Friends & Colleagues,
The president and board of directors for Anthropology of Consciousness (AC) are angered by the unjustified killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain, Botham Jean, Eric Grner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Philandro Castile, and the countless others whose names have not been afforded the national spotlight during this ongoing, multi-generational social crisis. AC’s organizational heart breaks for all those whom are forced to endure systemic and continued violence, especially at the hands of law enforcement. We recognize the plight of all marginalized communities, starting with the world’s Indigenous populations as they try to survive and maintain their cultural roots amidst the constant onslaught of brutal and dehumanizing colonial oppression. But we also wish to recognize the particular strain of racism, anti-Blackness, that infects so much of the collective hearts and minds of the American cultural landscape. As researchers committed to the study of symbolic, shamanic, and integrative consciousness, we wish to affirm the notion that no human being or community is truly free to explore the contours of their own consciousness, cultural memory, or symbolic inheritance if they remain in perpetual states of fear for their own safety at the hands of militant agents of socioeconomic status quo.
One of the founders of modern anthropology, Zora Neale Hurston, wrote in her seminal work Their Eyes Were Watching God, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” In fact, this quoteserves as the basis for the theme of next year’s national American Anthropological Association conference in November 2021: Truth & Responsibility. But it is much more than that. It is also a prescient reminder, a clarion call, that the great work of our time is to be aware of the drastically shifting cultural landscapes we inhabit and the challenges and opportunities this provides for those who are committed to remaking the world along compassionate and life-affirming lines. For far too long, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 2020 C.E., we are long overdue to begin to “answer” for the scourge of racism that has plagued our nation, and our world, for centuries.
AC also recognizes that the discipline of anthropology itself has played a role in establishing these racist, discriminatory categories and systems. Some of the founding and prominent leaders of anthropology used their research to justify policies that led to the inequity, oppression, and violence that continues to plague Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in the United States and around the world today. Whether it be providing cover for colonial views of “race,” or simultaneously fetishizing and dismissing Indigenous life ways because they often conflict with modernist, Eurocentric epistemologies, anthropologists and anthropology have unfortunately promoted “academic” justifications for systemic and widespread inequity as much as they have worked to dismantle them.
Of course there are other, and perhaps older, forms of dismantling the dignity of the Other. But the recent police violence towards communities of color in general, and Black men in particular, is the result of the multi-generational fallout from the colonial structures of aggregating capital which have always sustained themselves on the commodification of the dark bodies of non-Europeans. The very invention of race, was almost entirely a banking enterprise, meant to increase and protect profit margins. This is what we are speaking to now because this is what has Black bodies still being annihilated by law enforcement in broad daylight. This is what has “seasonal laborers” locked in cages at the USA’s southern border. This is what has the world’s First Peoples living in concentration camps and as perpetual refugees in their own land.
The ways in which these recursive systems of oppression permeate the discipline of anthropology and modern “Western” academia are manifold and deeply rooted. Many anthropologists who are people of color are not just troubled by the discipline’s problematic history, but also see obstacles to equity and inclusion still very much operative within the field. Whether navigating the power dynamics of predominantly white male-dominated academic spaces, or witnessing how race and/or class position often prevents academics who are people of color from “givens” like travel, tenure, and sabbatical, the disease of racism continues to hinder the careers, opportunities, and contacts of people of color within the field.
We believe another important power dynamic to address is academia’s tendency to “talk down” to the lived experiences of people of color rather than practicing true egalitarian engagement. Many white scholars think they know, and can contextualize, the world and life experiences of marginalized peoples better; which is very alienating to those who may have direct experience with that which others have only studied or read about secondhand.
AC denounces white supremacy in all its manifestations even as we acknowledge our role in having contributed to and benefitted from the racist systems that still flourish within our academic associations and the nation at large. Through this statement we reaffirm that we’ve committed ourselves to a different course. Guided by our mission and values, we continue to evolve our programs to be more equitable, adaptive, and inclusive, particularly for communities of color. We also acknowledge that these communities are not homogenous in their identities and expressions.
