A statement in support of George Floyd protests

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We are living in a pivotal moment in American history, in which thousands of people have taken to the streets, often at great personal risks to themselves, to protest the oppressive and racist structures that the discipline of anthropology has helped to create.

The murder of George Floyd was but one heinous instance in a long-running pattern of police-initiated and institutional violence that continues to repeat itself through ongoing assaults on peaceful protestors in the aftermath of Floyd's murder. You do not have to be an anthropologist to understand the degree to which institutionalized anti-Black, anti-Brown, and anti-Indigenous racism underlies both these patterns of violence as well as efforts to delegitimize and silence those who speak out against it. As individuals we all react to these events in the ways we deem necessary.

As an anthropology department in the nation's largest majority Black city, hit hard by COVID-19 and with an important legacy of civic protests, it is important to express solidarity with impacted communities and those in the streets-but we must also do more.

The coming months will be a time for us, as a department, to reflect, rethink, rework, and push the limits of what we believe our discipline has to offer to our students and our community. As anthropologists who stand against systemic violence, police brutality, bigotry, and the structures of white supremacy that underlie these forms of oppression, we want to seize upon this moment to challenge ourselves, our students, our colleagues, and our university to do more than merely diagnose and analyze.

As a department, we have a role to play in support of the current protests, and the long-term struggle towards the emancipation of which they are a part. We challenge ourselves as a collective to mobilize anthropology into a proactive discipline that can help to heal and rebuild our world going forward.

A call for action

This work begins in the settings where Wayne State anthropologists work: our classrooms, labs, and in our fieldwork. Our department already describes teaching anthropology as an "anti-racist science" as a program-wide goal.

In the days ahead, we propose to establish a working group that leads a department-wide effort to shift our teaching and curriculum towards justice and healing. These efforts will include strengthening our training as a faculty so that we reorient ourselves and students not to simply do an "anthropology of" but an "anthropology for" through a series of concrete interventions in the way we teach at Wayne State.

Interventions

  • Decolonize our curriculum centering the work of Black, Brown, and Indigenous scholars as part of the anthropological canon and interrogating knowledge production as a political, historical, and cultural process. This includes, but is not limited to...
  1. Foregrounding the work of Black anthropologists such as William Willis, St. Clair Drake, and Zora Neale Hurston (among others) in the way we teach the history of our discipline.
  2. Analyzing and undoing the ways that anthropology's colonial past continues to shape its present.
  • Create specific practice-based, hands-on learning opportunities with community organizations. This should include...

    1. Ensuring that our communities are a part of the knowledge production process at our university.

    2. Building our students' competence in applying anthropological tools and theories to improve the lives of the communities impacted by racism.

    3. Identifying new mediums, outlets, and forms of communication to make anthropological knowledge a freely accessible community resource.

  • Call for faculty to participate in university-sponsored trainings/workshops on inclusive, anti-discriminatory, and anti-racist practices to improve their capacity as mentors and teachers

  • Arrange access for our students to participate in anti-racist and implicit bias workshops/trainings by the university

  • Establish guiding principles for our department that state our departmental position on inclusivity, anti-racism, and tolerance.

  • Focus on our annual faculty retreat in September on Anthropology's responsibilities as a voice in anti-racist training and research.

  • Position our museum, the Grosscup Museum of Anthropology, as a centerpiece for community-involved research, with exhibits focused on social justice topics and a space for dialogue.

  • Utilize anthropology to make the underlying causes of COVID-19's differential lethality transparent and changeable

  • Develop curricula and syllabi to:

  1. Meet the intellectual, practical, psychological, and emotional needs of our students.

  2. Cultivate anthropologists who have the skills, knowledge, and resources to create a better and more just society.

Today's nationwide protests are comparable to Detroit's '67 rebellion in many respects. One of the most important and overlooked aspects of that uprising was what it engendered in the following months and years: a constellation of civil society organizations along with a cohort of leaders that continues to shape Detroit today.

Our department can and must challenge itself to be relevant to serve the new generation of leaders that are emerging in this moment.


"... but we must also do more."

Links and resources

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