The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery are abhorrent, and they are only the most recent incidents of long-standing anti-Black violence perpetuated by police and ordinary citizens in the United States. Indeed, this nation’s origins lie in slavery and in genocide, and these recent murders are part of a broader system of white supremacy, and of a profound anti-Blackness, that remains entrenched. The Society for Cultural Anthropology stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and with the uprising we are witnessing across the United States and across the world, to demand justice for the victims of anti-Black violence, to hold accountable the powers that perpetuate racist policing and a racist “justice” system, and to enable the dismantling of white supremacy.
SCA also takes seriously the recent charge by the Association of Black Anthropologists in its Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Racism to interrogate the ways in which the practice—and professionalization—of anthropology has been complicit in the project of white supremacy and other forms of exclusion and privilege in this country (and elsewhere). To amplify the ABA’s statement to our membership, we reproduce it in full below, but we want to highlight in particular two paragraphs that we take to heart as an association as we begin to examine our own role in that project of white supremacy and to take steps to decolonize our association, and the discipline as a whole:
. . . we firmly assert the nearly-universal claim that “Black Lives Matter,” from allies and supporters, need to be followed up with both introspection and clear and concrete measures for redress and restitution. This action is especially crucial for the discipline of anthropology.
We urge our non-Black anthropology colleagues, especially our White colleagues who tend to reproduce the toxic effects of whiteness in anthropology departments, think tanks, research groups, and other spaces where anthropology is practiced across the nation, to move beyond the soul searching, despondency, and white guilt that this moment (and similar other moments) has engendered. Instead, we want members of the discipline to start at “home,” to accept the ways that anthropology has been and continues to be implicated in the project of white supremacy (both in its implicit and explicit manifestations) and to lay out a clear path for moving forward. . . . This call to recognition and action is only the first step in the discipline’s long journey towards decolonization.
We want to make it clear that dismantling white supremacy in anthropology (and beyond) is not, and should not be, the responsibility of those who suffer its effects; rather, that responsibility lies with those who benefit from its privileges. Recognizing that the journey toward decolonizing the discipline is, as the ABA Statement notes, a long one (and only one part of decolonizing struggles to repatriate Indigenous land and life), we will turn a critical lens on our own “home” in order to examine how, and in what ways, long-entrenched power relations continue to dominate the anthropology we do. We realize that self-examination is not enough, however, and we plan to formulate concrete steps that can counteract the toxic effects of whiteness in the academic and non-academic settings where we practice anthropology. In so doing, we seek to remake our association into one that embraces and promotes—intellectually and institutionally—the decolonization of anthropology. The Society for Cultural Anthropology takes as our responsibility to critique and dismantle institutional hierarchies and privilege within our own discipline, and to diversify/globalize/innovate beyond. In moving forward, we see our endeavors as both pressing and humble: to listen, to labor, to join others in working towards a better world.
As one small step in that process, we encourage our members to join BLM’s #ShutdownSTEM and #ShutdownAcademia initiative on June 10th to give Black academics and researchers a day of rest and healing while white and non-Black People of Color educate themselves and make concrete plans to eradicate anti-Black racism in academia.
ABA STATEMENT AGAINST POLICE VIOLENCE AND ANTI-BLACK RACISM
June 6, 2020
Almost six years ago the Association of Black Anthropologists staged a memorable die-in and issued a statement in protest against anti-Black racism in the U.S. Today, the U.S. is in flames again because of the escalating domestic terrorism of white vigilantes and police officers who, in a span of months, killed unarmed Ahmaud Aubrey while jogging in a South Georgia neighborhood, unarmed Breonna Taylor in her apartment in Louisville, KY, unarmed George Floyd with a cop’s knee on his neck in Minneapolis, MN, and unarmed Black trans man Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL. In March 2020, police and paramedics watched as Monika Diamond, a Black trans woman, was shot to death in Charlotte, NC as paramedics were treating her in an ambulance. These murders are in addition to the continuing weaponizing of whiteness - as the country witnessed a white woman threaten to call the police on Black man Christian Cooper who was bird watching in Central Park, New York.