An essential part of our pledge is to be active listeners and engaged allies in the fight to overturn any systems of thought or institutions that place relative human worth on individuals and communities because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, physical and mental abilities, or religious faith. Our role in the promotion of literature also demands that we actively fight racism in publishing, especially academic publishing: a historically exclusive and inequitable industry. We still have lots of work to do here as well, but no challenge will waver our commitment.
As a society of scholars committed to the study of human complexity and diversity, mediated through the cornerstone of consciousness, AC stands firmly with the people, organizations, and institutions protesting the recent and ongoing violence perpetrated against Black people in American culture. Alongside the disproportionate deaths from COVID-19 occurring in Black, brown, and Indigenous communities, these fatalities stem from the systemic racism embedded in U.S. society and institutions. We are committed to using our work and voices to dismantle the systems that have brought us to this painful place today.
In fact, our organization was founded as a challenge to the way modern anthropology placed certain cultural and epistemological frames above others in pursuit of primarily Western, materialist, and ultimately colonial structures of academic inquiry. We remain as committed to this challenge today as when we were founded. AC has greatly benefitted over the last decade from the invaluable voices of the women of color who have occupied our board of directors, the presidency of the organization, and senior editor positions on our journal team. We have worked to amplify the visibility of Indigenous communities who are being decimated by the ravages of colonial oppression and resource extraction. We aim to bring scholars from all over the world to our annual conferences and events to diminish the centrality of Eurocentric thought within academic discourse. But our organization still has a long way to go in addressing the disease of racism and anti-Blackness within our nation, within academia and the discipline of anthropology itself, and within our own ranks.
There is a quote attributed to the late anthropologist Ruth Benedict that suggests, “The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” The veracity of this attribution has been challenged over the years but the sentiment has resonated across the field of cultural anthropology because a revolution has been needed in our discipline for quite some time. Within our academic spaces, there are those who wish to prop up the pillars of hegemonic inequity and those who wish to tear them down. This battle is not new, and is far from over.
AC welcomes engagement with outside organizations and from our membership on how best to move forward with these goals. This is a call-to-action at organizational, institutional, and personal levels. In order to have any credibility and influence substantive change, we need to have accountability and action within our own profession. Within our own lives, families, and communities.
Below we offer specific, actionable ways to start moving forward together. We ask our members to advocate for change in their own institutions to revise the policies and procedures that perpetuate discrimination. Decolonize your teaching. Center marginalized voices in your classrooms, at meetings, and as editors, reviewers, and administrators. And most of all, listen to your colleagues and students who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Give them space to speak, to act, to exercise their judgment, and share their experiences. They have had to edit themselves for too long.
What We are Doing
- AOC has been committed to diversifying our board and leadership over the last several years, and even decades. With the addition of wonderful scholars like Dr. Diane Hardgrave, Dr. Akeia de Barros Gomes, and Dr. Nicole Torres to our presidency, board of directors, and journal team, we have made some small steps in busting up the white wall of experience at the top of our organization so that the voices of those traditionally left out of these conversations and decisions are now centered. More so at least. But we have a long way to go.
- We have devoted issues of our journal to topics such as the militarization of the USA’s southern border and the exploitation of the Peruvian Indigenous communities caused by Ayahuasca tourism and self-serving (mostly) white cultural anthropologists seeking to appropriate and monetize the traditions of the Indigenous communities in the region.
- We are hosting a panel at this year’s AAA conference entitled, “The Anthropologist as Other,” which is chaired by board member Dr. Akeia de Barros Gomes and is comprised mostly of women of color who will be challenging the practice of modern anthropology itself. The panel will explore how the discipline of anthropology as a whole is rooted in the displacement and denial of the subjectivity and ontological dignity of the very groups of people whose knowledge, rituals, practices, and wisdom it studies. We will also raise the funds to pay for conference and registration fees for these panelists as our board found it inappropriate to charge these participants to deliver a message such as theirs to our group and to the larger anthropological community. Stay tuned for the fundraiser if you have the means to contribute.
- We are in the preliminary stages of engaging The University of Missouri (Mizzou) through Dr. Stephen Graves, Dr. Karthik Panchanathan, and Dr. Greg Blomquist to host our 2022 section meeting at their institution on the topic of “Consciousness, the African Diaspora, and the Spirituality of Oppression.”
