Department of Anthropology

Anthropology Department Statement of BLM Solidarity and Commitments

Originally written June 10, 2020/updated June 10, 2023

We, the Brandeis University Department of Anthropology faculty, graduate students and staff, in no uncertain terms condemn the state-sanctioned murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the countless others who have been killed by police. We collectively, vehemently affirm that Black lives matter. These words are important. They are necessary to say, acknowledge, and hold space for amid a contentious present in which Black life is persistently devalued, targeted, and oppressed. We write this statement between two pandemics — anti-Black racism and COVID-19 — fully aware that Black Americans will continue to bear an unequal burden of both. We acknowledge the weight of this inequality; we also stand in solidarity with the protests happening across the United States and around the world.

We maintain that the fight for Black lives and the work of disassembling systems of White supremacy are interwoven with issues of immigrant, Indigenous, environmental, economic, trans and disability rights. As anthropologists, we have staked our lives and our careers on studying, theorizing, and critiquing the myriad forms of inequality that have come to disproportionately affect the lives of Black people in this country and globally. Our passion for this work fuels and energizes our department, but also warrants critical reflection in these uncertain times. Amid these twinned pandemics, we continue to ask what are our responsibilities as anthropologists, scholars and people? And to put it more starkly, what debts does our chosen discipline owe to Black lives?

It is no secret that anthropology has had a complicit and active role in imperial projects, military occupation, and the production and dissemination of racist ideologies. That history is evident even in some of our most prized and beloved texts, from the uncritical usages of words like "savage" and "primitive" in earlier works to the absence of Black anthropologists in major debates, references, footnotes and citations. Thus, anthropology's vexed relationship to Black life and Black thought is perhaps not a mere coincidence, but rather a foundational problem for anthropology. To paraphrase Black anthropologists Jafari Allen and Ryan Jobson, from its founding moments, Black people have troubled anthropology's "search for an unblemished object of study — a pristine native" that could be juxtaposed to modern, rational, Western man. This foundational erasure signals both the unpursued intellectual challenges of engaging with Black people and the afterlives of centuries of "colonial domination and global capitalist proliferation," that are ever present in our discipline. [1]

And despite decades of reflexivity, spirited debates about the manifestations of race as structure and newly adopted languages of diversity, equality and inclusion, problems persist. While the lives of Black people within the United States and the larger diaspora have been valuable to the careers of prominent anthropological scholars, Black lives in their fullness, complexity and fecundity have been less central to the discipline and its canon. From Anténor Firmin to John Wesley Gilbert to Zora Neale Hurston, the contributions of early Black anthropologists have often been overlooked in anthropological teaching and scholarship. As the Open Syllabus project suggests, in the top 1,000 texts taught across 41,000 anthropology syllabi, only nine texts were authored by Black scholars. [2] This jarring fact is a stark reminder that though we have cultivated sophisticated skill sets for deconstructing race and talking about its structures, that scholarly power is overshadowed by race's "lethal social reality;"[3] its material manifestations.

As anthropologists, it is our responsibility to engage with not just the intellectual stakes of racism but also its material realities. We commit ourselves to taking up that responsibility in our teaching and conversations as a department and to question who we cite and why, what we assign to our students, and who we engage with as a department and a community. We know our work has been far from perfect, so going forward, we also commit ourselves to actively listening to critiques and challenges to our programming, curricula, and pedagogy and to implement the necessary changes to resolve those challenges and make our work more just, inclusive, and equitable. We also recognize that the work of racial justice cannot simply rely on the production of academic knowledge. Therefore, we firmly believe that we must also critically engage, unpack, and divest ourselves of white supremacy and anti-Blackness in our work, in our conversations, and in the larger institutional life of our department and our University. To this end, we also commit ourselves to the following actions:

  1. Decolonizing and consistently revising/revisiting our curricula. This will be an ongoing process that will be greatly enriched by conversations amongst ourselves and with students. We commit to doing this within and beyond the classroom, through collectively organized reading groups, syllabus projects and group databases of resources and texts by Black scholars, artists and activists, and other initiatives.
  2. Inviting speakers that include artists, community activists and organizers working on issues related to Black Lives Matter, prison abolition, police reform, global anti-Blackness, Black radical traditions and related matters.
  3. Building programming and events with other departments centered around these issues.
  4. Inviting more Black scholars to participate in our symposia, BARS and other elements of departmental intellectual life.
  5. Continuing to push for faculty hires and postdoctoral fellows whose work intersects with issues of race/racism, policing and police violence, incarceration, global racial capitalism and other timely issues.

