Just when you think that The Bell Curve has been thoroughly debunked, it rears its ugly head…again. It’s like a weed that just won’t go away–and that should give us something to think about. Charles Murray, one of the authors of that book, is apparently on a US tour promoting his ideas about intelligence and race to a new generation. Oh great. But, all things considered, we shouldn’t be surprised that these ideas have once again resurfaced in the public sphere (they never really went anywhere, after all). Now is probably a good time to ask why these ideas persist, and why they get so much applause and support from certain segments of American society. Hmmm.
I’ve been hoping for an anthropological response to Murray’s latest quest to share his “knowledge” with the world, and this week there were two. First we had Agustin Fuentes share his response to Murray’s talk at Notre Dame. Fuentes comes in at about 53:00 (see YouTube video below), but it might be a good idea to watch the whole thing if you haven’t encountered the work of Mr. Murray. Just in case you don’t know the lay of the psuedoscientific landscape. I also suggest reading the late Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” if you haven’t already. That will definitely get you up to speed. Here’s the short version of what Fuentes had to say:
“your assertions are unsupported, unscientific, simplistic, myopic, agenda driven propaganda” Me to Charles Murray today
And then Jon Marks wrote this great response on his blog. In it he covers a bit of the history behind Murray and his ideas, and examines the question of whether or not he should be invited to college campuses. Here’s part of Marks’ answer:
We should not be debating the innate intelligence of black people, or of the poor, on college campuses or anywhere. It is a morally corrupt pseudoscientific proposition.
It’s like inviting a creationist or an inventor of a perpetual motion machine. The university should not be a censor, but it sure as hell is a gatekeeper. At this point, sometimes they go all radical epistemological relativist and and say that all ideas deserve a hearing. But all ideas don’t deserve a hearing. The universe of things that do get discussed and debated on college campuses is rather small in proportion to the ideas that people have debated over the years. Should we stone witches? No. Might the speed of light be 140,000 miles per second, rather than 186,000? No. Might the universe just be made up of earth, air, water, and fire? No. Might Africans just be genetically stupid? Might people who want to debate this point have their fundamental civic morality called into question instead?
Well said, Mr. Marks. There you have it. Check out both, then post your comments below or on twitter: @anthropologia and/or @savageminds.
There’s a certain trope that has been going around for years, and it has hit a peak these days as many people express their collective shock and surprise at recent events here in the USA. The narrative uses a family metaphor to talk about the problems of race and racism—and specifically the difficulties of confronting racism.
This was a close election. What impact would every hard conversation you wish you had with close-minded friends & family members have made?
The narratives center upon the figure of the stereotypical family member, like the old racist uncle. This narrative goes something like this: White liberals think of themselves as progressive and they condemn racism, etc. They “get it,” you know, and want to do something about the issue, and are definitely not racist. But, there’s a problem. They have a lot of family members who don’t think this way, and it’s often uncomfortable to deal with them and talk about issues of race and racism. It’s those family members who are the bigoted, racist, 19th century leftovers, and, therefore, the real problem. The racist uncle personifies this conflict:
In Trump’s America, every day is now Thanksgiving at your racist uncle’s house.
One response to this trope is that white liberals need to just get over it and confront their collective racist uncles (read: the older generations who still hold onto strong prejudices and hatreds). This is perhaps not a bad starting point. But there’s something deeper to think about here. Another response critiques the whole scenario, arguing that the trope of the old racist uncle is just an excuse people use to avoid talking about and dealing with the broader causes and conditions of racism. That hypothetical family member is a rhetorical device that people use as a point of comparison to say “Hey, at least I’m not like that.” Continue reading →
For some people, the election that just took place might seem like just another choice between the lesser of two evils. One more election that we all learn to deal with, but that won’t fundamentally change much about their daily lives. But this isn’t everyone’s reality. For many people around the country the results of this election, which was fueled by messages of hate, bigotry, racism, and intolerance, has devastating implications. It’s not a matter of if it will affect their lives, but when and how. It is a privileged position to see this as “just another election” that we lament, accept, and endure. Many people here simply do not and will not have this choice.
Shaun King’s Twitter timeline this past week was just one indication of what these election results portend: a surge of racist, bigoted attacks across the country. This election has empowered and emboldened many people to express their contempt, disdain, and hate. According to local news reports, a Muslim woman at San Diego State University was attacked and robbed by two men who made comments “about President-elect Trump and the Muslim community.” This incident took place at 2:30 pm on Wednesday (November 9th). In a separate incident on the same day, a swastika and the words “Heil Trump” were painted on the sidewalk at a UC San Diego bus stop. Continue reading →
[Savage Minds is pleased to present an invited post from Mike Agar. Mike Agar left academia in 1996 with an early emeritus exit from the University of Maryland and now works in New Mexico as Ethknoworks (ethknoworks.com for details on his checkered past and present). His long life on drugs is described in Dope Double Agent: The Naked Emperor on Drugs. He recently published The Lively Science: Rebuilding Human Social Research and currently works on water governance in the Southwest.]
