AAA Commission on Minority Issues in Anthropology Report
Recommendation for a Committee for Minority Issues in Anthropology within the American Anthropological Association
The vitality of U.S. anthropology rests on how it responds to the needs of its own tribe and to its wider audience, an increasingly culturally diverse America. Similarly, an international economic base, a critical global modal pattern, depends on effective communications and positive exchanges of ideas and goods among culturally diverse agents. Anthropologists should be critical players in the emergent social science agenda that addresses these emerging patterns for 21st-century American life. In higher educational institutions, as in media and business, because of the historical ascendancy and attendant subterfuges of hegemonic accounts of reality, difference has been problematic. Indeed, notions of race, phenotype, ethnicity and culture are blurred in the most minds, both academics and laypersons. Like other U.S. social, political and economic institutions, higher educational opportunities have been based on racialist patterns and practices which led to detrimental outcomes for diversity of student body and faculty. Through a revitalized commitment to diversity, anthropology could assume a stronger role in embracing difference, ameliorate the ethnic, cultural, and racial [sic] impediments which confront some of its students and adherents, and embark upon strategies consciously directed toward changing institutional and systematic practices that forced the historical underrepresentation of certain so-called minority groups--a pivotal juncture for anthropological higher education.
Early AAA Findings about Effects of Minimal Minority Presence in the Discipline In 1969, an AAA resolution led to the appointment of a Committee on Minority Participation (CMP) in 1970. That effort urged recruiting Black, Chicano, American Indian, Asian and other students and encouraged efforts to hire and facilitate their careers in the profession. Besides endorsing the idea of a questionnaire to survey minority anthropologists, the CMP wanted to develop two statements, one which "would describe the ways in which the professional structure of anthropology as a discipline may operate differently on anthropologists of minority background than on non-minority anthropologists," and the other "on the manner and extent to which the professional world view and activities of anthropologists are Eurocentric, reflecting racism and other values of American and European cultures" (AAA 1973:vi).
In 1971 a new Committee on Minorities and Anthropology (CMA) with a broader scope was appointed. The report of the committee on a survey of minority anthropologists, issued in 1973, identified key problems and issues, that is, the ethnic visibility of minorities, the enculturation of minorities as anthropologists, ambivalence among minority anthropologists about the discipline, minority consciousness and forced academic specialization, and pre-Ph.D. siphoning through minority employment in ethnic studies programs. That report also underscored several issues which affect the mainstream of anthropological practice today: "the ethos of anthropology" characterized "as `ethnocentric,' `intolerant' and `amoral' (in the sense that attempting to take a value-free position is seen as avoiding core issues...)" and that this ethos affects the practice of anthropology, i.e., the absence of diversity of perspectives and certain activities was striking: not enough emphasis on applied anthropology, neither development nor training of many minority and "foreign" anthropologists, and insufficient attention to increasing lay understanding of the discipline's knowledge base.
The role of minority anthropologists was viewed as peripheral. "Minority anthropologists tend to perform ancillary roles in the profession such as teaching anthropology in non-anthropology departments and teaching ethnic studies programs, and ... they have been precluded from playing a significant role in the development of anthropological theory" (AAA 1973:32). Finally, the report underscored the benefit of the infusion of new perspectives, called for emphasis on applied issues, theory development, contemporary domestic problems, acculturation, "cross-cultural parallels that may illuminate situations in our own society," and minorities in the United States. The necessity of "increased availability for research in industrial nations, including our own, and not necessarily confined to minority areas" was recognized.
The CMA 1973 report made many substantive recommendations: that (1) the Committee on Minorities and Anthropology be continued with a process for its replacement and sufficient funding, (2) the Association encourage research and investigation on racism in its midst, (3) a survey be conducted to determine the number of graduate students of minority status, (4) the Association conduct personal interviews with minority students and professionals, (5) research resources be allocated to verify or rebut complaints that minority scholars are not cited, reviewed or given intellectual recognition, (6) symposia be organized to discuss and analyze alternative concepts, theories, and models which derive from the minority or ethnic perspective, (7) more persons of minority background be recruited into anthropology in an improved social and economic atmosphere, and (8) minority and non-minority colleagues lend support to meeting these goals.
