Throughout the course of my interviews, I asked the contributors, “What texts should all anthropology students be familiar with by the time they complete their undergraduate or graduate programs?” I knew they would point me to the works cited throughout both African-American Pioneers in Anthropology and The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology, but I was interested to learn the texts that guide their research and are incorporated in their teaching. Who are they and their students thinking alongside?
This seemingly innocuous question encouraged conversations about the circulation of particular histories of and in the discipline, and it centered our attention on canonization and citation practices. And rightfully so, given the ways that anthropologists of color, in general, and Black anthropologists, in particular, have been underrecognized in the field.
In their interrogation of anthropology’s success towards its goal of racial inclusivity, Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson concluded that anthropology departments are institutionally organized as “white public spaces,” thus participating in “a hegemonic, daily, unreflexive praxis that marginalizes faculty and students of color” (2011, 554). One of the ways departments constitute themselves in this way is by establishing clear “boundaries by theoretical perspectives and explanatory projects as well as subject matter” (552). These boundaries determine which ideas and perspectives “belong” in anthropological thought, and make it difficult to include courses, research, and writings on race and racism. For these reasons, anthropologists of color are often met with resistance and have been excluded from theory building exercises which are imperative to the perpetuation of the discipline.
Drawing on Sylvia Wynter’s theorization of the Western Man, one could argue that disciplines are “storytellers who now storytellingly invent themselves” (Wynter and McKittrick 2015, 11) by relying upon the circulation of scholars, ideas, readings, and histories that best fit the story they are hoping to tell. In anthropology, these narratives have favored Western scholars who are white and male, often hoping to portray some authentic truth about “other” populations and cultures. Together, these theoretical boundaries and the systemic privileging of certain scholars contribute to an idealized canon that tends to over-represent the historical and contemporary scholarship of white male cis-gender thinkers.
Alternatively, as Joshua Bennett and Imani Perry brilliantly reflect, we should challenge the fraught and often fetishized canon. Instead we should consider its purpose to simply “create a set of common texts and common texts function as ways for us to have sustained conversations.” With this in mind, a kind of deliberate curation should be invested in ensuring that “canons are elastic, or they should be, and they should make room for beauty.” We can take this as a call to uplift legacies and make visible the intellectual labor of Black anthropologists who have been pushed to the margins of the discipline or have had to find disciplinary homes in other departments.
Suggestions for how to meaningfully reimagine the discipline and the canon are plenty. Moreover, demands to decolonize and transform anthropology have circulated for decades. Ashanté Reese calls for the elevation of ethnography that draws on epistemological elsewheres, including “from Black studies, ethnic studies, women and gender studies, and the lives we lived before the academy” (2019). In her estimation, the field’s harsh disciplinary boundaries are limiting, monotonous, and uncreative.
“We need to overhaul the way we teach anthropology,” Riché J. Daniel Barnes explained (2013). “We cannot be afraid to talk about the way anthropology has been complicit in the degradation of cultures and the accompanying oppression of people. We cannot continue to begin with the ‘primitive’ and the ‘savage’ and expect students whose ancestors were part of those populations to find merit in the field.”
Angela McMillan Howell and Elgin L. Klugh considered institutional ways to combat this alienation. Howell and Klugh, both alumni and faculty members at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), believe that “their history, student characteristics, and overall learning environments uniquely position HBCUs to give voice to a number of perspectives that would add texture to the anthropological canon” (Klugh and Howell 2013). It is our responsibility as educators to ensure that students and scholars of all identities and subject positions do not feel alienated and ostracized by a discipline with a deeply colonial history.
Overall, these suggestions point to the need to combat the erasure of certain voices and highlight the theoretical interventions of those whose existence is often written out of the discipline. “We have this legacy of African American pioneers who have decolonized and we could use them to further decolonize the discipline,” Alice Baldwin-Jones explains, referring not only to those scholars profiled in the book, but to all those elders who contributed their intellectual labor to anthropology. This would require an incorporation of their work in courses, as well as tangible engagement with their theory in our own writing, particularly given the importance of citation to the academic enterprise.
