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Graduating an Anthropologist: What I’ve Learned as a Summer Intern

Today’s guest blog post is the AAA/AFA Summer Intern, Rachel Nuzman:

Rachel2Long before graduating from Saint Mary’s College in May, though exponentially more as the date approached, I got asked the two questions most graduates dread but expect to hear: what is your major? And what are you going to do?  The assumption being that we, as recent graduates, will chose a profession immediately after graduation and that will be the job from which we one day retire. Or at the very least, we will magically know and somehow manage to land a job relevant to our degree. If they do understand that a life of research and travel might be in my future, the general public assumes that research will be on dinosaur bones.  While in DC I even had a roommate’s mom refer to me as the ‘bug girl ’.

Upon learning of my double major in Anthropology and English, and minor in Women and Gender Studies, it is usually and almost always automatically assumed that I will be a teacher.  And though academia is a commendable profession and one I would love to eventually fill, there is so much more to the humanities than teaching.  There are so many more options open to Anthropologists; not to mention what I believe to be is a natural a desire to do what you have devoted four years to, rather than simply teaching those same classes that inspired you to be an anthropologist in the first place.

Besides the additional perk of attending the AAA Staff Summer Outing to ArtJamz (the pictures featured here), my time in DC as a Summer Intern has been very rewarding. As an AAA and AFA Summer Intern, I have been working on a few very different projects.  The largest project is the one specifically for the Association for Feminist Anthropology (AFA) where I work closely with AFA President Jane Henrici to create a complete history of the association for its twenty-fifth anniversary.  Over the course of seven weeks I have been and will continue to conduct interviews with members and past leaders, as well as research AFA records at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA).  This means looking at the way the association’s purpose and focus has evolved over its twenty-five years as a section under the AAA, as well as the challenges specifically related to an association dedicated to the advancement of feminist and gender anthropology.  Looking at the association’s focus on the intersectionality of gender and race, as well as minority status, sexuality, income, and education, a history comes together that represents the founding mission of 1988, while showing its relevance today.  Incredibly, through one summer internship, and specifically this project I am able to use all three of my disciplines: an anthropological approach, English writing skills, and a women and gender’s studies lens.

Rachel1While at the AAA, I am working closely with AAA Professional Fellow Courtney Dowdall on a follow up project with past participants of the Leadership Fellows Program, which is allowing me the unique opportunity to interview anthropologists just starting or well into their careers, and learn what their advice is to recent graduates.  The interviews themselves are a learning experience as I apply concepts learned in methods and theory courses.  While in college, doing field research and conducting interviews sounds far off and exciting – mostly because it is, but what is hard to grasp is how long the process takes.  Coming up with the questions and the focal point is time consuming, not to mention the extra time taken to record the answers to those questions.  When a professor tells you that transcribing a fifteen minute conversation will take over an hour, you hardly think of what the consequences of this are.  It really does take time, not only because you are tasked with recording, but also how to represent those you are interviewing.  How true do you stay to their grammar or pauses? What is most important, getting their opinion and the overall meaning, or using their exact wording, ‘ums’, ‘likes’, ‘ahs’ and all?

While doing the important task of learning where past fellows are today and their ideas for strengthening the program, I am almost greedily soaking in their career paths, looking at where they have travelled, what they have researched, and what all they have accomplished.  This, coupled with my other project of compiling a list of graduates from Anthropology Departments associated with a larger program of Applied Anthropology, has led me to a wonderful world of CVs and LinkedIn profiles.

Though seemingly innocuous and routine, what this has done is created a long list of possible career options that I can take and use to answer those who ask, ‘what will you do as an anthropologist?’ Bolstering my new found wide-eyed approach to job searching is my temporary mingling with Washington Association of Professional Anthologists (WAPA) at a delicious happy hour.  Coming together with professional anthropologists to network is an opportunity I might not have had if not for learning about the program through my internship.  Though I did not walk away with a job to present to well-meaning inquirers, I did make connections and I did get introduced to other, non-conventional, anthropological career paths.