A small concerted cadre of AAA anthropologists, a committee formed by then-President Roy Rappaport, the Committee on Anthropology in Predominately Minority Institutions (CAPMI), began working in 1987. The original CAPMI group consisted of Niara Sudarkasa, Johnnetta Cole, Roy Rappaport, Michael Blakey, Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, Beatrice Medicine, and Carole Hill. (It should also be noted that Beatrice Medicine was also a member of the original 1973 committee.) Rappaport's committee was established, with Cole at the helm, to develop and administer a program to increase the presence of anthropology in traditionally minority institutions. That group focused on seeking retired anthropologists to contribute a semester or year of teaching at historically black, predominately Hispanic, or Native American colleges and universities. Subsequently, William Schwab was added to CAPMI, representing retired anthropologists.
CAPMI's strategy of using retired anthropologists was reconsidered because the Association of Retired Anthropologists expressed their consternation about the ability of senior anthropologists to volunteer without minimal remuneration. During this period, the chair of CAPMI passed to Yolanda Moses, who had been appointed to its ranks by AAA President Buikstra; Sylvia Rodriguez and Steven Arvizu were also added to the committee. The group discussed and made several proposals to expand its role and developed a strategic action plan.
Institutional Responses: Planning a Commission on Minority Issues in Anthropology
In the spring of 1992, the Executive Committee of the American Anthropological Association directed its president to convene a planning group to develop recommendations on the creation of a commission on minority issues. Two factors prompted the action: first, calls to increase the number of minority persons in the discipline and, second, the series of recommendations from CAPMI. At that time, the Executive Committee "purposely refrained from voting a formal name, defining a charge, and/or setting the process for determining commission membership" asking, instead, for guidance from the planning group. The planning group, composed of James Peacock, Yolanda Moses, Annie Barnes, George Bond, Jorge Klor de Alva, Arjun Appadurai, Alfonso Ortiz, Renato Rosaldo, Aihwa Ong, and Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, met in Washington, D.C., in 1992. That group found that AAA had been receptive to the participation of minority individuals but needed a means of organizational initiatives. The planning group was distressed at the lack of data on the number of minorities as teachers, students, researchers, and practitioners which has precluded effective recruitment strategies and rendered analysis of progress impossible. It recommended, and the Executive Committee voted its approval for, the creation of a commission to design and launch a major initiative in minority affairs; at the end of its term, it would be replaced by a standing committee of the association.
The planning group felt that the AAA should establish a standing Committee on Minority Issues, but felt that the full range of organizational and content issues related to the creation of a committee would be best left to a commission, which would be empowered to serve as both an immediate response as well as designers of the future committee. The commission was charged to develop its recommendation on the size, composition, and selection of the subsequent standing committee's members, including representatives of minority groups, and, to the extent possible, persons from each of the discipline's subfields. In accepting the recommendations of the planning committee, the Executive Committee also made an explicit commitment "to establishing a standing committee at the end of the Commission's term when it votes to authorize the Commission."
AAA Commission on Minority Issues in Anthropology
Initially, the Commission on Minority Issues consisted of Annette Weiner, a Euro-American, then-AAA President (now retired); Jim Peacock, then president-elect and chair-elect, a Euro-American; Jo Allyn Archambault (Smithsonian), an American Indian; Richard Bauman (Indiana U), a Euro-American; George Bond (Teachers College, Columbia U), an African American; Jorge Klor de Alva (Princeton), a Latino Americano; Yolanda Moses (City College of New York), an African American; Jennie Joe (University of Arizona), a Native American; Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez (University of California at Riverside), a Latino Americano and representative of the Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists. Jerome Wright (California State University, Fullerton), an African American and representative of the Association of Black Anthropologists, was appointed shortly thereafter. Jim Peacock served as commission chair for two years; Yolanda Moses, current president of the AAA, now serves as the commission chair.
