• Open Anthropology
  • Latest AAA Podcast

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 15,745 other followers

  • Archives

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.

Developments in Access to Research

Oona Schmid, Director of Publishing at the American Anthropological Association is engaging in dialogue with Columbia University students this afternoon at the Scholarly Communications Program Panel to Consider Recent Developments in Access to Research. “Protests, Petitions and Publishing: Widening Access to Research in 2012″ to discuss how Occupy Wall Street, the Research Works Act (RWA), the boycott of Elsevier journals by a growing number of academics, and other recent developments are informing the debate over access to research and scholarship.

During the discussion, Schmid discusses encompassing the widest possible readership for AAA publications. She identifies that while the publications department has a large number of volunteers, such as editors and reviewers, there still remains overhead and personnel costs of running the Association.  She also identifies the academic reward of a formal publishing process, which is still regarded as valuable towards tenure and professional development. This process includes peer-review of the journal piece as well as the necessity for long-term preservation, which aids in access when the article is cited.

AAA is responsible for half million digital objects with articles dating back to 1888 available via AnthroSource. AnthroSource is a service that offers AAA members and subscribing libraries full-text anthropological resources, including: a digital searchable database containing the past, present and future AAA publications; more than 500,000 full-text articles from AAA journals, newsletters, bulletins and monographs in a single place; and 24/7 access to scientific research information across the field of anthropology.  Resources older than 35 years are available for free public use.

During this panel, Schmid reviews AAA’s 2010 cost structure. From this pie chart (slide 7), you can see how AAA met the costs of its expansive publication program in 2010. If AAA were to provide open access to all of its publications, she pursues the options for replacing the  63% that currently comes from library subscriptions . The first option is that AAA members might pick the cost; however, membership dues would increase enormously (see slide 9). In the second option, the author might pay for their work to be published. This option might lead to students, international anthropologists, and underemployed authors being discriminated against, as they might not afford publication.  Commentaries and book reviews, which are a significant role in anthropological publications, might not be funded under this option. The third option might be to reduce costs. While a common perception is that the Association could stop printing copies, ending print only reduces the 2010 costs by 24%, not the 63% that is paid for currently by subscriptions.

As AAA strives to find a way to provide access to the widest possible readership, the Association currently offers the following access to research:

  • Sliding scale membership:  Access to AAA’s digital, online literature is available to individuals on a fair and reasonable sliding scale annual fee structure that ranges from $30 to $306 (http://www.aaanet.org/membership/membershipcategories.cfm).
  • Free Access: Access to AAA’s digital, online literature is available free of charge to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, and qualifying institutions from less developed countries (http://www.aaanet.org/issues/AAA-Gives-Back.cfm).  In addition, AAA participates in four philanthropic programs to provide free access to our content in under-resourced countries. These programs are administered by agencies with presence on the ground in these areas, such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the International Council for Science.
  • “Ungating” back issues of journals: Access to back issues of AAA’s journal American Anthropologist (AA) is available free of charge 35 years and longer after publication. That means that in 2012, all back issues of AA are available free of charge from 1888 to 1977; in 2013, the year 1978 will be “ungated.” Sections are encouraged to follow the same plan. To date, three sections have agreed. CFPEP is charged with assessing the success and costs of this arrangement.
  • Anthropology News online (www.anthropology-news.org) is open access for two months before content is gated and archived within AnthroSource.
  • Grey Literature Hub. With funds raised by the AAA Research Development Committee (RDC), AAA endorsed and is working towards the establishment of an “Anthropology” category on the online open access Social Science Research Network (SSRN; http://www.ssrn.com/) for the purpose of disseminating grey literature, anthropological content that is otherwise not available.
  • Author Rights and Permissions: In the author agreement for AAA journals, the author reserves the right (among other rights) to post his/her article on the author’s personal or institutional website, and to post the article on free, discipline-specific public servers. Because of these clauses, AAA’s author agreement is rated green by SHERPA/RoMEO, a project designed to help facilitate green open access (http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/).

To view Schmid’s complete presentation, click here.

Want to know more about AAA’s publishing program, check out these FAQs.

Director of Publishing speaks at Columbia University

AAA’s Director of Publishing, Oona Schmid, will speak at Columbia University on Tuesday, February 28 at the Scholarly Communication Program  Panel to Consider Recent Developments in Access to Research. At 12:00 PM in Columbia University’s Faculty House Presidential Rooms 2 & 3, join us for “Protests, Petitions and Publishing: Widening Access to Research in 2012″ to discuss how Occupy Wall Street, the Research Works Act (RWA), the boycott of Elsevier journals by a growing number of academics, and other recent developments are informing the debate over access to research and scholarship. The event is free and open to the public.

To view the panelists, click here.

This is Columbia University’s Scholarly Communication Program’s third event this academic year in their speaker series, Research Without Borders: The Changing World of Scholarly Communication.

Follow the series remotely via Twitter at http://twitter.com/ScholarlyComm.

AAA Members Showcase NSF Study to U.S. Senate

AAA members Kenneth Broad and Ben Orlove participated in a showcase of NSF-funded Hazard Research on Capitol Hill last week in recognition of National Preparedness Month (September).

Ben Orlove, Robert Meyer and Kenneth Broad

The showcase took place at the Hart Senate Office Building where members of Congress and their staffers could drop-in to learn about the important use of NSF funding.

 Broad and Orlove are part of a dynamic research team that studies how natural hazard warnings can be improved. Joined by Robert Meyer, Shuyi Chen, Jay Baker and Katherine Thompson, this team seeks to understand how the public interprets and responds to information about natural hazards.

Our study integrated innovative social science research methods to identify patterns in behavioral strategies in the face of disaster forecasts, risk factors and means of improving communicating forecasts.

 In order to best serve the people of the United States in the face of natural hazards, further research is needed to understand the influence of mass media, social interactions, and past experience with false alarms, on public response to forecasting.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,745 other followers