 

Time to Connect ALL the Dots

Today’s guest blog post is written by AAA member, Dr. Melanie Bush. She is Associate Professor and Department Co-Chair for the Department of Anthropology & Sociology at Adelphi University.

In December 1951, a petition was presented to the United Nations entitled “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.” In 1964 Malcolm X argued for taking the U.S to the world court and UN for human rights violations.  In 2008, the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination issued their findings on the U.S. with 46 substantive recommendations.

When we look at the state of affairs in US society today, with an unarmed 17 year old African American male followed and shot, and the killer set free; when courts decide that there is no longer need for monitoring voter rights despite undisputable evidence of Black disenfranchisement; when mass incarceration is the “new Jim Crow”  (Michelle Alexander), and when politicians unabashedly defend a program that terrorizes young black and brown youth through a stop and frisk program that not only finds 9 of 10 of those stopped completely innocent, it targets between 4-7 times the number of young people of color than white youth despite equal drug use; where on every possible social indicator, communities of color come up on the short end: foreclosuresincome, wealthhealth statushealth insuranceeducation,  etc.  isn’t it time to recognize the systemic nature of the racist hierarchy and do something drastic?

What is the climate in which this is acceptable?  As Malcolm X said, this is not a violation of civil rights; it is a violation of human rights. It is not a Negro problem it is a human problem.

I would further this argument by saying it is a WHITE problem.

Why?

Let’s get real.  As just one example, the Pew Research Center  recently released data showing sad but unsurprising divergent perspectives about the verdict.  Of African Americans, 78% report that the trial raises important issues about race that need to be discussed; 28% of whites say so. Public opinion surveys consistently demonstrate that whites believe that racial inequality is a thing of the past. Indeed a Tufts University study in 2011 found that whites now believe they are the primary victims of racial discrimination.  It’s true that younger whites tend to be more aware of the realities, but still minimally so.

So what does this have to do with white folks?

First of all, most brown and black folks understand, and recognize these realities.  They have to –they live it.

As white folks, we have the luxury and the privilege to ignore, deny, pretend, soften, moderate, believe that we are nice people who never do bad things so these systemic patterns have nothing to do with us, and we can be horrified but do nothing.  We can reap the privileges of a system that continuously provides us with benefits of the doubt, second chances, and be allowed to believe it’s all solely because of our individual effort.

It’s time for a change. We have the privilege of education, of access to people, to networks, to publishing, to institutions. With humility we can make a difference and we must.

This fight need be one that stands against a system that tolerated and continues to tolerate the murders of Emmett Tills, Vincent Chins, Manual Luceros, Shaima Al Awadis and countless others.

It is time to connect this struggle with the treatment of black and brown people all over the globe.  It is time for ALL of us to speak and act against drone strikes, war, imprisonment, the economic assault of global sweatshops.

We must unite with grassroots organizations that are fighting for change and get involved. At the very least, let us support their work; recognize that our future is intimately interconnected with theirs.

My heart and my mind were mute from grief, sadness and bewilderment.  But it is past time for us to take responsibility in every way we possibly can. How can we tolerate a world that is so unsafe, where young Black men are preyed upon?  If we do allow that to occur, what does that do to our own humanity?

As Robin DG Kelley said, this verdict was rendered not because the system failed, it happened because it worked.   For 500 years, the entire system has been firmly dedicated to an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; with predators and threats almost always black, brown and red. The very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor and contain populations. Kelley continues:  “If we do not come to terms with this history we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right wing fringe.”

ANYONE can act on this racist ideology and stand for this racial hierarchy.  It is more likely those who personally benefit however, for some who don’t, identifying with the dominant group provides a sense of superiority.

And anyone can stand up against it.

We must confront the notion that it’s just two ways of viewing a situation as if they are equal.  One validates the murder, incarceration, stop and frisking, impoverishment, of young black and brown men and increasingly women based on presumed criminality, cultural and intellectual deficit, and the other stands for humanity and dignity.

Anthropology as a discipline is not exempt – See President Mullings, Trayvon Martin, Race and Anthropology. Every one of us can do something about the issues she raises in this statement.  In our sections, in our classrooms, in our memberships.  Most particularly white members of AAA can take on responsibility for making change happen.