It remains indisputable that anthropological training, critical to the development of cadres of culturally sensitive educators, researchers and practitioners in the academy, business, and the public sectors, should be available to members of all ethnic and cultural groups and communities in the United States. However, that has not been the case: there is little or anthropology being taught in predominately minority institutions as well as little active recruitment and nurturing of minority students and scholars. In recent years, there has been a burgeoning consensus that the discipline of anthropology is severely handicapped from fulfilling its potential contribution to understanding different cultures by its historic dilemma in failing to attract students from underrepresented populations or so-called ethnic minority groups, that is, Asian Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans and Native Americans or American Indians.
Therefore, the AAA Commission on Minority Issues in Anthropology proposes the establishment of a Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology with the following Goals and Objectives:
Goal 1: Promote participation of underrepresented populations in anthropology
Create a climate where ideas from all individuals are equally considered, rather than viewed through a racialized frame;
Develop pragmatic and measurable indices for examining the discipline's progress toward meeting the above goal
Goal 2: Foster professional advancement by minorities in anthropology
promote recruitment of minorities, especially from underrepresented populations;
promote full participation of minorities in the discipline
Goal 3: Promote intellectual awareness within the discipline and the Association of issues which face minority anthropologists
sponsor and foster discussions about issues which face minority anthropologists which hinder recognition of their intellectual contributions to the discipline;
develop opportunities to educate colleagues at all levels of the profession about issues which impact anthropologists from underrepresented populations and about their contributions on core anthropological issues
Goal 4: Help define anthropology's role in national discourse on cultural diversity
sponsor/foster debates/presentations on cultural pluralism at Annual Meetings;
develop a public education paper(s) seeking to frame cultural diversity issues for decision makers and opinion makers;
generate materials on cultural diversity in the U.S. for use in by instructors and teachers (K-12 as well as higher education);
promote greater understanding of cultural diversity within the discipline and with the general public;
advocate involvement of anthropologists in cultural diversity issues
Motion: The Commission on Minority Issues in Anthropology recommends the creation and operation of a standing or permanent committee on minority issues, as follows:
1. Membership of the committee be set at eight persons;
2. Four-year terms of appointment be staggered, to assure continuity;
3. The AAA President and the past President be ex officio members;
4. Two Members be appointed by an incoming president of the Association in the late spring or early summer of her or his first year of term of office, the terms to begin following that year's Annual Meeting;
5. Each member be eligible for one reappointment;
6. The Chair of the Committee be appointed for a two-year term by the President and be eligible for one reappointment as Chair;
7. The present members of the (antecedent) Commission be assigned terms by lot and continue in office until a permanent committee is fully appointed;
8. A summary of the minutes of each regular meeting of the committee be published in the AN;
9. Membership of the committee be representative of diversity within the discipline, especially including underrepresented populations and historical minority groups;
10. At least two meetings each year be held: one during the spring and another during the Annual Meeting of the Association; as an AAA committee, the Committee may sponsor a regular session and conduct a special forum during each Annual Meeting;
11. Occasional additional meetings, workshops or conferences on important issues be convened as necessary; and
12. Report of the Committee be made annually and from time to time to the AAA Executive Board and appropriate committees of the AAA Section Assembly.
The AAA's commitment to establish a permanent Committee for Minority Issues in Anthropology began anew in the late 1980s, and its inauguration represents an important historic milestone for the discipline. We hope that the impact of the creation of this standing committee will have effects beyond the Association into the institutions of higher education which train and employ anthropologists. The members of the Commission on Minority Issues in Anthropology [unanimously] wholeheartedly recommend that this report and recommendations be referred to the appropriate AAA committee for prompt action, that the Executive Board of the AAA accept the Commission's report on this matter, and implement its provisions as quickly as possible.
J. Jorge Klor de Alva
Jerome W. Wright
February 28, 1996
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