Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology

ChapterIII

The Recognition and Use of Minority Anthropologists

One of the concerns expressed throughout the deliberations of the Committee was the question of whether prejudice and discrimination is viewed by minority anthropologists as a factor in how they are used in fieldwork and whether it affects how their work is assessed.

Three questions in the questionnaire dealt with this issue:

Question 16 reads:

It has been said that the intellectual contributions of minority anthropologists are not given the same consideration as those of non-minority anthropologists. For example, the writings of minority anthropologists are often not reviewed in professional journals, not quoted or cited, and seldom used as required readings. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? If you agree, can you think of examples? If you disagree, please comment.

Question 18 related to the utilization of minority colleagues by other professionals and reads as follows:

Some minority anthropologists say that in contrast to nonminority anthropologists they have been utilized in the following ways: field-worker and interviewer; liaison to a minority, ethnic or cultural group; "cultural broker-interpreter" for majority member anthropologists; informant. Does your experience, both as a student and professional anthropologist now, bear out this assertion? If so, please tell us about it. If you disagree, please comment.

Question 19 was designed to elicit information about how minority anthropologists feel about their exclusion from some of the more important activities of professional life. It reads as follows:

It has also been asserted that minority anthropologists have been excluded from making theoretical formulations, interpretations of research findings and policy decisions. Does your experience both as a student and a professional anthropologist bear out this assertion? If so, please tell us about it. If not, please comment.

A brief explanation is needed on how the answers to these questions were analyzed. Each respondent could merely indicate a general agreement or disagreement with the statement. But space was also provided on the questionnaire for comments and examples. It was necessary to determine the degree to which the comments, when they were offered, corresponded with the general expression of agreement or disagreement. Indeed, it occasionally proved to be the case that the content of the text overrides the more obvious immediate response. The respondent's immediate answer was tabulated without alteration and the multifaceted nature of the responses were also considered.

The responses to question 16, regarding the lack of consideration given to the intellectual contributions of minority scholars, are presented in three parts: first, the extent to which people agreed or disagreed with the total statement; second, the extent to which respondents related to specific parts of the question (i.e., that "the writings of minority anthropologists are often not reviewed in professional journals"); and third, the extent to which the works of minority anthropologists are "seldom used as required readings."

Out of 36 respondents, 18 agreed and 8 disagreed with the statement that the intellectual contributions of minority anthropologists are not given the same consideration as those of non-minority anthropologists, while 10 respondents' positions were not clearly stated. These answers are presented in Table 15, Appendix C. The Black anthropologists' experiences in this regard appear to be different from those of the other minority scholars, in that all 9 Blacks who gave clear answers thought "the intellectual contributions of minority anthropologists are not given the same consideration. . ." On the other hand, the number of Asians and Spanish-speakers who felt similarly were only slightly more than, or equal to, those Asians and Spanish-speaking participants who rejected the presence of discriminatory practice as suggested in the question. Of those agreeing with the statement, 3 based their responses on their own personal experiences (one Asian, one Spanish-speaker, and one Black), 4 based their response on the experience of others and 10 saw the problem as a general overall condition (see Table 16, Appendix C).

Fifteen respondents made specific reference to the statement that works by minority scholars are not quoted or reviewed by majority scholars. Thirteen believed this to be the case while 2 disagreed. The remaining 21 made no specific reference to this topic. Eight responses referred to the phrase in question 16, relating to the use of works by minority scholars as required reading. Five agreed and 3 disagreed. Sixteen did not provide a specific reaction and 12 lacked sufficient knowledge to answer the question.

Samples of the comments made in response to this question follow:

Agreement

It is probably true that minority anthropologists' works are not as cited or taken up and made issue of, as much. The non-minority rebuttal to this would probably be that minorities have not made any real theoretical contributions. But I do not think it is any easy task to evaluate the theoretical merits of minority scholarship as compared to non-minority scholarship.

I have personally felt very often, that my own works have been ignored precisely in the areas that should have been recognized [. . . . example deleted to protect anonymity of respondent]. But I am sure that other non-minority and minority alike, have had the same experience. Have I experienced this a great deal more than most non-minorities? I don't have the facts to say yes or no.

My works are seldom cited, or if used often no credit is given. When cited, often negative criticisms are made of it, usually by white American sociologists and anthropologists.

What I am constantly perturbed by is the ethnocentrism of the bases of judgment in some famous journals. No only do they turn down the article but imply that its perspective is either not understood or not anthropology.

The crux of the issue is that, since minority anthropologists (unless they are in large university anthropology departments) are more isolated from non-minority anthropologists, acceptance in any regard is a major issue.