Isn’t it time?

Notes:
For information about racial justice work being done by whites see e.g: Catalyst ProjectShowing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)White Privilege Conference.

See also: Black Youth Project, Project South, Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, Domestic Workers United, Dream Defenders, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, etc.

For commentaries: http://dubois.fas.harvard.edu/trayvon-martin-commentary,  YES Magazine, Ricardo Levins MoralesColorlines, Black Commentator.

Who Has the Right to Self-Defense and Life in So-Called “Post-Racial” Society?

Today’s guest blog post is written by AAA member, Dr. Faye V. Harrison. She is a Joint Professor in Anthropology and African American Studies at the University of Florida.

The outcome of the George Zimmerman trial is symptomatic of the extent to which an insidious post-racial ideology has influenced US society.  The court’s refusal to recognize the part that racial profiling played in Trayvon Martin’s death belies the reality of structural racism in a society in which anxieties over crime and security are inextricably entangled with racialized perceptions and projections of danger and disorder.

Besides having examined the media coverage and some of the scholarly literature on racial profiling, I am also familiar with the phenomenon on other grounds.  I am the mother of three sons who, on many occasions, have been deemed to be guilty while driving, walking, and shopping black.  Moreover, their father and uncles, despite being a generation older and established members of their community, have also had more of their share of being racially profiled.  In one instance, my husband and his older brother, both university professors, were stopped while driving in an area of town where police claimed to be on the lookout for two black male robbery suspects.  After the police stopped them, asked them to get out of the car and searched them and the car, it should have been clear that these two African-American men did not fit the description of the younger suspects.  Instead of letting the men resume their drive home, the police called in for reinforcements, escalating the situation.  The presumed danger the police encountered was nothing other than black men’s verbal indignation for being targeted and disrespected because of race.  Fortunately, the confrontation subsided without an arrest, injury, or death.  However, that incident, like so many others around the country, demonstrates the existential and structural vulnerability of not only working-class, working-poor, and unemployed black youths, who bear the brunt of this targeting, but also of a wider class and generational cross-section of African Americans and other racially-subjected people.

While meanings that encode danger and predatory criminality are frequently attributed to the bodies and intentions of black males, racial profiling also affects other populations, as illuminated in the online Native News Network in which Navajo/Yankton Sioux filmmaker Jacqueline Keeler recently posted a relevant commentary, “My Dad Was Almost Trayvon Martin” (July 17, 2013).  However, indigenous and other ethno-racial minority males are not the only targets.  For example, Black women are commonly profiled as drug mules and sex workers and, as a result, subjected to invasive strip searches, sexual harassment and even rape.  The devaluation of their lives also results in incarceration and loss of life, but with less media attention and public engagement than in the case of males.

A combination of personal testimonies, academic research, and investigative reports from civil rights and human rights organizations clearly demonstrate that racial profiling, whether emanating from policing or the practice of vigilante justice, is a severe problem in this country as well as in many other parts of the world.  The problem in the US has been documented and debated domestically and transnationally.  In 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism investigated racism in the US. In his report, racial profiling was a major issue he addressed in the contexts of law enforcement, immigration, counterterrorism, and post-Katrina conditions.

The nearly all-white and all-female jury that found Zimmerman not guilt in the second-degree murder or manslaughter of 17-year old Martin accepted the defense attorneys’ claim that racial profiling was not operative in the case.  They accepted the argument that Zimmerman had justifiably criminally profiled Martin, whose hoodie supposedly made him suspicious in a neighborhood where black males had allegedly committed robberies.  Since the verdict was announced, people of diverse backgrounds have demonstrated against the acquittal, and they have demanded a federal investigation of civil rights violations and a repeal of stand-your-ground laws.  All around the country protesters are contesting the court’s post-racial interpretation of Martin’s demise.  That both the defense and the prosecution discounted race indicates the extent to which colorblindness has taken hold of a considerable portion of the populace.

