. We know that the institutionalized racism that we face is connected to the victim-blaming and other mechanisms of silence that further traumatize survivors of sexual assault. We know that the institution’s racism is connected to the university’s failure to financially support the Office of Access and Outreach that was supposedly formed out of a commitment to support first generation and low-income college students.

Thus, we understand that struggle against racism is connected to and reinforced by other systems of oppression such as sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and classism. We cannot stand against racial injustice without acknowledging that all systems intersect to perpetrate violence against marginalized bodies. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the cis-heteropatriarchy that variably oppresses any and everyone whose masculinity is not fully accepted. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the systematic exclusion and invisibilization of non-able bodied or non-neurotypical peoples. The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies affects other minority bodies, including racial and religious minorities.  The same racial oppression that affects Black bodies is connected to the displacement and erasure of queer and non-normative bodied people.’

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Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement (Introduction Part I)

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Bianca Williams. She provides the first contribution to the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” Bianca is the author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism, under contract with Duke University Press. Dana-Ain Davis, her co-editor for this series, is an Associate Professor at Queen’s College and the CUNY Graduate Center and co-author of Feminist Activist Ethnography (2013) with Christa Craven.]

As many prepare to attend AAA 2015 in a couple of weeks, some of us are remembering the variety of emotions and sentiments we brought to the meetings last year. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. A longing for justice and peace. A desire for change. A willingness to fight. An inability to proceed with business as usual. We watched Ferguson, Missouri erupt in rebellion on our televisions and computer screens the week before showing up in Washington, D.C. And then we gathered together during the meetings, simultaneously astonished and unsurprised by the news that those responsible for the death of Eric Garner would not be brought to justice. Numerous anthropologists made their voices heard at the AAA 2014 business meeting, demanding that the AAA Executive Board actively search for ways the discipline could intervene and push against the anti-Black practices and racist ideologies disproportionately affecting Black communities. Subsequently, the Working Group on Racialized Brutality and Extrajudicial Violence was created.

The Working Group has been charged with making efforts to track racialized police brutality and develop resources that will assist in reducing this form of state-sanctioned violence. As members of the Working Group, me and Dana-Ain Davis edited this series of essays centered on stories from the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. These short essays offer an ethnographic and/or self-reflexive lens on activities connected to the organizing and activism taking place in multiple communities and cities. While all the contributors do not identify as anthropologists, all use the tools of participant observation, auto-ethnography, and/or narrative to provide a snapshot of the #BLM Movement during the past year. Through their stories, we begin to understand the complexities and emotional toll of organizing and resistance, while also getting a sense of how new forms of connection and community can reinvigorate and feed the soul, even in the midst of crisis. We offer these essays as a way for anthropologists and all to reflect on where we were a year ago, and as a call to keep pressing forward. The struggle continues.

As the first contribution to this series of essays, I offer remarks I gave in a keynote address at the #WeResist community summit in Denver, Colorado in March 2015. After weeks of planning the summit with community members (who would eventually become members of Black Lives Matter 5280, a chartered chapter of the national BLM organization), I was asked to give  attendees a brief introduction to the strategies we were using to resist anti-Black racism. On this Sunday, I stood nervously at the altar of the First Unitarian Society of Denver, wondering if the multi-racial crowd would pleasantly receive my attempt to blend our group’s ever-evolving organizing tactics with the fierce analytics of Black feminist activist-scholars. I quickly glanced at the “Black Lives Matter” sign hanging behind me, took a deep breath, and began to speak: Continue reading

Secrets of the Sex Magic Space Lamas Revealed! Tibetan Buddhist Aliens and Religious Syncretism

In this post I’m going to be talking a little about aliens. Tibetan ones, specifically. Also, sex magic. Bear with me now. A lot of this may be quite unfamiliar, esoteric territory for Savage Minds readers, but it’s territory that I think is anthropologically interesting. In addition to being an under-appreciated slice of Orientalist history, the Tibetan alien is an exquisitely weird gateway into a number of issues relating to epistemology, ontology, and ‘truth’. The convoluted history of the Tibetan alien opens up a space for thinking about the construction of ‘tradition’ and its relationship to religious practice and experience. It also beams a light on the politics of other-ness, both as they relate to issues of cultural appropriation and personal spiritual transformation.