This pandemic of anti-black racism also finds equal expression in the disproportionate impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the Black population. Though representing only 13 percent of the population, Black Americans account for almost one-third of infections nationwide, and Black Americans are dying of COVID-19 at three times the rate of white people. This health disparity and inequity is the result of Black Americans not only comprising a majority of “essential” jobs that put them at increased risk for COVID-19 infection; it is also the result of centuries of marginalization, disenfranchisement, and stress that translates into poorer health outcomes (co-morbidities or underlying conditions especially) that, again, put Black Americans at increased risk for infection.
As it pertains to the ongoing atrocities of the criminal policing system and the accumulated health effects of racism in this country, we charge genocide as we did in 2014.
White supremacist violence is at the heart of the founding of the United States. While the extreme manifestations of this genocidal violence take many forms, and ebbs and flows, the structures remain in place. For Black people, this has meant incalculable racial terror and a continuous struggle against numerous systems of oppression - the policing and carceral apparatus, the inequitable health care system, the education apparatus, social and economic hierarchies, and neoliberal policies among others. Our resolve and determination against these systems of tyranny cannot be understated. But we are aware that there is no way forward if this foundational anti-Blackness is not acknowledged and reckoned with, in this country.
It is for this reason that we firmly assert the nearly-universal claim that “Black Lives Matter,” from allies and supporters, need to be followed up with both introspection and clear and concrete measures for redress and restitution. This action is especially crucial for the discipline of anthropology.
We urge our non-Black anthropology colleagues, especially our White colleagues who tend to reproduce the toxic effects of whiteness in anthropology departments, think tanks, research groups, and other spaces where anthropology is practiced across the nation, to move beyond the soul searching, despondency, and white guilt that this moment (and similar other moments) has engendered. Instead, we want members of the discipline to start at “home,” to accept the ways that anthropology has been and continues to be implicated in the project of white supremacy (both in its implicit and explicit manifestations) and to lay out a clear path for moving forward. We want members of the discipline of anthropology to see the ways that white supremacy is manifest in their curricula, syllabi, graduate student recruitment and mentoring, hiring, and promotion practices. We want them to see and correct their refusal or inability to teach race, racism, the pathology of whiteness, and the banality of white supremacy; their marginalization of Black scholars and their scholarship. We also challenge them to evaluate their commitment to being, paraphrasing the words of Black anthropologist, William S. Willis, "a discipline of the subjugated races." This call to recognition and action is only the first step in the discipline’s long journey towards decolonization.
As Black anthropologists, we have consistently demonstrated that there is much more to Black life than the need for affirmation from the very people abiding in systems that oppress us. Our global Black communities have always worked to destroy those systems. This moment is no different. We fully support the protests of rage and affirmation that have exploded throughout the country and throughout the world. And we condemn the current violent police repression at city, state, and national levels, including the call by the President of the United States and U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) to deploy U.S. military troops to disband the protest movements that have spread around the country. Not only are militaries ill-prepared and untrained for peacekeeping in civilian contexts, these irresponsible and inflammatory calls also court the deeper involvement of pro-Trump militias, many of whom are heavily armed, subscribe to white nationalist ideologies, and may react to what they perceive as an official call to violence in support of their leader. The use of the military will only further escalate violence, lead to loss of innocent life, violate core civil and human rights, and continue to polarize our citizenry and undermine democracy.
We demand a justice system that begins with the premise that policing is and always has been a form of white supremacy. We demand that local, city, and state governments engage in meaningful dialogue, which involves humbly listening to the protestors and taking their demands seriously.
We also encourage all anthropologists to donate to bail funds to free protestors, to continue to circulate information rooted in decolonized ethical research, to support movements for reparations for Black folks globally, and the ABA encourages Black people to protect their health (emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual) as we continue in this struggle.