Anthropology Department Statement Against Anti-Black Racism and Our Commitment to Anti-Racism and Anti-Marginalization

The faculty of the Anthropology Department at the University of Kentucky, in no uncertain terms, condemns the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee along with thousands of other Black people, whose names should all be known, at the hands of white supremacists and police officers. We fully support the protests happening nationwide and internationally in defense of Black lives, and the long-term, revolutionary work of fundamentally restructuring a nation that was founded on racist terms and has violently reinforced racial injustice in every generation. Those of us who have benefited from white supremacy societally and in our academic lives take responsibility for actively working toward that restructuring in everyday practice.

We also support and are thankful for the Association of Black Anthropologists, the Coalition of Anthropology Students of Color (founded by two graduate students in our department), and the Anti-Racist Collective of UK Anthropology Graduate Students and Alumni  for their powerful and visionary statements that envision a restructuring of our discipline and department into anti-racist and equitable entities. In particular, these statements help the faculty to reflect on current departmental practices, pedagogy, and the current constitution of the faculty with a goal of creating a department in which all can thrive equally -- students, staff, community colleagues, and faculty -- and that there is constant work to confront and change practices that silence and marginalize any member of this community, instead of a sense of one hurdle overcome or one statement posted. We are committed to learning new practices together in which everyone feels heard, valued, respected, and supported. We acknowledge the constant toll that racism takes, and we commit to everyone’s well-being and to being conscious of invisible as well as visible workloads as we work toward equity in the Department of Anthropology. 

The department recognizes the role that our discipline plays in circulating racist ideas about people of African descent and naturalizing white supremacy through having promoted white voices, authority, and perspectives disproportionately. Historically, anthropology developed as a discipline through pseudo-scientific classifications of racial hierarchy through a disproportionate and distorted focus on Africans, the African diaspora, First Nations, and other racialized identities while valorizing but not naming whiteness and white supremacy, thereby playing a central role in the establishment of scientific racism. We recognize that anthropologists who have called out the discipline for promoting racism have often been marginalized in graduate programs, conference programs, and publishing programs, and have also been left out of anthropological syllabi. The department also recognizes the ways in which the fundamental logic of racism politically, economically, and socially marginalizes those who identify as Latinx, First Nations, Asian American, and in other ways in the U.S., and that U.S.-centric discussions have also marginalized the voices of students and faculty from nations other than the U.S.. We, as a department, commit to actively teaching about the history of anthropology’s relationship with colonialism and the global applications of racist logics and their lived effects, as well as looking to global examples of contestation and restructuring of racist regimes to apply to ongoing work to do so within the U.S., this state, and this university. 

The department recognizes the damage it has created in how we have taught about non-white cultures in exoticizing and racist ways. When we teach about race, we realize it is not enough to teach that race is a social construction. It is vital to teach about the history of eugenics and scientific racism within the U.S. and globally, the lived effects of racism, and the active learning and reproduction of racial injustice within universities. Moving forward, we are committed to teaching about race throughout our curriculum and showing how racism adversely affects Black people and other structurally disadvantaged races through our teaching and research in a commitment to becoming an anti-racist department. 

In the spirit of improved communication, transparency, and also in solidarity with Black lives, the department commits to the following:

 

  • Committing to continually identifying and dismantling white supremacy within our department by having more transparent and respectful communication as an entire community, including students, faculty, and staff members in departmental discussions, and reconsidering the structure of how we do work in the department. We recognize that this work is ongoing and needs to be advanced at the department level to involve teaching and learning among and across all members of the department including students, staff, and faculty. 

  • Hiring more BIPOC anthropologists.

  • Recruiting more BIPOC graduate students and ensuring that once they join the department BIPOC graduate students receive the support they need to succeed. The department will regularly evaluate retention and time to degree rates in order to identify and address any existing inequities.

  • Creating an intra-departmental system for graduate students to report problematic course content or in-departmental experiences without fear of retaliation or silencing

  • Systematic and ongoing review of department syllabi in an effort to ensure that white voices and perspectives do not dominate the content, and that anti-racist concepts and practices are taught actively across the curriculum.[i]

  • Ensuring that BIPOC scholars are included in departmental colloquium schedules.

  • Developing a Departmental Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan by May 2021 that includes both short- and long-term initiatives and action
    steps. The plan will include a mechanism for ensuring annual progress reports which will be made publicly available. 
     

We know that these words are not enough, but we commit to doing better. This is ongoing departmental work for which we are all responsible.

 

 

[i] As Fanon and many other scholars have long pointed out, white supremacy is intellectually impoverishing to all members of the community. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty need to be involved in a common conversation about shared intellectual projects and curricular goals for the department. This is a vital moment for attending to student-suggested courses and course content, and in restructuring decision-making in the department, it would be useful to have undergraduate and graduate student participation in the curriculum committee. Undergraduate and graduate alumni perspectives will be sought on what has been most and least useful about the curriculum in their lives beyond the department.

 
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