In my blog post on the Purpose of Living Anthropologically, I wrote that I wanted to be mindful of critiques of anthropology from people like Discuss White Privilege. In this post, I tried to revive the category of raw insights from Discuss White Privilege, in light of spring 2020 events in the United States and in US Anthropology. This post focused on US White Supremacy and US Anthropology.
In May-June 2020 the effects of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic combined with protests against ongoing police brutality combined to seriously threaten US institutions. Anthropology was similarly engulfed, as the American Anthropological Association was forced to cancel the 2020 Annual Meeting, while the Harvard Crimson published a devastating critique: Protected by Decades-Old Power Structures, Three Renowned Harvard Anthropologists Face Allegations of Sexual Harassment.
Discuss White Privilege, in exile from the United States and from Anthropology, has a lot to say about these issues and some trenchant analysis. I am transmitting below a sampling of her messages to me during late May and early June 2020. All comments and Twitter embeds are from Discuss White Privilege, in some cases slightly edited. As there is a call to #AmplifyBlackVoices, here are some words from a Black woman who was once part of one of the most prominent US anthropology departments. Please keep in mind that these were originally text messages, so there may be some fragments and incomplete sentences.
Connecting White Supremacy
I know I’m not alone in connecting Amy Cooper to George Floyd and the protests and saying it’s all part of the same Amerikkkan White supremacy problem. . . . I just am deeply depressed by the extent to which not caring about Black life and being able to cover up even the most blatant, witnessed, and documented abuse is the condition of both anthropology and the United States. Racism all around.
Also depressed because I know so many anthropologists truly can’t see the connection between the Harvard article and Amy Cooper and the current protests. Inability both to value Black life and understand how the White supremacy in anthropology is part of the White supremacy that killed Floyd, Cooper felt entitled to use, and the current protests. Vast majority of anthropologists not thinking about how race factors into the Harvard story and the differential retaliation that can be used to target a graduate student who reports harassment when that student is Black and especially dark-skinned. No thoughts about the race/color of the grad students being targeted by these three White male professors and how race/color affects who gets targeted, when, or how.
Academia and race-based police murder are obviously not the same – but our individual and collective failures on race are manifest in both – and eerily similar – decades of awareness, many “well-meaning” people and lots of words – but ultimately its all bullshit https://t.co/C5HW98F07I
— mbeisen (@mbeisen) June 1, 2020
On benefiting from White Supremacy
Some brave White person needs to shock the country and write a piece admitting how they really feel about racial equality. Something along the lines of: I’m a White person who wants to have “good politics,” but if I’m being truly honest with myself I don’t actually see Black people as my equal and enjoy benefiting from White supremacy. Of course it will never happen, but boy do I wish it could. Because at this point I’m never going to be able to do the ethnography that brings this dynamic to light.
Wonder why white people keep having to be pushed to stand up for racial justice? Because they keep on having their white privilege. White supremacy will not end until whiteness is no longer tied to economic, political and social dominance.
— Professor Fleming (@alwaystheself) June 1, 2020
Imagine that some people spent months mad that I had the audacity to argue the not-radical thought that anti-black racism is embedded in the very DNA of this country. Imagine.
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) June 1, 2020
I, a historian of racial capitalism, explained redlining to my white neighbor today, who responded "but how was that legal?" in literal disbelief.
Always amazed at how little white ppl know of the system designed to benefit them at the expense of everyone else.
— Dr. William Horne (@wihorne) June 1, 2020
100% applicable given the anti-Black racism I’ve been subjected to the last twelve years and how White anthropologists refuse to take me seriously and believe me or hold the abusers accountable because they refuse to believe the forms of White supremacist abuse I’m being subjected are true and how the system has always actually worked.
People being 1000% dishonest about where they were in 2008 about a Black person saying they had an Amy Cooper encounter or how a whole department will turn to such racial terrorism for retaliation against reporting harassment. Now a whole bunch of anthropologists are lying publicly to pretend they’ve always had good antiracist politics and believed that Obama-supporting educated White people will blatantly lie to police for revenge on an Ivy-educated Black person just to “put them in their place.” They are happy to call out what Amy Cooper did, but won’t call out their own colleagues who have done the same and went years not believing me when I said this kind of racist lying for revenge occurs and is perpetrated by liberal White anthropologists too.
How many times did people ask me for “evidence” of the racial terrorism I am still enduring and not believe me, read the “very dark-skinned South African” retaliation email and respond to it as no big deal, nor see it as racist, ask what I did to *deserve* this treatment/conclude I was at fault and this was a normal response. The extent to which so many anthropologists are now lying to themselves about their own racism and pretending the racism/anti-Blackness critique they now have has always been their politics. Whooo, boy… this is its own form of racist abuse I’m expected to endure, making my blood pressure rise and degrading my health.
On police & anthropology
This is one of the most absolutely insane moments I've ever seen on live television. pic.twitter.com/Uvzig8YGSa
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) June 2, 2020
Every White USian still in denial about how the police operate and make decisions based on racial bias in opposition to actual facts and the truth of what is going on should watch this video. Now people finally are seeing the racial terrorism that Berkeley anthropologists have used against me. This is what White Anthropology supports. Where are all those people who insisted if I was innocent and did nothing wrong how could I be falsely accused of a crime and legally harassed for years? Where are all those people now, who supported Berkeley/Sociopath in using the police to destroy my anthropology career via the lying for racist revenge on display in the Amy Cooper video? All the SM enablers of racist abuse, who constantly insisted I was just complaining about a personal dispute and my personal issues?
I'm reading a lot of statements that say the police are supposed to protect "us" so I'd just like to say that part of the reason Black people are rising up across the US is precisely bc the police have never protected *us.*
just a gentle reminder to be thoughtful about language!
