Association of Black Anthropologists
Candice M. Lowe *Posted May 1999
Focus and Goals: as listed in ABA’s bylaws: 1) To make known the fact that the people studied by anthropologists are not only the objects of study, but active makers of and/or participants in their own history. 2) To highlight situations of exploitation, oppression, and discrimination of which the groups studied by anthropologists are victims, and explain the socioeconomic and political causes which engender them. 3) To analyze and critique social science theories that misrepresent the realities of exploited groups and to construct more adequate theories to interpret the social dynamics in operation. 4) To encourage anthropologists to involve the people studied and local scholars, whenever possible, in all stages of research and dissemination of findings. 5) To encourage all students in anthropology and to recruit Black graduate students to the discipline, and mentor students involved in ABA’s activities. 6) To establish firmer connections and scholarly exchange among black anthropologists, especially African anthropologists throughout the world and the encouragement of exchange with appropriate sections of the AAA.
Additional goals identified by present and former leadership of ABA: to promote research on black people around the globe; mentor blacks and all students who study blacks; to promote the development of black leadership in anthropology; to expose and explain the politics of anthropological research; to study how different people of color experience white supremacy; decolonize anthropology within the structure of the AAA; and to change those anthropological traditions which are rooted in hierarchical, exploitative, racist, sexist, and homophobic perspectives.
Organization Website: http://www.cas.usf.edu/ABA/
Total Membership in 1999: Approximately three hundred
Type of Organization: ABA is an international, inter-racial organization with both an academic and practitioner orientation.
Date founded: 1970
Newsletter or Journal: Transforming Anthropology
Annual Membership fees: $30 for AAA members, $10 for students
Affiliation with other groups: Association for Feminist Anthropology; Pan-African Anthropological Association; Society for Latina and Latino Anthropologists; Society for the Anthropology of North America; Caribbean Studies Association; etc.
Listserve or other internet resources: Under construction
Contact Addresses: http://www.cas.usf.edu/ABA/mainpages/contact.htm
Prizes, Projects, or other Special Programs: ABA has a started a mentoring program, and its leadership is setting up scholarships and other awards to assist graduate students who are members of ABA.
A Brief History of the Association of Black Anthropologists
ABA began as an ad hoc group that emerged out of a need to give black voices and perspectives a forum where the hegemonic voices of anthropology could be contested, and where black anthropologists could be heard, engaged with, and understood. It also provided a site where an interest in researching the black world could be cultivated, and where the social and research issues facing blacks could be addressed. The organization was an outgrowth of the Minority Caucus, which developed into the Caucus of Black Anthropologists. It became the Association of Black Anthropologists in 1975, when it was officially acknowledged at that year’s AAA meetings (for a more detailed history, see the ABA websitehttp://www.cas.usf.edu/ABA/mainpages/index2.htm).
ABA’s members have always made a point of celebrating the black anthropologists who have come before them, including the pioneer anthropologists who are still alive. In a discipline that has traditionally devalued the work of “native” anthropologists, and looked down upon political activism within the context of research, black anthropologists have been largely excluded from the canon of anthropological literature. This exclusion placed black anthropologists in the position of having to write their own history. The culmination of this effort can be seen in the publication of African American Pioneers in Anthropology (1999), edited by Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison.
About the Association of Black Anthropologists
Generally, ABA’s members are politically active, committed to the involvement of “natives” throughout all phases of research, and critical of anthropology’s traditional insistence upon the separation of self and subject. So while many of ABA’s members work all over the world, the majority of its members also conduct research in the United States.
Acknowledging that all research has a (usually implicit) political agenda and corresponding implications, and that the praxis of research precludes the possibility of objectivity, ABA has made a conscious effort to be straightforward about these aspects of research. Additionally, members have historically attempted to deconstruct their own biases in their work, and they have sustained an interest in the relationship between the position of the researcher and those who are under study.
ABA is strongly committed to exploring the nature and persistence of white skin privilege and (post) colonialism throughout the world; part of its agenda is to dismantle these structures and their effects. More broadly, ABA’s members have tried to expose and investigate racism, sexism, economic exploitation, and other forms of oppression, wherever they encounter them.
ABA is an interracial, interethnic organization. The primary determinant for membership is not color of skin or cultural background, but how closely one identifies with ABA’s social, political, and research agendas.
The majority of ABA’s members live in the eastern or western regions of the U.S.—especially New York and California—but there are a significant number of members in almost every state, and a few overseas. There are a small number of biological anthropologists and archaeologists, but most of ABA’s members are Cultural Anthropologists. Geographically, the regions most frequently studied by ABA members include North America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Latin America (a few members conduct research in other regions of the world). Most members are likely to study both at ‘home’ and abroad (for further information, see the ABA Directory, 1998).
Most members of ABA are professors, retired anthropologists, non-university-based anthropologists, and graduate students. While most members of ABA work in universities throughout the United States, they also tend to be community activists, and their work is often overtly political. Once again, disagreeing with mainstream anthropology, ABA stresses the idea that science is always embedded in a spatial-temporal context, and is always contingent upon the political economic (and general geist of the) moment. One member stated that many of ABA’s members did not have the luxury of appearing apolitical, because too much was at stake. However political their work, the research interests of ABA members run the gamut in terms of thematic diversity.