To begin, let’s travel first to Dharamsala, North India, 1992. Continue reading

Tantra and Transparency, or Cultural Contradiction and Today’s Tibetan Buddhist Wizard

This is the first of a series of articles that I will be posting this month as a guest-contributor for Savage Minds. In each post I will be sharing some preliminary and open-ended reflections relating to my research on Tibetan diaspora, esotericism, and the globalization of Tibetan culture. This week, I’d like to introduce readers to the non-celibate Tibetan religious specialists known as ngakpa (literally mantra or ‘spell’-users in Tibetan, sngags pa) who are the focus of my current doctoral dissertation fieldwork with Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. 

white and red robes
The red and white blue-lined cloth often associated with ngakpa.

Mass monasticism has often been used as a shorthand for Tibetan civilization in general. Over the last few decades in particular, large-scale Buddhist monasteries, whether in diaspora or in Chinese-occupied Tibet, have become key symbols for the continued vitality of Tibetan culture in the face of adversity. Yet even so, for centuries, ngakpa have existed in Tibetan societies as an alternative, smaller community of religious professionals, who though they are not monastics, nonetheless embody many of the possibilities and particularities of Tibetan culture life. Like monks and nuns, ngakpa are professional Buddhist renouncers, individuals who have taken formal vows to devote their lives to religious attainment. Unlike monastics, however, ngakpa are non-celibate and can engage in activities forbidden to the monastic community. Ngakpa thus straddle lay and monastic worlds and reside in a shifting third space of both accommodation and resistance to more centralized political and religious institutions. While monastics are the ‘yellow’ clothed community (ser) and laypeople are ‘grey’ householders (mi skya), i.e. clothed in no particular religious uniform, ngakpa, with their long hair and white and-red cotton shawls and robes, are known as the gos dkar lcang lo sde, the ‘white-robe, dreadlock [wearing] community’ of non-celibate yogis. Able to marry, have families, and pursue worldly work, ngakpa nonetheless spend much of their time in study, meditative retreat or working as ritual specialists for hire.  Continue reading

Guava Anthropology Meets Savage Minds

Language choice can be an issue of access. In attempt to shorten some of the gaps, but mostly to highlight some of the awesome anthropology happening in Taiwan, we have taken on this exciting translation project. Beginning with last week’s article, The Riddle of Sean Lien, we will be translating a handful of articles written in Chinese from the Guava Anthropology blog for Savage Minds this September. The articles we have chosen range in theme, background, and chronology, and yet all remain, in our opinion, excitingly relevant. Continue reading

The Riddle of Sean Lien

[Savage Minds welcomes guest bloggers Renée Salmonsen and Chuan-wen Chen.]

Originally posted on the Guava Anthropology Blog 28 September 2014

Author: Hsiu-Hsin Lin
Translators: Renée Salmonsen & Chuan-Wen Chen

Translator’s note: Contemporary youth and amateur politicians are taking an increasingly active interest and role in Asian politics. We feel it is important to translate this article because the result of Taipei’s mayoral election last year was a significant milestone for Taiwan. This article was written in the month leading up to the election. Many people view the result, independent candidate Wen-je Ko winning the capital city mayoral election, as a reflection of voters seeking change and expressing their dislike for both major political parties, the Kuomintang party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The election was held on November 29th, 2014. The two most popular candidates were Wen-je Ko and Sheng-wen Lien. Neither of the leading candidates had previous significant administrative or management experience in government institutions. Ko, a former surgeon, won the election with 57.16% of votes. Sheng-wen Lien, a.k.a. Sean Lien, is the son of Lien Chan, the former Chairman of the KMT and the Vice President of Taiwan. Sean Lien won the KMT mayoral primary, but lost the 2014 Taipei City mayoral election with 40.82% of votes.