— lil uzi veritas (@polumechanos) June 1, 2020
Please note this is the same playbook Berkeley used to smear me–I’m violent–to cover up public email bullying against me that followed private bullying by White (male) grad students and to cover up my proving I was innocent and had a racist sociopath file a false police report against me. Look at all the racist anthropologists who happily believed lies about me being a violent and crazy Black woman not telling the truth about conditions at Berkeley, just on the strength of the “violent darkie being unreasonable so we had to protect ourselves from this threat” lie. Always the same play book. But also notice how anthropology has not been analyzing the systematicity of these dynamics (in the United States).
Yes–no one wants a troublemaker in the midst. They make complacent people feel bad.
— Dr. Keisha N. Blain (@KeishaBlain) May 31, 2020
Everyday I see things I said for years and people dismissed as just me saying something trivial and idiosyncratic and not worth listening to. So exhausted from all the gaslighting/abuse/dismissal when I was always right and saying legitimate things
On Black immigrant parents
Top education, respectability politics out the wazoo, nit picking for us to be perfect–and yet many Black immigrant parents learned the hard way none of this protected their 1st Gen American children from their own colonizers.
— Octavia Butler knew… (@NotNikyatu) May 31, 2020
People thought I had become too bitter, always referring to the US as Amerikkka. Watching many people’s eyes now being opened as to why.
On martial law & coronavirus
Well, looks like the martial law I predicted when we first decided to leave the country in 2017 has become reality. Hope things are OK where you are
No joy in saying I was right. Just makes me more sad and angry
'Loot' is a Hindi word which entered the English language during the British colonial pillage of the indian subcontinent.
— Hassun El-Zafar (@HassunElZafar) May 30, 2020
If the widespread mobilization and coordination of government forces to repress protest tells us something, it’s that 100,000 Americans didn’t have to to die from covid. They had the capacity to respond quickly and broadly, they chose to let us die.
— Dr. Alison Heslin (@alisonheslin) June 2, 2020
Cowardice in Anthropology
On cowardice in anthropology. By the way, the only American Anthropological Association panel I organized was for the 2009 AAAs, which I was terrorized out of going to by Sociopath/Berkeley, called “A Discipline of Cowards,” specifically on this issue of anthropology now speaking out about racism and abuse in the discipline. Always a forerunner. Still being dragged for it
At least once a week, I think about all the times people who thought they had my best interests at heart discouraged me (and many colleagues) from using straightforward descriptive terms like “racism.”
— Victor Ray is Sheltering in Place (@victorerikray) May 31, 2020
I have long been living in this future/the future, waiting for anthropology to catch up. Still living in another future they still have yet to get to.
The anthropology post I’d love to see but will never happen: Discuss White Privilege was an Anthropological Prophet and We Should Have Listened to Her, Not Silenced and Harassed/Harmed Her.
Critiques I have been racially terrorized out of the academy and the United States for making years/decades ago are now mainstream and even co-opted by anthropologist abusers who dragged me. Who will tell the truth about this?
[Blog-author note: See the article by Gina Athena Ulysse Homage to Those Who Hollered before Me/Meditations on Inheritances and Lineages, Anthropological and Otherwise. I believe one message that “Discuss White Privilege” seeks to convey is how she was one of the people who “hollered.”]
Academia & Racism
Many of my Black friends and I have gotten messages from white colleagues asking about our well being and how they can help. Rather than burden us with your guilt, invite us to co-author papers and grants with you. Invite us to be on the symposium or be the guest speaker.
— Dr. Jasmine Abrams (@DrJasmineAbrams) June 3, 2020
A fairly radical proposal for white academics: if you see your white colleagues engaging in racist behaviour, call it out. If you see your white colleagues doubling down on racist behaviour, call it out. Still doing racisms? Don't collaborate with them or promote their work.
— Zara (@zaranosaur) June 2, 2020
Every time I see tweets like this I can only think two things:
- Could not be more glad to have moved away from the United States and at least have physical distance from the horrible racist abusers still not being called out publicly and held accountable by their colleagues; and
- it’s “funny” how other people always get to say and are rewarded for saying the very things that I’ve been harassed for saying years ago and being right about. How many times did anthropologists now saying they care about Black lives tell me I was being inappropriate, and “uncivil,” and “unprofessional,” and making “ad hominem” attacks for calling out racism in this very way?
I will believe Black Lives Matter when anthropology, and specifically the American Anthropological Association and its subsection organizations now making public statements, actually starts publicly calling out and sanctioning the known and documented racist abusers in its midst, like the people who retaliated against me via lying to say I am a violent criminal who assaults people. As I’ve long said to many people in the upper reaches of the AAA, nothing will change so long as people know about abuse and choose to stay silent instead of confronting it, especially when we all now know that universities consistently lie in order to cover up abuse and harassment: and so AAA needs to bring back its censure policy to address this pattern of systemic cover-up. So long as I don’t see anthropologists practicing the antiracism they publicly profess, by calling out colleagues they know have clearly engaged in racist abuse (especially repeatedly and for years), I do not believe anthropology’s claims to be a discipline committed to antiracism. Black lives do not actually matter to anthropology, so far as I can see: and if they did, I could be speaking out freely from within the borders of the United States.
Thank you to MeTooAnthro on Twitter for including this post in their informative thread:
1 / THREAD / Shortly after the story of Harvard anthro dept’s 3 sexual harassers broke, we were contacted by a Black anthropologist whose experiences of bullying, harassment & abuse at a top UC anthro grad program have been routinely silenced for years.
— MeTooAnthro (@MeTooAnthro) June 11, 2020