Trayvon Martin’s death is the most visible in a larger pattern in which police and armed citizens have been acquitted—if arrested and arraigned at all—for killing blacks, particularly black youths, after invoking conventional self-defense claims or stand-your-ground law.  Although Florida’s stand-your- ground law had no official role in the trial, its existence and the popular support for it among gun owners contributed to the ideological climate in which the jurors operated.  In her CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, Juror 37 asserted that Zimmerman had the right to defend himself.  She referred to stand-your-ground law as a justification for her selective interpretation of the evidence.  In her view, Martin’s part in the scuffle that led to his death was not self-defense but the life-threatening violence through which he caused his own death.  Such blame-the-victim logic is pervasive in the criminal justice system and the school-to-prison pipeline that feeds into it.

Anthropologists can contribute useful insights into the complex dynamics germane to the lived experience of and the ideological-political struggles over racial profiling.  For instance, we can illuminate the shifting contexts in which some minorities and new immigrants are subjected to racialized and racially-gendered policing and litigation while others are conferred the prerogatives of whiteness with the right to armed self-defense.  We can also find the means to express practical solidarity with those who are standing up for change.

Reflections on the Killing of a Black Boy

Today’s guest blog post is by Dr. Steven Gregory, Professor of Anthropology and African-American Studies at Columbia University:

All black males are [potential] criminals.
Trayvon Martin is a black male.
Trayvon Martin is a criminal.

This flawed syllogism rests at the crux of the Zimmerman trial.  It was at the heart of the defense team’s case, the reasoning of at least one juror (B-37), and the public pronouncements of many Americans who believe that the acquittal of George Zimmerman was just.  It was this erroneous major premise that the prosecution failed to refute, largely as a consequence of Judge Debra S. Nelson’s incomprehensible ruling that  “racial profiling” could not be argued in court.

As a direct consequence, the killing of Trayvon Martin was ripped from its social and historical context and reduced to Zimmerman’s alleged fear.  The facts presented in evidence—forensic analyses, inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s various accounts, the fact that Zimmerman stalked Martin, and Rachel Jeantal’s ear witness account—all this paled in comparison to the transcendent truth of white fear.  White fear was taken to be self-evident, prima facie, and not requiring evidence to be found “reasonable.”

I know that Zimmerman’s mother is Peruvian.  But whiteness is a subject position and not a fact rooted in biology.   In another context Zimmerman could, himself, have been profiled as an “illegal Mexican,” as was Bronx-born Salsa superstar Mark Anthony at the All Star Game held recently in New York.  “How are you going to pick a got dam Mexican to sing God Bless America,” twittered one twisted baseball fan.  But when George Zimmerman got out of his car, tracked down and fatally shot Trayvon Martin he became white in the minds of American racists and in the minds of the indifferent.   And in that vicious and murderous act of transmutation the victim became victimizer, white racism became white fear, and a dead black boy was found guilty of his own murder.  As for Trayvon Martin and Rachel Jeantal, they, as Frantz Fanon put it, had no “ontological resistance” for the supporters of the acquittal.   They were whatever white anxiety, anger and racism could conjure forth.

Here, I suppose, I should ask the question, “What can anthropology do to address the death of Trayvon Martin?”  My immediate, heartfelt response to this question is that I am not sure that I care.  As a black man, I cannot afford to care.   As a black man, there are things that I must do that trump ruminating over a panel idea for this year’s AAA meetings.  Let me explain.  In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, many black people (including the President of the United States) are remembering, indeed, reliving occasions when they have been racially profiled and, not infrequently, confronted with deadly force.  I suppose that this phenomenon is akin to the forgetting that occurs in cases of people who have been sexually abused as children.  And how could it be otherwise?  Black people have lives to live, and they must live them as if they will not be gunned down or dragged to death behind a truck on a country road.  Black people have no choice but to live in a fragile, fictive bubble of normalcy.  And this is what so many white people do not understand.