My own experience . . . indicates that minorities as anthropologists were not taken seriously. I don't recall the minority scholars viewpoint being presented at all with the exception of Li An Che. The assumption definitely seemed to be that non-minority anthropologists were the real authorities.

We need to do an empirical check, look at the journals, book reviews, etc., and not rely on statements of opinion.

I remember very clearly a discussion with [name deleted], during which he advised me of his bad experiences in this regard. I do not doubt that all of our colleagues suffer a neglect of their intellectual contributions. Of course, the problem is hard to measure because we are just beginning to understand who the minority anthropologists are. I am reminded that I have often thought that the works of [deleted] have been neglected by anthropologists in their citations and references.

A student of mine wrote a paper for a colleague on the Black family. What she tried to do was to deal with assumptions about the family and the middle-class bias. She quoted third world writers. The professor did not consider these adequate scholars. It was only when the student quoted Murdock that the instructor wrote on the student's paper "Now you are making sense."

Disagreement

I have the impression that things are changing in favor of publications of minority anthropologists, probably for the wrong reasons, but the effect is okay. I know some people who think that anthropology done by minority anthropologists is more in the line of "personal testimony" (i.e., a jargony informant) than "detached" social science. Maybe that's true, but if so, so what? I know I use more writings done by minority anthropologists in the courses I now teach (where pertinent) than were used when I took similar courses, but then many of them weren't available then.

If the published writings of "minority anthropologists" are fewer than those of "majority anthropologists," I would guess that it's because there are fewer of us, period. Certainly a good number of minority anthropologists that I can think of have published, been reviewed, etc.

They (minority anthropologists) would be treated equally as long as they first meet the American standards.

I try to base my reading lists for my students upon the quality of the work.

There is no time to waste in excessive extracurricular activities (if they want to be tops in a particular discipline), and that by voicing complaints alone, without producing something positive, worthwhile, comparable to the works of top GABACHOS, they will never be in fact recognized as much as they want to be.

Question 18 relates to the utilization of minority colleagues by other professionals in non-professional, secondary roles. A majority of the sample agreed (26 to 8) that minority scholars, in contrast to nonminority anthropologists, had been utilized chiefly as field-workers, interviewers, liaisons to an ethnic group, cultural broker-interpreters and informants (see Table 17, Appendix C). Approximately two-thirds of the respondents wholly or partially based their observation on their own or a friend's personal experience (see Table 18, Appendix C). Three of 4 American Indians, 7 of 9 Asians, 3 of 8 Spanish-speaking and 10 of 16 Blacks were used personally in these secondary roles. Overall, 4 minority members were used specifically as field workers, 2 as liaisons to a minority group, 7 as culture brokers-interpreters, 2 as informants and 8 in all of these roles (see Table 19, Appendix C).

These 23 respondents specified the settings in which the minority anthropologist perceived his use or was used in a secondary capacity: 18 in a professional capacity, 2 in am informal capacity and 3 in both a professional and an informal capacity.

A large majority of the sample thus agreed that, in contrast to nonminority anthropologists, minority scholars have been utilized as fieldworkers, liaisons to a minority and in the other secondary roles. The nature of the sample's comments about this practice was more often negative than positive. The two major sources of these negative feelings were: (1) the experience of being in this type of role prevented them from assuming more central roles in the research, and (2) the observation that the practice was based on non-minority scholars' cultural ignorance or racial prejudice.

The following are key statements made by respondents to Question 18:

Agreement

I have been used in all these capacities and in addition as a "living museum piece." My role as informant and interpreter is a continuing one, for the voice of THE Indian is an expectation which many college and university administrators wish to hear in their quest for funds for minority programs.

I've answered many questions from majority-member anthropologists as well as seen misinterpretation of American Indian culture by majority-member anthropologists and wasn't able to combat or correct it.

The tendency has been to use me in these capacities, but I have refused such roles since my first field trip, when I was led to believe that I would be responsible for a community study and after I got there I was told I would be an assistant to an American white student with less training than I had. My salary was much lower than that of my colleagues but I was given professional status as I indicated that I would not be an assistant and would just pack and leave.

One particularly unpleasant experience occurred about five years ago when I was asked by a junior member of the department to act as senior investigator on a research project. Things went fairly smoothly at first. Then, when we began to interpret and write up the data, I realized that the co-investigator (who did not do field work) already had well formulated theories that he was intent on proving with the data. We argued incessantly about these (racist and unfounded) constructs. The upshot was a compromise report which I am thoroughly ashamed of. I feel that I was used. I'm determined that this will never happen again.