The phone was ringing and the message light blinking when I walked into the project office in Baltimore. Fred, an outreach counselor my age with whom I’d worked on a Johns Hopkins project, had already shown me a copy of our flyer that he’d gotten I didn’t know where. “It’s all over the streets,” he said with the sideways smile he used when he knew he had me inside a teaching moment.
It was the late 90s and I’d just started running a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to figure out why illegal drug epidemics happened. Yet another white researcher in a majority black city. Though I lived in a suburb near the University of Maryland, College Park, from which I’d resigned in 1996, I wanted to do the project in Baltimore because I’d done work there before consulting with Hopkins public health and I was weary of the strange city that Washington was and is. Many people in Washington said that Baltimore is a “real” city.” Continue reading →
I think there are two very different ways of talking about race and racism which frequently get conflated, and I think this confusion is responsible for a lot of wasted energy in various online debates. The same goes for discussions about gender and sexism. On the one hand we have a moralistic view of racism/sexism. This view seems more likely to be held by people who are decrying accusations of racism/sexism than by those who try to call attention to them, but not exclusively. Those who call out racism/sexism, on the other hand, are more likely to be talking about race/gender as technologies of power which work to systematically marginalize certain voices (and certain lives) than they are to be accusing anyone in particular of being immoral.
In this piece I would like to explain, in detail, why I think Peter Wood’s recent piece in Anthropology News is fundamentally misguided. For a lot of readers, there will be no point in my doing so — they will just write Wood off as ‘racist’ and move on. I’m, shall we say, extremely sympathetic to this point of view. But I do think that Wood’s piece deserves some scrutiny to explain why so many people find it so misguided.
In his piece, Wood takes issue with four essays in Anthropology News responding to the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent reaction in Ferguson. Wood argues that the essays are “a retelling of… the left’s canonical myth of Ferguson: facts submerged in a sea of fiction”. He goes on to argue that these authors’ accounts of Ferguson ignore “the record of events established by the grand jury”. He claims that the concepts of “structural violence” and “structural inequality” used in the essays are “intellectually lazy simplifications of complex social circumstances” which “remove all moral and social responsibility from the actors who are portrayed as victims”. In doing so, he claims, anthropology “erases the motives of key participants and reduces them to objects acted on by invidious external forces”. In the end, Wood claims, it is a “just-so story that America is a nation run by privileged whites determined to maintain their privilege.” In fact, he says, “this is, quite plainly, a myth. There is nothing in the realm of fact to support it.”
These are amazing claims, and it is difficult to understand how Wood can make them in the face of an overwhelming body of evidence that proves exactly the opposite of what he claims. Wood is clearly not stupid. Charitable readers will assume that he is not evil. The nicest interpretation of Wood’s position, therefore, is that he is simply ignorant.
Almost five months into the epidemic, on August 8, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a “public health emergency of international concern.” Military and police responses — both international and national — played a crucial role in responses to the epidemic. A few weeks later, on August 20th, the Liberian military quarantined residents of West Point in the capital city of Monrovia without advance warning, essentially cutting them off from food and supplies and causing thousands of residents to clash with troops and riot police. Images surfaced of troops firing live rounds and tear gas and viciously beating back residents who challenged the lockdown. Military-enforced quarantines around entire districts of Sierra Leone and the shift of power from the ministry of health to the ministry of defense were key features of its Ebola response.
Across the Atlantic, on August 9, 2014, 18-year old unarmed Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Peaceful protests and civil disorder ensued in the following weeks, prompting the governor to declare a “state of emergency” and call on local police and the National Guard to control protests and maintain curfews. Greater public attention was placed on the increasing militarization of local police forces as the grand jury, which was convened to hear evidence of the circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown, reached a decision not to indict Officer Wilson. Continue reading →
This is the second part of my interview with Karen Brodkin. Part I is here.
Ryan Anderson: All of this has me wondering how this is happening in US anthropology. As a discipline, we have this sort of pride that comes with our Boasian legacy of anti-racism. But your work seems to indicate that something is terribly amiss. Despite all of our rhetoric about anti-racism, it turns out we have some serious internal problems when it comes to race and diversity. In your view, how has this happened and why do we tell ourselves such a different story?
Karen Brodkin: In its institutional profile, anthropology is not much different from other white-majority institutions, and like them, we also think we’re doing better than especially non-white anthropologists think we are. I’ve used “white public space” to highlight the different views that white and racialized minority anthropologists have about anthropology’s racial climate. But knowing that only raises two more questions. What are the specific practices and narratives that have led anthropologists of color give the discipline’s racial climate low marks over some 40 years? And, what are the positive changes anthropologists have been making within their departments and scholarly networks? Both these efforts and conversations about them need a bigger public profile within the discipline. Continue reading →
(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 →
“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 →
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 →
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 →