Zora Neale Hurston(1895-1960) and Anthropology

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger IRMA MCCLAURIN

Beginnings:

I have been a practitioner of the literary arts since the ripe young age of eight—both a poet and a voracious reader. Fortunately for me, I had elementary school teachers who introduced me to Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Yet it was not until I was in graduate school (for the first time, completing a Masters of Fine Arts in English) that I encountered the writings of Zora Neale Hurston. I learned who she was through reading her short stories, novels and plays. I also caught glimpses of the rural Black southern culture that my parents had escaped when they left rural Mississippi and Alabama for the city lights of Chicago where I was born.

As I developed into a literary critic and delved into the history of the Harlem Renaissance, I was left with the distinct impression that most of the modern-day Black critics (mostly men) writing about the Harlem Renaissance cared little about (or for) Zora. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that with minor exception, most have described her with disdain and tolerance and not admiration, despite her note-worthy contributions and the “color” she added to the culture being created at that time.

Many viewed Zora as a person of considerable literary talent during the Renaissance;  she was also noted for her distinctive personality and a flair for drama that sometimes grated on her Black compatriots. Whites found her amusing, much to the chagrin of  some Blacks. Richard Bruce Nugent, a Black writer and painter, and Zora’s contemporary during the Renaissance once remarked: “Zora would have been Zora even if she were an Eskimo.”

What made Zora unique during this period was the way much of her writing was deeply rooted in rural southern Black culture; her literary outpouring reflected a preoccupation with the life ways and folklore of Black rural people. This fascination with “de folk” and rural Black culture was largely fueled by Zora’s experiences growing up in Eatonville, the oldest incorporated Black township in the United States, not to be mistaken for, as Zora flaunted in her autobiography, Dust Tracks, “the Black side of a white town.” In Eatonville Zora had grown up listening to culture in the making—people swapping lies on Joe’s porch, symbolic and metaphoric improvization and the creation of  new meaning with language through storytelling and music.

 

 

Racism is Real, and Colorblindness is Racism: Truths from a Black Feminist Anthropologist

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Bianca C. Williams. Bianca is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, and holds a PhD in anthropology from Duke University. She is the author of “Guard Your Heart and Your Purpose: Faithfully Writing Anthropology,” and of the forthcoming Duke University Press book Exporting Happiness in which she examines how African American women use international travel and the Internet as tools for pursuing leisure, creating intimate relationships and friendships, and critiquing American racism, sexism, and ageism.)

After weeks of traveling for conferences, and finally getting to my sister’s home for the holiday, I’ve been trying to relax. To peacefully give myself over to this season of thanks. Even now, after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, there is plenty for which to be thankful. However, watching the coverage of the protestors on television and observing conversations on social media has been anything but peaceful. I spent a day and a half trying to find an effective way to communicate the pain, frustration, anger, sadness I was feeling to my friends, peers, and colleagues online, particularly those that seem to live in an alternate reality. They live in a reality where privilege, or at least blissful ignorance, keeps them from seeing how racist institutions and a “race-neutral” criminal justice system continues to oppress their friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Below, I include a modified excerpt of the message I wrote to my Facebook community, and then I offer how my thoughts might be relevant to my beloved discipline of anthropology: Continue reading

Tear Gas, Ferguson, and Anti-Black Racism: Interview with Kalaya’an Mendoza, Amnesty USA Senior Organizer

“Rage. Tears. Grief. Rage.” These are the words of Kalaya’an Mendoza, Amnesty USA Senior Organizer. Kalaya’an was on the advance team supporting the work of Human Rights Observers in Ferguson since Michael Brown was shot in August. On the night of the no-indictment verdict in the Michael Brown shooting case (Monday, November 24), Kalaya’an and other members of the Amnesty staff wore bright yellow shirts that were clearly marked “Human Rights Observer.” Around 1:30 am, they were with community members and protestors in MoKaBe’s coffee shop when they were tear gassed by police. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Kalaya’an about the rage and tears and grief. And the rage. With gratitude and respect, our conversation: Continue reading

What Really Happened on Thanksgiving

(This Thanksgiving I’m posting a short, edited snippet of pages 55-66 of Charles Mann’s   1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. In it Mann describes the history of Indian-European relations that existed before the arrival of the Mayflower by following the story of a single Indian, Tisquantum, and the role he played in the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving. This fair use reproduction is just a small chunk of Mann’s 500+ page book. If you’d like to read more about this topic — I’d recommend buying and reading all of 1491. It’s  excellent. Happy Thanksgiving.)