When I was a sophomore in college my bubble burst.  It was neither the first time nor the last in my lifetime.  A friend and I had just left campus in my car.  We had picked up film equipment for a project that we planned to do latter in the week.  Just when we reached a busy intersection, two unmarked cars appeared out of nowhere and cut us off.  In what seemed like seconds a fleet of marked police cars arrived on the scene, sirens wailing.  A mob of barking police officers surrounded the car, guns drawn and pointed at us.  Amid hollers of “Get the fuck out the car or we’ll blow your fuckin’ heads off!” they gave us a contradictory command: they told us to put our hands out the window and get out the car.  I can remember the split second of terror and paralysis when I made eye contact with my friend and we realized that we could not do both simultaneously. With guns pressed to our heads, they dragged us out of the car, handcuffed us, and threw us face down on the hot asphalt.

They did not ask any questions.  They searched the car, ripping the seats out and tossing them to the ground.  Then they went through the trunk.  They opened the camera case and threw the Arriflex 16 mm. camera and lighting equipment to the ground.   After about forty minutes, a captain showed up and spoke out of earshot with the dozen or so cops who remained.  “A case of mistaken identity,” he said later to us, or something to that effect.  He then told us sternly to get our stuff together and clear the intersection.  There was no apology or expression of regret.

This is what I recall when I reflect on the Zimmerman verdict.  It does not inspire me to write a scholarly article or book.  It does not motivate me to tweak out some novel theoretical angle or buzz word for a conference.  And it does not inspire me to organize a “teach in” within the cloistered precincts of Columbia University, where I work.  But it does inspire me to take action in concert and solidarity with all those people in the streets, the community centers, and in the houses of worship of this country who could have been Trayvon Martin on that tragic night.  It inspires me to fight back.

There is no question that anthropology has done a great deal to change the way that some Americans think about race and racism.  And that work needs must continue.    But the racist does not act out of ignorance; he acts with willful ignorance.  Ignorance, mendacity and white rage are weapons for the like of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Don West, and all those who believe that black life has no value.  And this, in my opinion, is the battlefield upon which we must struggle for justice for all.  And that battlefield begins right in our backyards.

Dig Wars – Reality TV Show Loots Historical Sites

President Leith Mullings wields her pen once again in request for preservation of historical sites against reality television shows. This year the Travel Channel has a new reality television show “Dig Wars”. President Mullings’ letter gives a detailed overview of the show and suggestions to rethink the show’s direction towards a productive and entertaining piece.

Below is the text of the letter. To read the letter itself, click here (PDF).

Dear Mr. Sharp:

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) and its 12,000 members worldwide join other professional organizations and concerned communities in urging you to withdraw or modify the new reality television show, “Dig Wars.”  This program actively encourages the needless destruction of the archaeological record. Its theme is a competition among teams with metal detectors to determine which team can locate and dig up antiquities from the ground. These are treated as “loot” (the show’s term) and assessed for their monetary value.

Reasonable viewers watching this program may be mistakenly led to believe that such behaviors are ethically acceptable.  On the contrary, the looting as portrayed on the show is deeply disturbing. The overall message is that this nation’s cultural and historical heritage is “loot” that is up for grabs for anyone with a metal detector and shovel.  This the wrong message to give the public, especially in an age when so many historical sites are disappearing.

The show focuses on taking teams of metal detector enthusiasts to known archaeological sites of historical interest (notable examples include Fort Saint Phillip, Louisiana, and Eastover Plantation, Virginia).  The historical interest of these places is important to the program and is an obvious reason for showing it on Travel Channel.  However, the program’s emphasis on digging at those archaeological sites to retrieve relics described as “treasure” is at odds with maintaining the historical integrity of these places.  Your viewers are encouraged to consider these historical sites as places to plunder, experienced through the activities of the metal-detecting teams.  It is at best a mixed message for your program to feature historical places as worthy of travel and tourism and at the same time promote their wanton irrevocable damage, robbing them of historical value.

The winning team is determined each week on the basis of the total monetary worth of their “finds,” as assessed by an appraiser at the end of the show. The value of historical relics is reduced to dollars and cents.  The Travel Channel’s message is that  any value of historical places and objects as reflecting our common heritage is negligible compared to  the money  to be made  trafficking in looted artifacts.  That disturbing message causes grave concern among the archaeologists and historians who seek to preserve and protect our historical legacy.