With a membership of almost three hundred, it is impossible to encapsulate the research interests of ABA membership (to get a good sense of the diversity of research, see the ABA Directory, 1998). With this in mind, I will highlight the interests of four current/recent ABA leaders, to provide a sample of the kinds of issues and research members regard as important.
Dr. Janis Hutchinson, President of ABA from 1997-present, is a Medical Anthropologist at the University of Houston. She describes her work as bio-cultural, and she is interested in the intersection of health and culture. Recently, she has done research on the decision-making processes of condom use at a local gangsta rap club. Still more recently, she is conducting research on the long-term physiological and mental health consequences of domestic abuse on women of different ethnicities.
Dr. Helán Enoch Page, Cultural Anthropologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was the president of ABA from 1993-1997. When asked what topics of research he pursues, he has stated “I study the production and reproduction of whiteness as a discursive and material form of racial privilege characteristic of colonial and post-colonial national relationships. I observe how these phenomena have been shaped by the information-organizing behavior of the white and non-white professional or semi-professional cultural agents who…work for the kinds of agencies that I call ‘racial bureaucracies.’ In my own research, the racial bureaucracies I have studied have included: an agricultural extension agency in another black nation; a public hospital in a large northeastern city; print media agents who become racial discussants in the American public sphere; the cultural agents who work in corporations or museums and get to manage the packaging and circulation of select black images for public consumption, and the cultural agents who manage a few of the national parks in the northeast.”
A few of Page’s publications include: African Americans and National Parks in New England. An Executive Summary and Seventeen Park Site Reports (1997), Boston: National Park Service, pp.1-497; Haitian and African Americans: Tuberculosis and the Response to Prevention, in Executive Report on Preventive TB Planning for the Haitian and African American Community (1993), LTG Associates, on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia, pp.1-110; Western Hegemony over African Agriculture in Southern Rhodesia and Its Continuing Threat to Food Security in Independent Zimbabwe (May/1992), co-authored with S.L.J. Page Working Paper Series. Social Science Research Council Program on African Agriculture, pp.1-19.
Dr. Cheryl Rodriguez, President-Elect, is a Cultural Anthropologist at the University of South Florida. Though she works in a university, she describes her work as “activist community research” (a.k.a. applied anthropology). Her research focus has been historical; specifically, she has concentrated on the way in which state politics have contributed to the rupture of Florida’s oldest black communities. She has also written about the intersection of women and micro-enterprise on the fringes of the state, as well as on black feminist anthropology. Currently, Dr. Rodriguez is working on a project with the Tampa Urban League. One of her recent publications is: Women, Microenterprise, and the Politics of Self-help (1995).
Dr. Irma McClaurin, General Editor of Transforming Anthropology, is a Cultural Anthropologist at the University of Florida, Gainesville. One of Dr. McClaurin’s primary interests is anthropological theory. She focuses on the construction and (re)production of race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of inequality. She has done work in Belize, Suriname, and on the African Diaspora. One of her latest projects has been the establishment of the Zora Neale Hurston Diaspora Research Program at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Some recent publications: Women of Belize: Gender and Change in Central America (1996); A Writer’s Life; A Country’s Transition (Jul/Aug94), co-authored with Gary Harwood. Americas, Vol.46, Issue 4, pp.38-43.
ABA’s journal began as a newsletter, called News from the Natives, in 1973. Sheila Walker, then a graduate student at the University of Chicago, established the publication, and Jerry Wright, also a graduate student, became its editor (see ABA Directory). Over time, the newsletter evolved into Notes from the ABA, and finally, Transforming Anthropology, a peer-reviewed journal, currently edited by Irma McClaurin.
Transforming Anthropology has been a subversive voice within the discipline of anthropology. It is an interdisciplinary journal and a venue in which research that critiques mainstream anthropology can be published. It has also been a principal site for the development of black and other marginal anthropological perspectives. Some of the recent issues have covered such topics as the meaning(s) of ethnicity, and a tribute to John L. Gwaltney (a pioneer anthropologist); “Race, Racism, and the History of Anthropology”; and a special volume on AIDS in the African American community.
Some Additional Publications by members of ABA:
*African American Pioneers in Anthropology (1999), Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison
*Black Corona: Race and the Politics of Place in an Urban Community (1998), Steven Gregory
*From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race (1998), Lee Baker
*Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology of Liberation (1997, second edition), Faye V. Harrison
*Dance and Change in Contemporary Cuba (1995), Yvonne Daniel
*Confronting the Margaret Meade Legacy: Scholarship, Empire, and the South Pacific (1992), Lenora Foerstel and Angela Gilliam
*Self, Sex, and Gender in Cross-Cultural Fieldwork (1986) Tony Larry Whitehead and Mary Ellen Conaway
I would like to give special thanks to Janis Hutchinson, Irma McClaurin, Helán Enoch Page, and Cheryl Rodriguez, whose assistance with the information for this page was invaluable.