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The Personal Experiences of Minority Professionals

This section deals with the degree to which minority professionals perceive their experiences as differing from those of non-minority anthropologists and specifically the extent to which discrimination or special treatment has positively or negatively affected their career development. Two questions were designed to elicit this information.

Questions 14 and 17, respectively, state:

Do you feel that your experiences have differed in anthropology either positively or negatively from those of non-minority anthropologists? If so, please tell us in what ways.

Do you feel that you have been discriminated against in your professional career because of race, color, or creed?

Yes ______ No ______

Please cite examples or comment. In thinking about how to answer, you may wish to consider some or all of the following aspects of a career line: qualifications required for teaching and research positions; difficulties in acquiring beginning posts; awarding of half-time positions; salaries; promotions; tenure; pressure to publish; teaching responsibilities, e.g., course load, choice of courses, evaluation of performance; other aspects of the professional role, e.g., committee assignments, executive positions; employment outside the university; pressures for third-world or community involvement.

It was necessary to analyze the responses to both questions in two parts. The first task was to determine whether the respondent gave a direct positive or negative reply; the second task was to determine the nature of the comments. Thus, in responding to both questions, it was possible to have a positive response to the first part followed by a comment that seemed to contradict the response to the first part. Some comments were neutral or vague, making it difficult to determine whether the experience reported was positive or negative.

The answers to the first part of question 14 reveal that an overwhelming majority of those providing clear responses perceived that their experience had been different from, those of majority anthropologists (23 "yes", 3 "no"). Eleven individuals did not reply or were unclear in their responses (see Table 22, Appendix C). Although a large majority reported that their experiences had differed from non-minority anthropologists, considerable differences existed in the evaluation of whether these experiences were negative or positive. Eleven respondents indicated that their experiences had been clearly negative. Four responded that their experiences had been positive and 4 related that they had been both positive and negative (see Table 23, Appendix C). Ten people made no comment on this issue and 8 provided unclear answers.

The positive and negative experiences described in general the degree to which the individual was treated fairly or unfairly on the basis of his or her ethnic or racial background. Question 14 is posed in a very general way and the responses were also general. Question 17, however, focuses specifically on the degree to which the experiences of minority anthropologists have directly affected matters relating to their careers.

The first part of question 17 asks: "Do you feel that you have been discriminated against in your professional career because of race, color, or creed?" Sixteen replied "yes" and 12 replied "no". Seven gave an unclear answer and 3 gave no answer at all. A breakdown of the responses by ethnic group indicates that 3 American Indians, 6 Asians, one Spanish-speaker and 6 Blacks felt that they had been discriminated against (see Table 24, Appendix C). In addition the response of the 4 Blacks in the unclear answer category provided comments such as "its difficult to say," "career just started and difficult to tell," and one responded by remarking:

The subtleties of discrimination are such that one cannot waste one's psychic energy continually identifying, objectifying and motivating campaigns to eliminate it. Nevertheless, it is present, and becomes embarrassing, and draining to always have to deal with it.

The second part of question 17 asked for examples or comments on discrimination or non-discrimination. The 67 complaints or comments were analyzed in terms of the issues raised and the frequency with which they were mentioned in the response. The topics are discussed in descending order of frequency: employment (15), ethnicity as a positive factor (12), language as well as cultural and philosophical differences (10), tokenism (9), sex discrimination (8), pressure for community involvement (4), ethnic courses (3), obtaining grants (3), and pressure to be a spokesman (3).

The fifteen comments on discrimination and employment included 3 individuals (2 Blacks and one Asian) who indicated that racial identity and ethnicity was a positive factor in getting a job, 9 who listed it as a negative factor in getting a job, and 2 who listed it as both a positive and negative factor. One person stated, for example, that her experience in relation to employment was very positive because she began teaching about the time when there was a growing demand for minority teachers. Others, however, related that they had received few job offers during the "minority push." And one individual expressed disbelief in the "mythology that it is easier for Blacks to find jobs," One respondent articulated the problem for those who view the positive benefits of ethnicity for employment:

To some extent, there is a built-in disadvantage to being among a minority and this is that one's peers do assume that you are the token, or part of the quota, and are unlikely to assume that you hold the position you do on the basis of any merit.

There were also 12 persons who indicated that their experience in a different language, cultural or class situation made them better anthropologists because they had already experienced a culture different from their colleagues. There were also a few who indicated that their physical appearance and/or ethnic group connections provided easier access to field situations. This topic was the most explicit positive relationship between ethnic identity and anthropology that emerged from the responses.

Ten people related that their most serious problem involved language, cultural, or philosophical differences between them and their teachers or colleagues. Although the majority of the people who mentioned this problem were foreign-born, it was mentioned by a few native-born minorities as well. Thus, cultural differences as well as differences in social class were involved. One person. felt that his articles are rejected because they are based on non-Western epistemology. Another stated: "I feel my entire cognitive structure is different." And another indicated that he had a hard time understanding the "linear, positivistic and mechanical" approach of "non-minority" students.

