UPDATED 10/29/17, 9:50 am: Edited to include links to helpful resources
During the first few months of ethnographic research, many cultural anthropologists recognize that the training you received in the classroom seldom prepares you for the spontaneous, erratic, and frequently daunting task of actually completing field research. You are (oftentimes, but not always) away from friends, family, and home—people and spaces that make you feel safe and empowered. You may be learning a new language, new geography, and trying to gain access to communities and institutions that are cautious about letting you in. Fieldwork is a process that one submits to—sometimes throwing caution to the wind and pushing oneself to talk to people, go to locations, and navigate situations you would never openly embrace at home or in your everyday life.
Unfortunately, because this fascinating and complex process does not happen in a vacuum, ethnographers must create relationships in the context of all the oppressions that operate in the world. In their call for a “fugitive anthropology,” Berry et al (forthcoming 2017) demand that we acknowledge and theorize the gendered, racialized, and sexualized violence that often constitutes the field and fieldwork for women of color and queer ethnographers. They write that speaking of “fieldwork as an individualistic rite of passage often obscures its constitutive and interlocking racial and gender hierarchies and inequities” and favors “the emblematic racially privileged male anthropologist” (1-2). The writers offer fugitive anthropology as a tool for resistance to anthropology’s “implicit masculinist ‘shut up and take it’ mentality in reference to gendered violence in the field” (2). Recognizing that women are three times more at risk than men for experiencing sexual harassment or assault in the field, I share three fieldwork stories here hoping to contribute to the discussion about the politics of gendered and sexualized violence in the field and fieldwork, particularly for women of color ethnographers.
Anthrodendum welcomes guest blogger Bianca C. Williams.
Sunday night, October 15, I watched women across my social media timeline bravely and vulnerably share their stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment as part of the collective conversation tagged #MeToo. I contributed my own #MeToo post after reading the initial three shares by friends, writing that I did not think I knew a woman who had not experienced some form of sexualized violence. Within two hours, hundreds of my friends, colleagues, and former students had added their voices to the orchestra of rage, sadness, disappointment, indignation, frustration, and stoic resolve accompanying #MeToo. I experienced it like it was an atmosphere-piercing, discursive crescendo. As a Black feminist anthropologist who studies, teaches, and experiences the intricate ways patriarchy, misogyny, and misogynoir shape our educational institutions and lives, you would think I wouldn’t have been surprised by the sheer vastness of the stories this hashtag brought to the digital surface. But I was. And I simultaneously wasn’t. I knew the boundless reach of sexualized violence, and yet seeing its pervasiveness in the most-heartbreaking narratives of those in my communities made it more real. And then to see a few men in my timeline express shock, disbelief, and dismissive sentiments—as if they haven’t been listening to us for decades, generations—made me angry. However, it was the silence from the majority that made me livid. But isn’t silence part of how oppression works?
I went to sleep. And then I woke in the middle of the night in a fright, uncomfortable with my post so clearly being visible online. Initially, I posted my #MeToo in solidarity with my sistas and sibs who wanted to share their stories, and to support those in community who were hesitant because they thought they were the only ones. But as I thought about the stories of rape and sexual assault of those closest to me, I wondered if my “tame” encounters with sexualized violence even counted in comparison to theirs. I took my post down, giving myself permission to be unsure and unresolved. I’m usually pretty transparent, even in a profession that values obscurity and inaccessibility as intellect. I attempt to practice radical honesty in discussions, writing, and teaching, believing that narrative as truth-telling is a form of resistance. But for the first time in a while, leaning into the truth didn’t feel right. Not yet. All I could do was lay there in my bed, wondering if the experiences of unwelcome attention; touching; uncomfortable conversations filled with sexual innuendo were enough to validate my public #MeToo. That might seem foolish, but again, isn’t this how oppression works? Isn’t it a force that would ask one to quantify and qualify one’s pain, wondering if it is “bad” enough to count as sexual assault?
[Savage Minds is pleased to present the last essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” In the past week, events have taken place in Minneapolis and Chicago which demonstrate the need for even more fieldnote reporting and analysis of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the impact it is having in this moment of social and political transformation, and the violence these change agents are encountering from police and others. We find ourselves experiencing deja vu–a moment terribly similar to the one we experienced on November 24th last year, when the killer of Michael Brown was not indicted in Ferguson, Missouri and the streets erupted. And yet this moment is slightly different–filled with the energy, hope, persistence, and radical communal love of those that have been consistently fighting against white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and police violence for over 365 days, and are strengthened by the victories they have accomplished during this time. We shall not be moved.
As editors of this series (and another that will be published in Anthropology News early next year), Bianca Williams and Dana-Ain Davis hope that these reflections from the ever-shifting ground of this Movement will inform you, encourage you, challenge you, and move you into action. This last essay is by Lynn Roberts, a professor of Community Health Education in the Program in Urban Public Health at Hunter College. Dr. Roberts’ research examines the intersection of race, class, and gender, and the resulting impact of multiple oppressions on the dating relationships and sexual behaviors of young women and men of color. She writes about her journey to the Movement for Black Lives Convening this past summer, and shines light on the healing process that is integral to the journey of getting free.]
My bus rolled into the Cleveland bus station on Chester Avenue at 2:30 AM on Saturday July 25 for Day 2 of the Movement for Black Lives National Convening (a.k.a. M4BL). This was a gathering of 1500 unapologetically Black family members in tremendous need and want of safe space and communion with each other to grieve, heal, and breathe from the days, months, decades, and even centuries of being denied equal protection and remedy from the state violence visited upon the collective body of our kinfolk. In the Newark bus station on Friday evening, I sat riveted by the live-stream of the M4BL Opening Ceremonies and quietly wept as the families of those lost in the distant and recent reign of terror against Black bodies shared fond memories of their loved ones, so we could lift up the beautiful and precious humanity behind the hashtags and viral videos to be reminded: “This Is Why We Fight!” Calling upon the joy of resistance and ditching the pious sanctimony of my early roots in the A.M.E. Zion church I imagined myself rising up out of my waiting room seat in jubilee with my fellow family members as they danced through the aisles, and filled the stage of the Waet Jen Auditorium of Cleveland State University (CSU) to Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop anthem of blessed assurance that “We Gon’ Be Alright”. Having this virtual connection almost made up for not directly experiencing the beloved community, strategic insights, and healing offered in the 50 workshops and film screenings that took place earlier in the day. Continue reading
[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
[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
[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
[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:
‘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.’
[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