Erica Lorraine Williams, whose current book project deals with Black feminist activism in Bahia, expounds: “It’s really important that we document these stories and document people’s trajectories and their work, reviewing their work and the contributions that it made so that we don’t continue to be marginalized and kind of left out of the canon.” Christen A. Smith’s #CiteBlackWomen movement, a collective of which Williams is a member, is one such commitment to crediting the life and work of Black women intellectuals. Another is Black feminist anthropology, which Irma McClaurin defines as an intervention that “constructs its own canon that is both theoretical and based in the politics of praxis and poetics” and “seeks to deconstruct the institutionalized racism and sexism that has characterized the history of the discipline of anthropology” (2001, 2).
Therefore, to keep these scholars “active and alive” and to “keep building and highlighting them,” as Antoinette Jackson implores, I present a reading list curated by the volume’s contributors (with a few suggested additions of my own). This kind of list is in good company, as existing examples include the Zora’s Daughters Podcast syllabi and the Decanonizing Anthropology Syllabus Project. These collections, and others similar to them, are living documents that might shift and grow over time, but remain committed to centering the voices of marginalized folks and respecting them as knowledge producers, rather than mere research subjects. Across theories and geographies, disciplines and subfields, and methodological approaches, these texts speak to a past and present of anthropology that takes seriously the lived realities of race and racism.
Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.
Anderson, Ryan. 2013. “Race, Racism, Anthropology #1: Mullings on ‘Interrogating Racism.’” Savage Minds (blog). February 27, 2013.
Baker, Lee D. 1998. From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954. Berkeley: University of California Press.
———, ed. 2003. Life in America: Identity and Everyday Experience. Blackwell.
Barnes, Riché J. Daniel. 2015. Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community. Families in Focus. Rutgers University Press.
- See also Mark Anthony Neal’s interview with Riché J. Daniel Barnes on the Left of Black video podcast (season 8, episode 12: “When Black Professional Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community”).
Bolles, A. Lynn. 2001. “Seeking the Ancestors: Forging a Black Feminist Tradition in Anthropology.” In Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics, edited by Irma McClaurin. Rutgers University Press.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2017. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. 5th ed. Rowman & Littlefield.
Browne, Dallas. 2016. People You Should Know: Biographies of William Shack and James Gibbs. Self-published.
Buck, Pem Davidson. 2001. Worked to the Bone: Race, Class, Power and Privilege in Kentucky. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Cox, Aimee Meredith. 2015. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Duke University Press.
Fernández-Kelly, Patricia. 2015. The Hero’s Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State. Princeton: Princeton Univeristy Press.
Franklin, Maria, and Robert Paynter. 2010. “Inequality and Archaeology.” In Voices in American Archaeology: The 75th Anniversary Volume of the Society for American Archaeology, edited by Wendy Ashmore, Dorothy T. Lippert, and Barbara J. Mills, 94–130. Washington, D.C.: Society for American Archaeology.
Harrison, Faye V. 1992. “The Du Boisian Legacy in Anthropology.” Critique of Anthropology 12 (3): 239–60.
———, ed. 2005. Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. AltaMira Press.
Howell, Angela McMillan. 2013. Raised Up Down Yonder: Growing Up Black in Rural Alabama. University Press of Mississippi.
- See also Angela Howell’s video introduction to the book. This video was part of a collaboration between Howell and Territa Poole, profiled here by Morgan State University.
Hurston, Zora Neale. 1935. Mules and Men. J.B. Lippincott.
Jackson, Antoinette T. 2012. Speaking for the Enslaved: Heritage Interpretation at Antebellum Plantation Sites. Left Coast Press.
———. 2020. Heritage, Tourism, and Race: The Other Side of Leisure. New York: Routledge.