I had learned about Plymouth in school. But it was not until I was poking through the scattered references to Billington [the author’s ancestor] that it occurred to me that my ancestor, like everyone else in the colony, had voluntarily enlisted in a venture that had him arriving in New England without food or shelter six weeks before winter. Not only that, he joined a group that, so far as is known, set off with little idea of where it was heading. In Europe, the Pilgrims had refused to hire the experienced John Smith as a guide, on the theory that they could use the maps in his book. In consequence, as Smith later crowed, the hapless Mayflower spent several frigid weeks scouting around Cape Cod for a good place to land, during which time many colonists became sick and died. Landfall at Patuxet did not end their problems. The colonists had intended to produce their own food, but inexplicably neglected to bring any cows, sheep, mules, or horses. To be sure, the Pilgrims had intended to make most of their livelihood not by farming but by catching fish for export to Britain. But the only fishing gear the Pilgrims brought was useless in New England. Half of the 102 people on the Mayflower made it through the first winter, which to me seemed amazing. How did they survive?

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Ferguson: Anthropologists Speak Out

Race and injustice and anger and fear. All of these and more in the wake of the grand jury decision in the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. What do anthropology and anthropologists have to say about all of this? What can we say? What must we do? We have research and writings, personal and professional experiences to draw upon, we have suggestions to make, students to teach, and together a world to remake into a more racially just society. With all of this in mind, we invited a group of scholars to share their thoughts on Ferguson, Michael Brown’s death, the legal process, police violence, racism, and being present right now as anthropologists. Below are responses from Lee Baker, Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Lynn Bolles, Agustín Fuentes, and Alvaro Jarrin. Thank you all.

Lee D. Baker, “Obama, Race, and Privilege”

On the evening of November 24, 2014 President Barack Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown to death on that fateful evening in Fergusson, Missouri last summer. President Obama had to strike a delicate balance between supporting the legitimacy of the grand jury decision and supporting the legitimacy of the anger and frustration ignited by police brutality that all-too often targets young black men. Continue reading

Nothing like #Ferguson to Reveal those Closeted Racists (in Anthropology)

We all knew it was going to happen. For a couple weeks, we kept hearing about how the Grand Jury decision was going to happen at any moment. The governor called in the National Guard and declared a state of emergency; businesses in Clayton, MO (a small affluent suburb of St. Louis) started boarding up windows and blockading the streets. And then came Monday morning: as I left home for school, I saw the news. The city was wrapping monuments to keep them from being vandalized. As Michael Che commented on SNL: That’s like your lawyer telling you to show up to court in something orange. Continue reading

Ferguson: A Blog Entry

Savage Minds has gotten a lot more sophisticated than we were when we first started this blog almost ten years ago: We have guest bloggers, comp’d copies of books for our book reviews, and polished, seven thousand word interviews. And for the past couple of years we’ve also gotten an increased amount of accolades and recognition for some reason — mostly because we’ve been able to stay around longer than most.

But I feel that somewhere in this mix of newfound coordination and respectability we’ve gotten away a little bit from our origins as bloggers: entries that represent raw, immediate, thought. Entries that don’t figure out what their point is until the end, entries where the reader can feel you writing the piece, thinking alongside them.

That’s why I want to write something now about Ferguson, Michael Brown, and Darren Wilson even though I don’t know what I want to say. I only know that I want — need — to say something. Continue reading

Where to publish in OA anthropology

Below is a list of open access English language cultural anthropology titles with general information about the journal’s policies and website for authors to consider when choosing a venue to publish their work. If you would like to learn more about the various Creative Commons licenses, check this link. Journal titles with some missing descriptive data have been contacted and updates will be ongoing as they respond. Note that the inclusive dates after the title are meant to describe what is available to read freely online, which may or may not represent the true life of the journal.

