Statement of Solidarity
17 June 2020
Statement from the Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago:
We must [...] view anthropology [...] from Richard Wright’s ‘frog perspectives’ of looking upward from below. When we do this, the world of E.B. Tylor, Franz Boas, and A.R. Radcliffe-Brown becomes articulated with the world of W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Franz Fanon. The ‘frog perspectives’ reveal surprising insights about anthropology, and these are the skeletons in the anthropological closet.
(Willis 1972, 121)1
As protests in response to the murder of George Floyd in police custody continue across the United States, the Department ofAnthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago joins the chorus of outraged voices, acknowledging that silence equates to complicity. We join them in mourning the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Sean Reed,Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, and all the Black lives that have been lost to police and state violence. The department stands in solidarity with Black communities, as well as with protestors (inter)nationally, against a long-standing history of racial and economic injustice. In doing so, we follow the lead of our colleagues in the Association of Black Anthropologists (https://bit.ly/2MHMgsA) who not only condemn police brutality and anti-black racism, but also call for the decolonization / decanonization2 of our discipline, the dismantling of white supremacy, and a collective commitment to transformative justice.
As anthropologists, we are deeply invested in the study of human cultural difference across time and space, and are, consequently, trained to make sense of complex social issues as they relate to socio-politico- economic systems of exploitation, inequality, marginalization, and oppression. To not engage with the emergent conversations of racial injustice is thus a disservice to the established objective of our discipline and, more importantly, serves to perpetuate an epistemicviolence that plagues academia. At the same time, however, we cannot begin to participate in these conversations without first acknowledging the complicated, and colonialist, history of both the field and the university, and their collusion with ongoing (post)colonial projects the world over. Anthropology, much like the institutional structures in which it is positioned, has benefitted from collegiate structures that continue to marginalize people of color while simultaneously legitimating its mode of knowledge production by trafficking in racialized understandings of the Other. More specifically, the methods, theories, and production of knowledge particular to the field have often been developed at the expense and / or exclusion of Black people and other marginalized communities.3 It is, therefore, essential to the project of abolitionist work that we acknowledgethe ways in which our own disciplinary curriculum remains reliant upon often hierarchized and inequitable relations with thecommunities at the center of our work. Our fundamental role in this evolving dialogue, then, must be one that seriously reconsiders the political nature of anthropological inquiry and, in turn, rethinks the development and dissemination of anthropological knowledge. As suggested by William S. Willis (1972),
we must reckon with the proverbial skeletons in the anthropological closet in order to begin the work of dismantling the white supremacist legacy of anthropology.
As engaged anthropologists, we must also extend this critique of anthropological theory and fieldwork to our role in the academy itself (Jobson and Allen 2016).4 As a state-funded site of knowledge production and student instruction, it is vital that we begin, as we all must, “at home.” To that end, the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago asserts its commitment to the following: we are committed to teaching about anti-Blackness and structural racism at all levels of the anthropological curriculum, and working to challenge those systems as they manifest in the classroom; we are committed to amending citational practices in our work to center marginalized perspectives and voices; we are committed to interrogating institutional practices that affect the recruitment and retention of Black and other minoritized scholars and students in our program at both the undergraduate and graduate level; we are committed to expandingundergraduate mentorship for marginalized and working class students in the program; we are committed to exploring how capitalist and colonialist power asymmetries of race, class, disability, gender, and sexuality structure our own research, fieldsites, and knowledge production, and how these can be actively confronted in the pursuit of more ethical scholarship; we are committed to undoing the exceptionalism that marks anthropological thought, and to listening to our colleagues in Black studies, critical ethnic studies, and feminist studies, among other academic sites, who produce knowledge that aids us indecolonizing anthropology (Rosa and Bonilla 2017)5; we are committed to supporting and amplifying voices from the Black community at UIC and in Chicago; and we are committed to denouncing police brutality, and seeking abolition and divestment from all forms of policing and surveillance on our campus and in our city.
By pledging to disrupt the colonialist and neoliberal logics that structure our discipline, we reaffirm our commitment tooppressed peoples in the United States and in our field sites. We also assume responsibility for performing the (self)reflexiveand ceaseless work of struggle for the emancipation and liberation of all, and express our unequivocal support for the Movement for Black Lives and its accomplices (inter)nationally in the ongoing effort to eradicate police violence and state repression. We call for an immediate end to the use of force in dispersing protests in Chicago, specifically, as well as the illegal detainment of protestors in jail. With this in mind, the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago joins many others in seizing this revolutionary moment as a rallying point to think and act on long-standing demandsfor racial justice and to radically unsettling the articulation of power on which we have long relied, in order to imagine adifferent future within our disciplinary “home” and beyond.
Department of Anthropology Faculty
Graduate Anthropology and Geography Association, University of Illinois at Chicago
Undergraduate Anthropology Club, University of Illinois at Chicago
1Willis, William S. 1972. “Skeletons in the Anthropological Closet.” In Explorations in Anthropology: Readings in Cultures, Man, and Nature. Morton H. Fried, ed. Pp. 459-474. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell
2Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. 2012. "Decolonization is Not a Metaphor."
Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1 (1): 1-40.
3Harrison, Faye V. 2008. Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age. Urbana: University of Illinois
4Allen, Jafari Sinclaire, and Ryan Cecil Jobson. "The decolonizing generation:(Race and) theory in anthropology since the eighties."Current Anthropology 57, no. 2 (2016):129-148.
5Rosa, Jonathan and Yarimar 2017. “De-provincializing Trump, Decolonizing Diversity, and Unsettling Anthropology.” Journal of the American Ethnological Society 44 (2): 201-208.