- See also Antoinette Jackson’s book launch presentation.
Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Nation Books.
Kincaid, Jamaica. 1988. A Small Place. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Ladson-Billings, Gloria. 1994. The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. Jossey-Bass.
Lamphere, Louise. 2004. “Unofficial Histories: A Vision of Anthropology from the Margins.” American Anthropologist 106 (1): 126–39.
Louis, Jr., Bertin M. 2014. My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestanism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas. New York University Press.
- See also Bertin Louis’s interview with Kevin Michael Foster on Blackademics TV (Austin, PBS: 2015).
McClaurin, Irma, ed. 2001. Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics. Rutgers University Press.
McKittrick, Katherine, ed. 2015. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Duke University Press.
Mullings, Leith. 1997. On Our Own Terms: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of African American Women. Routledge.
Pattillo-McCoy, Mary. 1999. Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class. University of Chicago Press.
Remy, Anselme. 1976. “Anthropology: For Whom and What?” The Black Scholar 7 (7): 12–16.
Rickford, John Russell, and Russell John Rickford. 2000. Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English. Wiley.
Robinson, Cedric J. 1983. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Zed Press.
Rodriguez, Cheryl R., Dzodzi Tsikata, and Akosua Adomako Ampofo, eds. 2015. Transatlantic Feminisms: Women and Gender Studies in Africa and the Diaspora. Lexington Books.
- See also Cheryl R. Rodriguez’s interview about the book in the Black Agenda Report (2019).
Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke University Press.
Smedley, Audrey, and Brian D. Smedley. 2011. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview. 4th edition. Routledge.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1992. “The Caribbean Region: An Open Frontier in Anthropological Theory.” Annual Review of Anthropology 21 (1): 19–42.
———. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Beacon Press.
Watkins, Rachel J. 2020. “An Alter(Ed)Native Perspective on Historical Bioarchaeology.” Historical Archaeology 54 (1): 17–33.
Williams, Erica Lorraine. 2013. Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements. University of Illinois Press.
Wynter, Sylvia, and Katherine McKittrick. 2015. “Unparalleled Catastrophe for Our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations.” In Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, edited by Katherine McKittrick, 9–89. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
While interviewing the contributors and collecting these suggested readings, an interesting detail arose. Several pioneers have donated or stored their papers across sites and platforms, an act that inevitably speaks to their understanding of the importance of collecting, recording, documenting, and archiving. I have included a non-exhaustive list below:
- Niara Sudarkasa’s personal papers are at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale.
- Vera Mae Green’s papers are located at the Tuskegee University library, but many of the holdings have yet to be digitized.
- Anselme Remy’s papers, mostly published in French, can be found at the Library of Congress.
- The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University houses both Ira E. Harrison’s papers and the archives of the Association of Black Anthropologists. Dr. Harrison also has papers at Emory University.
- The Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive and Irma McClaurin’s papers are located in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.
Return to the Table of Contents
Read about the contributors to The Second Generation
Browse the Zotero library for this series
Additional Works Cited
Barnes, Riché Daniel. 2013. “Anthropology Is for Us, Right? (Section News, Association of Black Anthropologists).” Anthropology News 54 (11).
Brodkin, Karen, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson. 2011. “Anthropology as White Public Space?” American Anthropologist 113 (4): 545–56.
Klugh, Elgin, and Angela Howell. 2013. “Decolonization Continued: Anthropology and HBCUs (Section News, Association of Black Anthropologists).” Anthropology News 54 (6).
Reese, Ashanté. 2019. “When We Come to Anthropology, Elsewhere Comes with Us (Opinion: Ethnography from Elsewhere).” Anthropology News 60 (1): e113–17.
 Volume contributors’ names are place in bold type throughout these pieces and, unless otherwise noted, their quoted words are drawn from the interviews that form the basis for this series as described in the author’s introduction.