There is a general assumption on the part of even some of the most intelligent and perceptive people that all Blacks in America share a common culture, and further, that any one of them must know what that culture is and be able to provide information about it to white colleagues and friends. This attitude is not confined to anthropology. Many of my white friends, both anthropologists and non-anthropologists, have tried to utilize me as either a cultural "broker-interpreter" or as an "informant."

Disagreement

It depends upon a minority anthropologist whether or not to let the others utilize him. For financial reasons, one may have to translate, be an interpreter, etc., during one's graduate work; however, it does not have to stay that way.

In my case (until recently), this was not necessarily entirely negative. Even non-minority individuals have been so utilized. I feel that this is the nature of the field and so much depends on the personalities involved.

I certainly have had such an experience during a study of minority communities in the United States in the 1950's. I served as an advance guard and did most of the data gathering with another minority student when our white professors spent merely a few days in the community. I had a similar data gathering role in (name deleted] for another Caucasian professor. I did a great deal of library research for my white professors, sometimes without any acknowledgement in their publications. Now it is possible to justify all this by saying I was used because I happened to be particularly competent in these contexts and that it was an honor and privilege to be selected as a research assistant, which few non-(ethnic group deleted] could have done; thus it was not to be interpreted as exploitation. This depends on how one wants to interpret the situation. In one interpretation it is a privilege and in the other it is exploitation.

Question 19 was designed to elicit information about how minority anthropologists believe they have been excluded from making theoretical formulations. A majority of the respondents agreed with the assertion that minority anthropologists have been excluded from making theoretical formulations, interpretations of research findings and policy decisions (17 agreed, 12 disagreed, and 8 gave unclear answers. See Table 20, Appendix C).

Anthropologists with different ethnic backgrounds evaluated the situation differently. A majority of American Indians and Asians felt that minority scholars were excluded from making important contributions to the discipline. But the number of Spanish-speakers and Black scholars who stated that the minority anthropologists were excluded from such activities was about the same as those who did not agree with the sentiments expressed in Question 19. Three American Indians agreed with the statement while one disagreed; 6 Asians agreed while 2 disagreed; 2 Spanish-speakers agreed while 3 disagreed; and 6 Blacks agreed while 6 disagreed. The remaining answers were unclear. The sources of the respondents' data supporting their answers are presented in Table 21, Appendix C. The respondents were almost evenly divided regarding the existence of the practice stated in Question 19 and the sentiment toward it. It is the Asian scholars who expressed more awareness of and more unhappiness about this situation.

The following are key statements made by respondents who answered Question 19:

Agreement

I have been running research projects by minority members. White anthropologists sympathetic ones) tend to regard them with curiosity (how far can minority members go), assuming that minority members have limitations and are inferior, and that the whites must take over the task at a certain point. A "progressive" anthropologist wrote recently: "Native people are experts of a sort. We . . . determine where their work falters and shines." My point of view is to put it the other way: to determine where in-culture persons' research shines and the anthropologists' falters.

Theoretical formulation and interpretation of research findings are esoteric things reserved for the superior minds, found only among the white American anthropologists.

I have been excluded from my field systematically; I have found a career survival adaptation by ghosting for policymakers and by interdisciplinary work.

I think this is so. But it will, I hope, change. We have much to contribute in a spirit of reasonableness.

I do not know about the word "excluded." Encouraged "not to" in very subtle ways. For example, not being taken very seriously.

Disagreement

(No dissenting comments were received.)

Two of our questions (i.e., Questions 18 and 19) attempt to measure how minority anthropologists feel about their own positions in the discipline. Our findings are that there is a considerable amount of awareness and dissatisfaction on the part of minority scholars regarding racial discrimination in anthropology, but that there are many, approximately a third of the sample, who do not recognize a racist and undesirable tendency in the discipline.

The Committee has concluded that those anthropologists who are most likely to see the discipline as racist are anthropologists from minority groups who are most visible and consequently are more frequently direct objects of discrimination. Thus, the fate of Black and Spanish-speaking anthropologists are contrasted. Asians and possibly American Indians are just as visible (or recognizable) as Blacks as minority members. Being consistent with the above interpretation, our Spanish-speaking respondents indicated greater satisfaction with the status of minorities in the discipline than all other groups. It must be pointed out in this context that this is not true generally for the Spanish-speakers who were born and raised in the United States, particularly those of Southwestern origin. In this connection, also, the term "Chicano" would be more appropriate for this group, as opposed to the majority of Spanish-speakers in our sample not born in the United States.

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