For a more comprehensive listing of titles, including multidisciplinary journals of interest to cultural anthropologists, see this earlier post. My plan is to update this post with those additional titles in the spring semester.

Africa Spectrum, 2009-2014
Affiliation/ Sponsor: GERMAN INSTITUTE OF GLOBAL AND AREA STUDIES
Scope: “current issues in political, social and economic life; culture; and development in sub-Saharan Africa”

  • Usage: CC-BY-ND
  • Peer review: YES
  • Author fee: NO
  • Abstracts: YES
  • Keywords: YES
  • Social network buttons: NO
  • Persistent ID for articles: URN
  • View open metadata: YES
  • Data preservation: Hamburg University Press & German National Library

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Thinking through the untranslatable

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Kevin Carrico as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Kevin is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for US-China Issues, having completed his PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at Cornell University in 2013. His research focuses upon the implications of Han nationalism for ethnic relations in China. He is a contributor to Cultural Anthropology’s special issue on Self-Immolation as Protest in Tibet, and his translation of Tsering Woeser’s Self-immolation in Tibet is forthcoming from Verso Press in 2015.)

I recently finished translating a book, Tsering Woeser’s Self-Immolation in Tibet (Immolation au Tibet, la honte du monde), in a project that combines the two main components of my career path thus far: translation and anthropology. Prior to my graduate work, I was a translator of Chinese and French documents in Shanghai. And now as an anthropologist, I still engage in the occasional translation of texts that I consider uniquely insightful. This brief essay is an attempt to think through the relationship between these two activities via my recent work on self-immolation in Tibet. Continue reading

Boas and the Monolingualism of the Other

Kwakiutl texts

In my last post on Bauman and Briggs Voices of Modernity I explored their argument that Boas’s notion of culture makes it seem like a prison house from which only the trained anthropologist is capable of escaping. In doing so, however, I only really presented half of their argument. The book has two interrelated themes: One is a Foucauldian genealogy of the concepts of science, culture, race, language, and nation (as seen through the rise of folklore studies). The other is a Latourian exploration of the construction of folklore as a science. This is done by exploring how oral traditions were turned into texts, and thus evidence of traditional culture (however that was defined). Aubrey, Blair, the Grimm brothers, and Schoolcraft were each faced with hybrid oral texts whose own modernity (as contemporary documents) belied their perceived scientific value as authentic remnants of ancient cultures. For this reason the texts underwent tremendous alterations, if not outright fabrication, by these scholars in order to make them suitable for their own purposes. The book traces how these processes of entextualization were shaped by each scholar’s concepts of science, culture, race, language, and nation.

So where does Boas fit into all of this? Continue reading

Anthropology: It’s still white public space–An interview with Karen Brodkin (Part I)

The following is an interview with Karen Brodkin, Professor Emeritus in the UCLA anthropology Department.

Ryan Anderson:  You co-wrote an article back in 2011 with Sandra Morgen and Janis Hutchinson about anthropology as “white public space” (AWPS).  What’s your assessment of the state of anthropology three years later?  If you could add an “update” to this article, what would it be?

Karen Brodkin: The short answer is that anthropology is still white public space, especially in the consistently different ways that white and racialized minority anthropologists see race and racism in anthropology departments and universities. This is my reading of results of the 2013 online survey of the AAA membership (more on that in a minute). What I’ll do here is summarize the findings of the article, and then survey findings that buttress, complicate or contradict them.

AWPS was based on a survey of about 100 anthropologists of color about how they experienced anthropology. We used “white public space,” to sum up attitudes and organizational patterns that told anthropologists of color that they and their ideas were not real anthropology.

The 2013 survey (referred to hereafter as TFRR) was developed by the Task force on Race and Racism appointed by AAA president Leith Mullings (full disclosure, Raymond Codrington and I were its co-chairs). More than 15% of the membership, 1500 people, mostly white, took it. Half were faculty. We reported findings to the AAA Exec Board June 2014. Continue reading

Anthropology Fluxx

I’m a big tabletop gamer and my wife has supernatural card playing abilities inherited from her mother. When our schedules synch up and we have a night off together we’re liable to put away a couple of bottles of wine playing Ticket to Ride after the kids go to bed. In my search for new games I happened upon the Fluxx series and now we’re hopeless addicts. I conceived this anthropology themed version of Fluxx in the haze of summer. It was printed and beta tested in the fall. Now I’m bringing it to the AAA’s. If anyone wants to play, hit me up!