As a department and a community, we maintain solidarity with the global movements against police violence, racial injustice, and the degradation of Black lives. As academic anthropologists we encourage our colleagues in other universities across the world to join us in our condemnation of police-sponsored violence against Black people and racist policing. We also call on major professional organizations like the American Anthropological Association, Society for Cultural Anthropology and Society for American Archaeology to not only stand in solidarity with current protests against racist policing and violence against Black people but also to take more significant steps to create platforms and programming for scholars and scholarship engaged with issues of Black life and survival.

These steps are just the beginning of an ongoing and necessary pathway towards social justice within our department and the larger community. We know that there is much to be done and hope that you will join us in committing to do that work. Below are some campus, community and academic resources for continuing the conversation. We have also included local and national organizations to support during these ongoing crises.

Brandeis Campus Resources

Brandeis University has resources for faculty, students, and staff on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The Brandeis Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, headed by LeManuel Lee Bitsóí, hosts crucial programming, provides services, and generally works to guide all levels of the university to promote diversity, inclusion and equity-based outcomes. Within the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, there are several reporting centers and offices that host programming, support and other services for students, faculty and staff, such as the Intercultural Center, the Gender and Sexuality Center, and the ODEI Education Learning and Initiatives unit, headed by Dr. Charles "Chip" McNeal.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The Office of Equal Opportunity, headed by director Jacob Tabor, is responsible for addressing issues related to discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct within the Brandeis community. Contact information and reporting instructions are below.

Office of Equal Opportunity

Brandeis University offers a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy that guarantees the university be free from discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, ancestry, religious creed, gender identity and expression, national or ethnic origin, caste, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, genetic information, disability, military or veteran status or any other category protected by law (also known as membership in a "protected class").

Nondiscrimination policy (pdf)

Resources for Context

Annual Review of Anthropology: Police and Policing: This article is a relatively comprehensive review of anthropological works on policing and police. See the bibliography for a list of sources.

Intro to the Anthropology of Police: A series of essays and resources for those interested in the anthropology of police.

Resource Guide: Prisons, Policing, and Punishment: This resource guide offers introductory sources on policing, prisons and punishment.

Carceral Tech Resistance Network: CTRN is a space of convening for those organizing against the design, experimentation and deployment of carceral technologies.

Reading Towards Abolition: A Reading List on Policing, Rebellion, and the Criminalization of Blackness

Charleston Syllabus a list of readings that educators can use to broach conversations in the classroom about the horrendous events that unfolded in Charleston, South Carolina, on the evening of June 17, 2015. These readings provide valuable information about the history of racial violence in this country and contextualize the history of race relations in South Carolina and the United States in general. They also offer insights on race, racial identities, global white supremacy and black resistance. Created by Brandeis professor Chad Williams and collaborators.

Melissa Harris-Perry's BLM syllabus (spring 2021)

Suggested Readings on the Global Dynamics of Anti-Blackness from the Boston College International studies program

How White People Can Be Better Allies to the Black Community

Black Lives Matter Resources: A list of resources, toolkits and documents for conversations on race, police violence, white privilege and healing justice.

#BlackInTheIvory: A hashtag that started on Twitter where Black members of the Academy share their experiences with discrimination and anti-Blackness.

Read, Cite and Celebrate Black Anthropologists

Decanonizing Anthropology offers a list of Black scholars to read as alternatives to the canon.

The Society of Black Archaeologists offers a range of maps and databases related to topics such as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, everyday life in Harlem at the turn of the 20th century, and mapping the 7th ward of Philadelphia.

The Association of Black Anthropologists offers a list of recent books written by black anthropologists.

Global Social Theory is a UK-based project aimed at decolonizing social theory as it is taught in universities, and contains many resources by Black social theorists, including anthropologists.

Recommended (but nowhere near exhaustive) Key Texts

Anténor Firmin, "The Equality of Human Races (Positivist Anthropology)" (Illinois, 2002)

Zora Neale Hurston, "Baracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo" (Amistad Books (reprint) 2018), "Mules and Men" (Amistad Books, reprint, 2009), and many more; see The Zora Neale Hurston Syllabus Project

Katherine Dunham, "Island Possessed" (Chicago, 1994)

Saint Clair Drak, "Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City" (Chicago, 1970)

Mervyn Alleyne, "Comparative Afro-American: An Historical-Comparative Study of English-Based Afro-American Dialects of the New World." (Karoma Publishers, 1980.)

