Is Anthropology Just for White People? Deconstructing Institutionalized Racism in an Academic Department

  • 02 May 2017
  • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Sumner School


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Is Anthropology Just for White People?

Deconstructing Institutionalized Racism in an Academic Department 


Tony Whitehead, Ph.D., Ms. Hyg., Professor Emeritus, Anthropology Department University of Maryland, College Park

Where + When

Date: May 2, 2017

Dinner/happy hour:  5:30 at The Mayflower Hotel restaurant (behind the bar, lobby level)

Presentation: 7-9pm at the Sumner School

Event Description

"I am currently trying to complete the writing of a professional and personal memoir tentatively titled The Education and Emancipation of a Negro Anthropologist: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Bullshit, and this presentation takes excerpts from the Bad, the Ugly, and the Bullshit sections of that manuscript. But after receiving the invitation from WAPA, I have decided to also use this presentation to initiate a larger study that asks one major research question: “How are some academic departments allowed to practice decades of admitting very few African American graduate students, or hiring very few African American faculty within universities that have long espoused student and faculty diversity?” The focus here is on Anthropology, with a secondary research question: “If Anthropology is the study of human diversity, would not the discipline be enhanced through training a diverse pool of anthropologists?”

This project takes into consideration that anthropology has not had a natural attraction to most African American students, and those of other non-white groups. Similarly, in many cases, it has not been a field that parents of color have seen as an attractive profession for their children, usually because of perceptions of a lack employment opportunities, or livable salaries. However, a number of senior anthropologists, particularly those of color, have written about the institutionalized racism that operates in graduate school admissions and hiring practices excluding students and faculty of color even when they do apply. The purpose of this work is to demonstrate that there are pervasive institutional attitudes and practices that contribute to a persistence of whiteness in those departments, as well as in the discipline as a whole.  At the same time, most anthropologists, including those based in academic departments, have built their individual careers, and the field as a whole, predominantly through ongoing studies of peoples of color.

This WAPA presentation will focus on one specific department, drawing on its record of graduate admissions and faculty hiring, and the observations and experiences of the only two African American anthropologists hired in the department over a 30-year period. For the larger study, I propose: (1) to locate and interview the few African American graduate students who completed the department’s master’s degree over that same period (none have been admitted into the Department’s PhD program in its 10-year history); (2) to conduct an additional literature analysis of works by other senior anthropologists (to gain longer historical perspectives; and (3) if time permits, conduct interviews of some of those authors. Among the issues explored will be examples of impacts on the health, and personal and professional well- being of faculty members of color negotiating their survival and success in these white cultural spaces. Beyond the issue of race, other factors will also be explored, which might help us better understand a range of factors that contribute to persistent whiteness within a discipline that owes so much to human diversity, and perhaps come up with more effective strategies both within and beyond the discipline to address the human wages of persistent whiteness."

Speaker Bio

Tony Whitehead is Anthropology Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland College Park (UMCP), where he was a full-time faculty member for 27 years (1987-2014), spending the first five years as Department as Chair. Prior to coming to UMCP, he served for 11 ½ years as a faculty member in the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) School of Public Health. While serving (1982-1983) as president of the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA), he initiated the action that led to the ABA becoming a formal unit of the AAA. Early In his tenure (1989-90) as Anthropology Chair, he found the Cultural Systems Analysis Group (CuSAG), an applied ethnographic research center, offering research, program planning, implementation, and evaluation assistance to local, national, and international organizations committed to addressing health and other human service needs. Primarily through external research funding, CuSAG persisted for 25 years, ending with his retirement. He has broad research and technical assistance experiences in the United States, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe, related to: (1) reproductive health topics such as adolescent motherhood, men, masculinity, and family planning, and HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases; (2) chronic conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, and cancer, diet, and obesity, food and culture; (3) urban issues such as drugs, violence, crime, incarceration, and community reentry; and (4) the design, implementation, and evaluation of community health and development programs. Over his career, his research and technical assistance activities have received funding from the Russell Sage, Rockefeller, and Annie E. Casey Foundations, the National Research Council, the Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, Health Resources and Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institutes of Child Health and Development, the National Park Service, and local health care agencies such as the Baltimore City and Prince Georges County Health Departments, the AIDS Administration of the Maryland State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Liberty Medical Center of Baltimore, Maryland.  At UMCP, he was co-founder of the graduate training track, The Anthropology of Community, Health, and Development (ACHD), which morphed into the current Health Area of Concentration. Over his career, he has published two books and three dozen journal articles and book chapters. At retirement, he initiated the UMCP-HBCU Scholarship Fund (which is now being disbanded), established a website for his many un-peer reviewed papers and projects for global access while he is currently reorganizing into a monograph series titled, Coding, Reading, and Writing Culture as an Interpretive and Applied Human Science.

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