Fluxx is a humorous card game of winning tricks that is very chaotic because the rules of the game are constantly changing. So there is a fair amount of luck involved, but the more you play the game skill can become involved as you learn how to navigate around the obstacles that randomly pop up along the way. Obviously you can get them on Amazon, they also carry them at Barnes & Noble and Target so run out and get a pack if this sounds like fun to you. There’s a bunch of titles in the series and they’re all great in their own way, but the best one to play with little kids is Monster Fluxx.

The core game concepts go like this. You have a draw pile, a discard pile, cards in your hand, and Keepers which are (green) cards played on the table in front of you. The object of the game is to match Keepers to (pink) Goals. There are also (blue) Action cards which give you different advantages and allow you to change the rules or attack your opponents. There are (purple) Surprise cards that you can play whether or not it is your turn. Finally there are (yellow) New Rule cards which define how each turn is played. The New Rule cards dictate how many cards you draw, how many cards you can play in a turn, how many Keepers you can have in front of you, and how many cards you can hold in your hand. There are lots of other weird things along the way that I’m skipping over for the sake of brevity.
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When life hands you a coffee plantation, make espresso

I started a new article recently on the life and thought of Bernard Narokobi, one of Papua New Guinea’s most influential thinkers. The paper grew out of my book, which has a significant section on Narokobi at the end. Expanding the material in the book into a whole article has involved digging deep, deep into the stacks and has gotten me thinking about what a funny thing research is, and what its goals are. I look at it this way: When life hands you a coffee plantation, make espresso.

Life is, after all, like a huge coffee plantation — perhaps one left fallow and running wild — and our articles about it are like espresso: distilled, highly processed condensations of the real thing.

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Risk and Blame in L’Aquila

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Elizabeth Angell.

Yesterday an Italian appeals court reversed the convictions of all but one of seven scientists and experts charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to provide adequate warning before the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake.  (The conviction of Bernardo De Bernardinis, former deputy head of Italy’s Civil Protection Department, was partially upheld, but his sentence was reduced to two years instead of six.1) As an anthropologist studying disaster and risk, I’m doubly interested in the L’Aquila story, both as an example of the search for accountability in the aftermath of disaster, and for what it tells us about the ways knowledge, particularly knowledge about risk, circulates between expert communities of scientists and officials and broader publics.

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Boas and the Culture of Racism

The question is not that Boas was wrong about culture. It is rather that he told anthropologists that they are the only ones who are right.

This quote is from the conclusion to the penultimate chapter of Bauman and Briggs’ award-winning book Voices of Modernity. The book employs a Foucauldian genealogical approach to trace the development of folklore studies from its roots in the Scottish Enlightenment, through its development under German Romanticism, ending up with Boas and the birth of anthropology. In doing so the book focuses on a number of interrelated ideas about culture, language, and modernity as well as methodological issues in the creation of texts from oral traditions. When they awarded the book with the Edward Sapir Book Prize the Society for Linguistic Anthropology wrote:

Bauman and Briggs argue that contemporary efforts to make schemes of social inequality based on race, gender, class and nationality seem compelling and legitimate, rely on deeply rooted ideas about language and tradition. Showing how critics of modernity unwittingly reproduce these foundational fictions, they suggest new strategies for challenging the undemocratic influence of these voices of modernity.

While these themes run throughout their book, they sometimes seem to have only historical importance. After all, scholars like Herder or the Grimm brothers are associated with the rise of nationalism and so there doesn’t seem much that is “unwitting” in their reproduction of these ideologies. It is only in the penultimate chapter on Boas, a scholar known for his critiques of racism and nationalism, that the relevance of these earlier scholars (and the importance of the genealogical method) really becomes clear to the reader. In this genealogy Boas is “ego,” but before this chapter he has been absent from the story.

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