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.
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 protesters and taking their demands seriously.
We also encourage all anthropologists to donate to bail funds to free protesters, 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.