The idea for this article stems from a class discussion. Taipei’s mayoral election has been the hot topic for weeks now. Anything seemingly unrelated to the election is now related. Due to recent circumstances, I haven’t logged-on to Facebook or watched TV lately which has enabled conversations with my students to skip over the hot, trending topics of the election and return to the greater issue of the “Sheng-wen phenomenon”. In other words, whether Sheng-wen is elected or not the emergence of a figure like Sean Lien is a very important phenomenon for the social sciences.

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Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 2

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Takami Delisle. Tak currently works as a medical interpreter for Japanese patients and helps run an organization for anthropology students of color. You can read the first installment of this piece here. She also has her own blog. If you’re interested, please contact her through Twitter @tsd1888.


Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology

by Takami Delisle

Looking back on those years when I was perpetually in fear of disappointing my professors, I realize that’s when I began to question the whole point of anthropology. I wasn’t alone; there have been many discussions out there about what anthropology can teach us, what we can do with it, and what anthropological knowledge means (e.g., Anthropologies, Issue 1, and Ryan’s open thread on who owns anthropology). Among them I encountered a handful of anthropologists questioning the validity of academic anthropology. I felt vindicated – I too am in disbelief of academic anthropology, because what it seems to be doing is producing its own kind of species of “anthropologists,” claiming that they are the only real, true, and legitimate anthropologists. If the goal of anthropology is to better understand humankind and help make the world an equitable place, now would be a good time for these academic anthropologists to take a good look in their own backyard. Those who are leading the next generations of anthropologists have to learn not to take themselves too seriously, not to be arrogant. They owe mentorship and respect to their students, the future generations of anthropologists, before claiming how righteous, intellectual, and special they are.
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Ethnographic Field Data 2: When Not-Sharing is Caring

In my last post, I recommended that we consider archiving and sharing records from our fieldwork. Yet sharing both raw notes and publications can present challenges, as Rex recently covered with the controversy over Alice Goffman’s ‘anonymous’ but easily traced research in Philadelphia, published after she destroyed her fieldnotes.

Kristin Ghodsee similarly writes of the difficulties she encountered as she researched post-Socialist Muslims in Bulgaria—research that caught the interest of both local and American officials. After being detained and interrogated by Bulgarian officials, she decided to drop almost all of the ethnography from her forthcoming work. She describes her encounter with the state in this way:

He then asked me: “Are you responsible for this?”
“Excuse me?” I said, not quite understanding his implication.
“Is your purpose in Bulgaria to encourage these girls to assert their human rights?”
“No,” I stammered, “I’ve been doing this research since 2004, long before this summer.”
“But you know the girls?”
“Some of them.”
“And the people who are teaching them?”
“They are all the subject of my ongoing research. An academic research project.”
“Good,” he said. He nodded and jotted something down on his clipboard. He finally asked me if I had any questions for him.
“Is this interview a normal procedure for Americans applying for long-term residency?”
“No,” he said, matter-of-factly, “It is only for you.”
“Why me?”
“Your topic is interesting to us.” (Ghodsee 2011, p. 180).

As Ghodsee goes on to suggest, sharing the results of our research in any form, published or unpublished, can attract unwanted attention and Continue reading

Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 1

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Takami Delisle. Tak currently works as a medical interpreter for Japanese patients and helps run an organization for anthropology students of color. You can find her on Twitter @tsd1888 and she also has her own blog. If you’re interested, please contact her.


Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology

by Takami Delisle

I have spent most of my American life doing anthropology. I think about and with anthropology when I observe the world around me, whether watching the news or listening to friends’ conversations. It’s not that someone is forcing me to do so with a knife right at my jugular, but it’s that anthropology has been one of the biggest passions I have ever had in my entire life. Coming home after my very first cultural anthropology class, I felt as if I had just been awakened by something magical. I still remember the sense of thrill when I declared my major as anthropology at my first U.S. university. I sat in the very front row in every single cultural anthropology class like a little kid watching a cartoon right in front of the TV.

What drew me into anthropology is that it opened a door to a wide-open space where I was encouraged to ask questions that I had never felt allowed to voice – like Japan’s appalling gender inequalities, Japanese corporations’ socioeconomic exploitations overseas, and the central government’s ill treatments of Okinawa. Anthropology gave me opportunities to critically and objectively reevaluate the country where I was born and raised, the place I often took for granted. It’s not that anthropology gave me answers to all of my questions, but it did bring me closer to the answers.

My first anthropology graduate program did not betray my expectations of anthropology. The seminar “Poverty, Power, and Privilege” was the most instrumental for strengthening my passion for anthropology. It provided me with theoretical and analytical tools to trace social injustices back through history – to see where they came from and how they changed over time. This seminar taught me to look at the bigger picture when it comes to inequality, and to pay close attention to issues of power. Everything about the seminar blew my mind.

I also learned what it means to be a good anthropologist from this graduate program, which had incredible, worldly-minded teachers who were also good mentors. For instance, after I submitted the final draft of my master’s thesis to my faculty committee members, one of them, who was also the department chair, e-mailed me his comment, which started with, “I want to thank you for teaching me about this important community” – his humbleness taught me to be humble, as I also thanked many of my own students for teaching me things I didn’t know. Another professor, who didn’t believe in the value of testing and grading his graduate students, asked us in his seminar to write what each of us found the most intriguing about the seminar, instead of giving us a final exam – his consistent practice of the principle against the standardized education taught me to be loyal to my principles. When a white student in one of my discussion sections complained about the class materials on racial issues and accused me of being a racist toward whites, the professor whom I was a TA for asked me to let him directly speak with the student to defend me, instead of telling me to ignore the incident – his courage to pursue justice taught me to stand up to injustice. When I brought the dilemmas and difficulties that I had encountered during my research fieldwork to my advisor, instead of telling me to figure them out on my own, she patiently listened, worked out strategies with me, and suggested to incorporate these encounters into my research data and thesis – her mentorship taught me to stay motivated, to keep pushing forward. I was entirely impressed, when another professor, who was often quite harsh on me, stood in front of the whole seminar at the first meeting of the semester and publicly admitted that she was wrong for her vehement disagreement with my argument in another seminar during the previous semester. Her honesty and integrity as an anthropologist taught me to be committed to anthropological inquiries. All these professors helped solidify my deeper understanding of what anthropology should be as a discipline.
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Ethnographic Field Data 1: Should I Share my Fieldnotes?

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Celia Emmelhainz.]

“This will be your office,” Dr. Bernson* says, unlocking the storage room near her office.

Tall wooden shelves frame rows of ethnography, gender studies, and area studies book, dog-eared dictionaries of minority languages, and obscure books she picked up in the field. A row of file cabinets faces the bookshelves, and in the back: two old computers for the graduate students.

One Tuesday, when work is slow, I unlock my office door and open the large file cabinet marked fieldnotes. Continue reading

VISUAL TURN IV: People and Stuff– A Conversation with Keith M. Murphy (2/2)

In a previous post, I described the process of an ‘Ethnocharrette’ – essentially a strategy that incorporates aspects of design methodology into anthropological practice. As part of a longer series thinking about how art/design modalities are increasingly commonplace in anthropologies that aren’t designated as visual anthropology. I wondered if this attention to art and design in anthropology is ‘new’ or simply new to me given my recent collaboration with two artists? Is there something of a “visualisation of anthropology” underway? I discussed these questions with Keith M Murphy, author of Swedish Design: An Ethnography. This post is the second half of our conversation. Continue reading