Nine people made reference to being a "token" or "on display." "I was treated as a rare bird on display," was treated as a rare bird on display,"was the way one person expressed it, and another stated: "I do get tired of being `the Indian' in this all-white context." Asians and American Indians mentioned this problem more than anyone else (8 of 9 responses).

Five of the 8 female respondents mentioned sex role as an "added factor" in their lives, and 3 of these 8 as a more important factor than ethnicity. This response includes about half the females who answered the questionnaire (8 of 17). However, a breakdown of responses by ethnic group indicates that only 3 out of the 10 Black females who responded mentioned sex discrimination as a on this topic follow:

Being a minority member plus being a woman makes one a novelty and am therefore discriminated against in terms of both factors.

Although I can't specify the basis on which I sense this, I have a feeling of greater testing and heavier responsibilities because I am a woman rather than because I am Black.

Any problems regarding promotions, tenure, etc. are more likely to be due to being a female rather than a member of a minority group. Indeed, at this point, being a "minority" anthropologist has advantages rather than disadvantages because this school, like others, is making a conscious effort to hire more "minority faculty."

Four individuals mentioned pressure to become involved in activities relating to their ethnic community as a problem. One related the following in the context of such pressure:

Recently I was told that I could only be "true to my people" if I agreed to undertake a "third world" course for what I considered to be a very unsympathetic and unsavory group of students for whom such a project was more a testimony to their supposed life-style than because of any deeper interests (in my opinion). When I refused, several of my colleagues demanded in no uncertain terms how I, in good conscience, could help but become involved in anything with the peripheral mention of Indians in it.

Thus, it was apparent that some of the people who commented felt that community involvement took up a great deal of time and left little for academic pursuits. They resented the pressure and viewed it as an undesirable force. One went so far as to state:

This questionnaire is, in my opinion, another attempt to make me identify with a group, on the grounds of my last name alone. And this is because ethnic consciousness is now fashionable.

At least three people related negative experiences in relation to courses. There was the indication that either one was to teach only "ethnic" courses (and was therefore unqualified for more general courses) or one was too subjective to teach "ethnic" courses. This, however, was not a dominant theme in the responses.

Problems in obtaining research grants were mentioned by three people. Here again, a dichotomy occurred between an American Indian who saw his identity as a positive factor and two people (one Black and one Asian) who had experienced it as a negative factor.

Three people, 2 American Indians and one Asian, referred to pressure from their colleagues to assume the role of spokesman for their group. The tone of the comments indicated pressure from colleagues to explain or interpret political or social issues that arise in connection with the specific ethnic group.

Most of the respondents who related negative experiences referred to obvious and clear acts of discrimination. However, the responses to these two questions indicated that, for many minorities in anthropology, their day to day existence is one of uncertainty. If one is denied a job or a promotion one has to at least entertain the notion that it was because one was not good enough for the job and not because of discrimination. After all, minorities are not the only people denied jobs, promotions, or opportunities. Thus, it is not always clear as to whether discrimination is being practiced or not.

The ambivalence and uncertainty was exemplified by one person who responded "no" to question 17 and went on to explain that "I do not believe I have been discriminated against; on the other hand, I haven't applied to certain vacancies for fear of such a possibility." Another replied: "In my case, no," but went on to observe that others of his ethnic group "advance until they become strong competitors with nonminority scholars. They teach mostly at second and third-rate universities." The uncertainty and ambivalence was also reflected by answers such as: "perhaps I don't really know" and "its difficult to tell," and in the following:

I do not know, but I feel that non-minority anthropologists have received better counselling and supervision in their careers in anthropology, especially in the area of job opportunities and career options.

It seemed difficult for some people to isolate specific instances where their experiences differed from non-minorities or to specific examples of discrimination. Others, however, stated in precise terms that they had been unable to get jobs or promotions because of their ethnic identity and still others stated that their ethnicity was a positive asset. But there were others who pinpointed a negative feedback as a result of being hired on the basis of ethnicity. One person observed:

Within the last few years, about half of the inquiries and offers proffered to me have been precisely because I am Black and female. Nowadays I am tempted to ask, "have you also heard I am a good teacher?"

And another respondent observed: "At the present time I am being selected for because of my genetic constitution. This I find as odious as being selected against."

A number of people commented on the expectations others have of them because they are minority anthropologists, such as:

I am expected to be able to extract more (or better) information from natives, because I am a native, but I am expected to be a qualitatively poorer anthropologist because I am a native.

And another related: "professors, upon meeting me, often assume that I was ill-prepared and thus incapable of doing a really outstanding job."

Many of the problems mentioned above may have little to do with anthropology per se, and more to do with the nature of the society of which we are a part. But there is at least one problem mentioned which is directly pertinent to anthropology: the pervasiveness of cultural, linguistic and philosophical difficulties mentioned predominantly by Asian scholars. If the reason for the recruitment of minority students is to introduce a new perspective into anthropology and if, at the same time, we witness a general intolerance of different philosophical perspectives, recruitment cannot achieve positive results.

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