Minorities in Anthropology: 1973 versus 2008, Progress or Illusion? - Participate & Advocate
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Minorities in Anthropology: 1973 versus 2008, Progress or Illusion?

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By Thomas C Patterson, Janis Hutchinson and Alan Goodman

Commission on Race and Racism

*As printed in the April 2008 issue of Anthropology News

At an annual meeting, the AAA passed a resolution calling for the vigorous recruitment of persons from under-represented groups into anthropology and encouraging efforts to hire and facilitate their careers in the profession. This resolution was passed in 1969. Did AAA follow through? Were our efforts successful?

The Committee on Minorities and Anthropology was established in the wake of the 1969 resolution. Thirty-six individuals from under-represented groups attended a caucus sponsored by the six-member committee at the 1972 AAA Annual Meeting. This woefully small number reflects the limited diversity of the AAA membership, as well as of the field itself, through the early 1970s. A survey was subsequently sent to 144 anthropologists who self-identified or were identified by the committee as members of an under-represented group; they represented about three percent of the association’s 4,000 members at the time.

The original charge to the committee was enlarged (and perhaps weakened) in the early 1970s to include (1) eliciting information about the experiences of minority members; (2) describing the ways in which the professional structures and practices of anthropology might operate differently for members of under-represented groups than for those of the unmarked majority; (3) describing “the ways in which the professional worldview and activities of anthropologists are ethnocentric, reflecting racism and other values of [unmarked] American and European culture;” (4) discussing how best to attract and recruit members of under-represented groups into the field; and (5) considering how both academic and applied research concerned with minorities might be improved (Hsu et al, 1973:vi-vii, 63-78). In August 1973, the results of the committee’s efforts were conveyed in its 132-page report to the association: The Minority Experience in Anthropology (Hsu et al).

What did the committee say about the “minority experience” 35 years ago? Quite a lot. Some recurrent (and familiar) themes were that “many minority students who entered anthropology had since left;” that each of them as well as others they knew had been either actively urged “to leave the discipline” or discouraged from pursuing a career in it; that many colleagues from under-represented groups found it difficult to encourage students from these groups to take up a career in anthropology; and that the small number of professional anthropologists from these groups is related to anthropological ideologies and practices that structure the discipline. Identified structural factors included anthropological methods, frames of reference and terminology, marginalization of the works of individuals from under-represented groups and of their role in theory-building, exclusion from opportunities or decision-making roles in the profession, and even the sociohistorical context of the field (Hsu et al 1973:2-3).

This year, the AAA Executive Board has established a commission to re-evaluate race and racism in the discipline and the association. The Commission on Race and Racism in Anthropology and the AAA, cochaired by Janis Hutchinson and Thomas C Patterson, consists of Yolanda Moses and Audrey Smedley (honorary cochairs), Leith Mullings, Karen Brodkin, Sandy Morgen, Carla Gueron-Montero, Najwa Adra, Rachel Watkins, Gwen Mikell, Alan Goodman, Setha Low and Virginia Dominguez.

For those of us wrestling with these issues in 2008, the question is: What, if anything, has changed in the last 35 years? We invite all members of the community to read the 1973 report on the AAA website and to reflect on what has and has not changed since it was written. We welcome all comments and suggestions and encourage all members to contact the commission directly to discuss their thoughts or to submit independent commentaries to Anthropology News examining this topic. 


To facilitate an active discussion on race and racism in anthropology, the AAA is hosting an online discussion on this subject at the AAA Public Affairs blog.  Share your thoughts about the opportunities and challenges for under-represented groups in the discipline. 


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