What Still Needs to Be Done
- So much. If you are familiar with our organization, you know that we have been trying to address the diseases of racism and Anti-Blackness within our collective and in the discipline of anthropology for some time. But we have much to learn and much work to do if we are to manifest any of this into the physical, professional, and liminal spaces we share with one another. This is where we need your help.
- If you are an anthropologist, psychologist, archaeologist, sociologist, or an academic in a related field who is a person of color, consider joining our organization and presenting a paper, leading a panel, or joining our board, journal team, or conference coordinator team.
- If you know of someone who fits the above description, please pass the invite along to them.
- If you are a member of our organization and/or have attended our events or engaged our journal and have some ideas on how we can make AC a more diverse, safe, accessible, and thriving international community, please contact us and share your ideas. Contact information can be found on our Facebook page and on our website: https://ac.americananthro.org
Ways to Engage in Action
Commit to Sustained Efforts to:
- Educate ourselves on how to be self-reflective, effective, and engaged allies.
- Create accountability mechanisms in our classrooms, departments, and institutions to challenge students or colleagues, especially those with power and position, who contribute to a discriminatory climate or hinder antiracist efforts.
- Establish a growth mindset in order to reflect on and be open to substantive change.
- Reflect on our assumptions about what constitutes “good” scholarship in our roles as editors, or reviewers of grants, publications, tenure dossiers, and graduate program or job applications.
- Recognize that our current systems of evaluation perpetuate structural inequalities. Improving our field can only come with substantive change in the culture and value system of academia and scholarship.
- Promote public discourse: including writing op-eds, facilitating or attending workshops, and other forms of relevant outreach.
- Develop and amplify programming focused on antiracism.
- Advocate for equal pay for our POC colleagues; recognize their invisible labor.
- Decolonize our teaching and our research by integrating marginalized voices into our syllabi, symposia, edited volumes, and invited speaker series (ideas and resources below).
Organizations Advocating for Reform & Racial Justice
- Black Lives Matter
- The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
- The ACLU
- Campaign Zero
- Black Visions Collective
- Know Your Rights Camp
- The Innocence Project
Decolonize and Recenter Your Teaching and Research
Resources on decolonizing your classroom and curriculum:
- Keikelame, M. J., & Swartz, L. (2019). Decolonising research methodologies: lessons from a qualitative research project, Cape Town, South Africa. Global health action, 12(1), 1561175. https://doi.org/10.1080/16549716.2018.1561175
- Linda Tuhawi-Smith’s 2013 book Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd.
- Louie, Dustin William, et al. 2017. Applying Indigenizing Principles of Decolonizing Methodologies in University Classrooms. Canadian Journal of Higher Education / Revue canadienne d’enseignement supérieur, 47(3): 16–33.
- Zavala, M., 2013. What do we mean by decolonizing research strategies? Lessons from decolonizing, Indigenous research projects in New Zealand and Latin America. Decolonization, Indigeneity Education and Society 2(1).
- This is an incredible tool (the writer calls it his “decolonization manifesto”) used by many Centers for Teaching Excellence.
- These also provide very accessible ideas and perspective:
- A conversation with Girish Daswani on decolonizing the classroom.
- Excellent resources by the NCTE on decolonizing your teaching.
- Sarris, Greg, 1993. Keeping Slug Woman alive: A holistic approach to American Indian texts. Berkeley: University of CA Press.
- Our website: https://ac.americananthro.org
Please, do not forget to take care of yourselves and each other. Check in on your colleagues. Avail yourself of the resources above. Reach out to our board members with ideas and concerns. Stayed tuned for opportunities to build from the outrage of recent days. And commit to being an active participant in co-creating a better future together.
We extend our support and compassion to everyone impacted by ongoing acts of racist violence and hatred. We, too, demand a just and equitable present and future, and a substantive accountability for the past. Finally, we ask our community to join us in active solidarity with all those who fight for justice, equity, and genuine communal healing across the world.
The Board of Directors and leadership of Anthropology of Consciousness