This is doubly unfortunate because the program has the potential to promote the historical value of these artifacts.  It could be retooled to enlighten Travel Channel audiences, explaining how the objects found by metal detecting enthusiasts can be used to interpret the historical past. For example, instead of being appraised, the objects could be assessed for how they tell a story about the past, as evaluated by local historical societies or local archaeologists.  Such stories could make for more compelling programs on these historical sites, drawing in larger and more diverse audiences.
As an example of how this could be done, last year the National Geographic Channel, working with professional archaeological associations and metal-detector enthusiasts, modified its “Diggers” program.  It now focuses on topics in American history from the point of view of two hobbyists working in coordination with local historians and archaeologists. That program became an opportunity for a multi-platform franchise that provides entertaining content for a broad TV audience and celebrates our shared history.

The AAA urges you to modify the contents of ”Dig Wars” so that it will enlighten the public, encouraging respect for cultural heritage and for the many surviving historical sites of interest that are worthy of travel and tourism. We would be happy to help you locate and work with trained archaeologists to communicate the excitement of discovery and of history in a more responsible, ethical, and engaging manner.

Sincerely,

Leith Mullings
President

AAA Staff Rediscovers a 1,000-2,000 year old Projectile

Lisa and her anthropological findLisa Myers, AAA’s manager, web and database services, discovered a stone projectile point in her late father’s belongings. Her father lived his entire life in Western Maryland’s Washington County so Lisa contacted the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab) for assistance in identifying the point. Patricia Samford, director of the MAC Lab identified the artifact as a Selby Bay/Fox Creek point, roughly 1000-2000 years old. For more information on the Selby Bay point and the Maryland State Museum of Archaeology at Jefferson Patterson Park, click here.

Help Us To Understand the Careers of Practicing And Professional Anthropologists as they relate to Academic Institutions

Are you a practicing or professional anthropologist working outside of an academic organization?  If so, are you collaborating in any way with an academic institution as part of your professional life?

We are aware from anecdotes that many practicing and professional anthropologists participate in the academic community in one way or another.  But we know little about what this participation is like, how academic responsibilities figure in their careers, and how practitioners are compensated for their academic commitments.  AAA’s Committee on Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology is seeking volunteers to share their experiences and views on this issue in a 30-minute phone interview.  We will draw on the data we collect to make available various models for department-practitioner collaboration and offer recommendations for appropriate compensation.

Please contact Sanne Roijmans at srijmans@memphis.edu if you would like to know more. We will follow up with more information on the survey and how you can participate.

AAA Releases Statement on US Supreme Court Ruling on Voting Rights Act

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is deeply dismayed by the US Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday that, by a narrow 5-4 vote, struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. First enacted in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was initially aimed at preventing reprehensible practices that stopped African Americans from voting, most common in the American South. The law eventually imposed federal oversight over nine states—Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — requiring them to seek preapproval for any changes in election laws (e.g., voter identification measures, redistricting maps, and rules related to the mechanics of elections like polling hours).

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that any remedies to injustice must rely on current data concerning practices in the aforementioned states, rather than historical conditions that the law originally sought to eliminate. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed that the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act is what led to its demise. She wrote:

Demand for a record of violations equivalent to the one earlier made would expose Congress to a catch-22. If the statute was working, there would be less evidence of discrimination, so opponents might argue that Congress should not be allowed to renew the statute. In contrast, if the statute was not working, there would be plenty of evidence of discrimination, but scant reason to renew a failed regulatory regime.

The Voting Rights Act was one of many legislative responses to the Civil Rights Movement, which encompassed an ongoing struggle to gain equality and justice in the US. Over several decades, lives were tragically lost and property destroyed in pursuit of equal opportunity. The Civil Rights Movement generated other social movements that have transformed U.S. society and culture. Over the past century, anthropologists have been deeply involved in the study of African-American and Latino communities and have made significant contributions to the scholarship on race, class, and inequality.