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, "Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History" (Beacon, 2015)

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, "Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness," in Global Transformations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)

Lee Baker, "From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race 1896 – 1954" (California, 1998)

Faye Harrison(ed.), "Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation" (AAA, 1997)

Maria Franklin, “Why Are There so Few Black American Archaeologists?” (Antiquity, 1997)

"Power to the People": Sociopolitics and the Archaeology of Black Americans” (Historical Archaeology, 1997)

Theresa Singleton, "The Archaeology of Slavery in North America." (Annual Review of Anthropology 1995) "I, too, am America:"Archaeological Studies of African-American Life. (University of Virginia 1999)

Anna Agbe-Davies, "Black Scholars, Black Pasts" (The SAA Archaeological Record, 2002)

Aimee Meredith Cox. "Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship." (Duke University Press, 2015)

Leith Mullings, "Interrogating Racism: Towards an Antiracist Anthropology." (Annual Review of Anthropology, 2005)

Kamari Clarke and Deborah Thomas (eds), "Globalization and Race Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness" (Duke, 2006)

Jafari Sinclaire Allen and Ryan Cecil Jobson. "The Decolonizing Generation: (Race and) Theory in Anthropology since the '80s" (Current Anthropology, 2016)

Laurence Ralph, "The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence" (Chicago, 2020) and "Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago" (Chicago, 2014)

Pierre, Jemima. "The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race." University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Perry, Keisha-Khan Y. "Black women Against the Land Grab: The Fight for Racial Justice in Brazil." U of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Rebecca L. Carter, "Prayers for the People: Homicide and Humanity in the Crescent City" (Chicago, 2019)

Resources to Support

Black Lives Matter Boston: "BLM — Boston's mission is to organize and build Black power in Boston and across the country. Some examples of this is to galvanize our communities to end state-sanctioned violence against Black people. To support the development of new Black leaders, as well as create a network where Black people feel empowered to determine our destinies in our communities."

Black-owned Businesses: A list of black owned businesses nationally and here is a Boston specific list.

Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective: "BEAM is a training, movement building and grant making organization dedicated to the healing, wellness and liberation of Black and marginalized communities."

Black Trans Fund: "The Black Trans Fund is a groundbreaking endeavor: the first national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting and resourcing Black trans social justice leaders. BTF seeks to address the lack of funding for Black trans communities in the U.S. through direct grantmaking, capacity building support, and funder organizing to transform philanthropy."

Black Visions Collective: "Black Visions Collective (BLVC) believes in a future where all Black people have autonomy, safety is community-led, and we are in right relationship within our ecosystems."

Black Voters Matter Fund: Black Voters Matter's goal is to increase power in marginalized, predominantly Black communities. We believe that effective voting allows a community to determine its own destiny. We agree with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, "Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."

Families for Justice Healing: An organization dedicated to ending the incarceration of women and girls in Massachusetts.

FANG Community Bail Fund: "The FANG Collective is a community organizing and direct action group that has been a part of campaigns for climate justice, indigenous sovereignty, prison abolition and resisting ICE."

The Loveland Foundation: "Loveland Foundation is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. Our resources and initiatives are collaborative and they prioritize opportunity, access, validation, and healing. We are becoming the ones we've been waiting for."

Massachusetts Bail Fund: "The Massachusetts Bail Fund posts bails of up to $2,000 in Essex and Suffolk counties in Massachusetts."

Minnesota Freedom Fund: "The Minnesota Freedom Fund pays criminal bail and immigration bond for those who cannot afford to as we seek to end discriminatory, coercive and oppressive jailing."

Youth Enrichment Services: YES inspires and challenges youth from low income families with physical and mental activities that foster lifelong respect for self, others and the environment.

[1] Jafari Allen Sinclaire and Ryan Cecil Jobson (2016). “The Decolonizing Generation: (Race and) Theory in Anthropology since the '80s” Current Anthropology (57:2): 131

[2] Princeton University Associate Professor of Anthropology Laurence Ralph asked in a series of tweets how whiteness could be so privileged within the social sciences? Using data from the Open Syllabus Project, he found these numbers. See his Twitter thread.

[3] Leith Mullings (2013) “Trayvon Martin, Race, and Anthropology,” Anthropology News (54:7)