AAA President, Dr. Leith Mullings observed, “Despite significant progress, there is much work to be done, and it is important to remain vigilant about the regressive effects of voter identification measures and redistricting. For the Supreme Court to deny the important role that legal protections have played in recent history flies in the face of anthropologists’ scholarship on poverty, social justice, and racial inequality.”

Anthropologists Welcome Supreme Court Rulings In Historic Prop 8 and DOMA Cases

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) welcomed separate rulings by the US Supreme Court, which struck down the main provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and also allowed same-sex marriage to remain legal in California.

In a 5-4 decision in the DOMA case, the Court ruled that same-sex couples who are legally married are now entitled to equal treatment under the law. Previously, DOMA defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman for federal purposes.

In the AAA’s view, the US Supreme Court has properly found that same-sex couples that are legally married should have those marriages recognized under federal law. Before today’s rulings, DOMA relegated gay men and women (and their legal marriages) to an inferior legal status. This decision only applies in those 12 states (and the District of Columbia) where same-sex marriages are currently legal. The decision reached today allows those in same sex marriages to receive, for example, equal treatment in terms of filing income taxes and receiving social security benefits.

In a separate ruling, the Court also dismissed a case that challenged the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a California state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. After two same-sex couples challenged Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court declined to do so. The proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today, the US Supreme Court held that the aforementioned proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held that the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case. In effect, by dismissing the appeal challenging the final order from the trial court, the order will go into effect. The order prohibits the Attorney General and Governor from enforcing Prop. 8, preserving for now the legality of same-sex marriage in California.

Earlier this year, the AAA filed an amicus brief on behalf of the case for invalidating Proposition 8. The AAA is the world’s largest professional organization of anthropologists and others interested in anthropology. Its membership includes all specialties within anthropology, including cultural anthropology, linguistics, archeology, and biological anthropology. In 2004, the AAA adopted a Statement on Marriage and the Family, which observes, in part, that the results of more than a century of anthropological research on households, kinship relationships, and families, across cultures and through time, provide no support whatsoever for the view that either “civilization” or viable social orders depend upon marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. Rather, anthropological research supports the conclusion that a vast array of family types, including families built upon same-sex partnerships, can contribute to stable and humane societies. Most recently, AAA’s newest digital publication Open Anthropology focuses on marriage and other arrangements.

In the AAA’s view, the US Supreme Court has properly found that DOMA institutionalizes discrimination against legally married same-sex couples at the national level. Further, in AAA’s view, the State of California, having amended its Constitution to strip the right of same-sex couples to marry, is in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As stated in our amicus brief, throughout history, state interference with the ability to marry has been a means of oppression and stigmatization of disfavored groups, serving to degrade whole classes of people by depriving them of the full ability to exercise a fundamental right.

This discrimination has been shown to have severe social and psychological impacts. By singling out gay men and women as ineligible for the institution of marriage, it invites the public to discriminate against them. And by depriving same-sex couples of the ability to marry, adverse effects are imposed on their children.

A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage and a growing number of states have recognized this public support by changing outmoded and discriminatory laws. National governments on several continents have arrived at this same recognition. It is highly appropriate that the US, ever concerned about the protection of human rights, finally end this offensive form of discrimination and acknowledge the right to marriage equality.

The DOMA case is United States v. Windsor, and the Prop 8 case is Hollingsworth v. Perry.

What do Anthropologists Say about Same-sex Marriage?

As the marriage bill heads to the U.K. House of Lords for its second reading, Roger Lancaster contributes an anthropological perspective on marriage as a labile institution, designed to meet societal needs and necessarily not tethered to a heterosexual dyad in his latest Huffington Post article. His words offer a trenchant rebuttal to the director of Catholic Voices and the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose positions all appear in a provocative and engaging new volume: The Meaning of Matrimony, just published by Civitas. The UK debate coincides with anticipation that the U.S. highest court will rule on Windsor v. U.S. – Defense of Marriage Act before the term ends in late June.

In addition to this newly released volume, AAA is keeping anthropological perspectives at the forefront of these debates in the debut issue of Open Anthropology, a compilation of 11 articles that similarly show how mutable and varied domestic arrangements are.

 

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