Open Letter on Police Violence and Anti-Black Racism

Department of Anthropology, Bowdoin College

Dear Students, Alumni, Colleagues, Community Members, and Friends,

In solidarity with the Association of Black Anthropologists, the Bowdoin College Department of Anthropology condemns the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco. Their lives are only some of the most recent ones lost in incidents of anti-Black violence perpetrated by police and citizens in the United States. We stand in solidarity with the ongoing protests against state- sanctioned murder, and we affirm that Black lives matter. These protests, and the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to Covid-19, lay bare the continued pervasiveness of White supremacy and anti-Black racism, and point the way to a more just future.

Part of standing in solidarity with the movement for Black lives means acknowledging and challenging the intimate and institutional ways in which anti-Blackness, White supremacy, and racial capitalism play out within our discipline. We need to do more than rehearse Anthropology’s critical perspectives and transformational possibilities.

As a discipline, Anthropology has sustained, and sometimes accelerated, White supremacy and other forms of exclusion and privilege (in both explicit and implicit ways), often at the expense of the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We acknowledge the discipline’s complicity in marginalizing communities across the world. Anthropology’s historical legacies include scientific racism and colonialism, and some of our research, teaching, and writing practices build upon those foundations. While our contemporary theories critique colonialism and imperialism and our methodologies strive to disrupt research models that further White supremacy, we recognize that our disciplinary practices have created painful remainders that still are felt acutely by 21st century communities.

The United States’ role as an imperial power and a settler colonial state intersects with its legacy of enslaving and disenfranchising people of African descent within its national borders. Therefore, even as anthropology’s reach has been global, this letter most directly aims to acknowledge and address the ways the discipline has been complicit in the structural and physical violence towards Black people in the United States. For instance, in the name of cross- cultural analysis, anthropologists sometimes have conflated the historical specificity of anti- Black violence with other forms of racism and discrimination. This obscures the unique ways that anti-Blackness structures racial capitalism and American empire, often with devastating impact across generations. Indeed, we are inspired by the nuanced ways in which the movement for Black lives has articulated a central commitment to Black people that lays bare the structures of racism, while at the same time demonstrating thoughtful care for the lives of queer and trans people, women, Indigenous people, and undocumented immigrants.

White supremacy also is reflected in the skewed reception of Black scholarship within the discipline. Black anthropologists have been central to anthropology since its founding, yet their contributions continue to be marginalized or erased. Black scholars outside of the discipline shape anthropological theory and practice, yet their work is not always included in the anthropological canon. In spite of this, Black anthropologists maintain an integral presence within the discipline. Their scholarship illuminates the lived experiences and humanity of people in the past and present and includes (but is not limited to) invaluable analyses of the contours of global White supremacy. From archaeological excavations of sites of enslavement and racial trauma to abolitionist critiques of police, prisons, and the carceral state, their perspectives are indispensable for understanding the movement for Black lives. We believe in the importance of highlighting this work in our teaching and research. These scholars and their insights are absolutely integral in reaching toward anthropology’s deepest and still-unfinished promise: to help bend the world toward justice.

As a Department, we commit ourselves to using our teaching, scholarship, and daily practice to learn from and stand with this movement that affirms Black people’s humanity, contributions to society, and resilience in the face of systemic oppression. We know that anthropology is part of broader educational, social, economic, and political institutions that literally and figuratively squeeze the life out of Black people. We recognize that dismantling White supremacy in anthropology (and beyond) is a responsibility of those who benefit from its privileges. We acknowledge that dismantling White supremacy will be a long process that requires concrete steps. We will challenge ourselves and each other to craft anti-racist research and teaching practices. Through these efforts we will work toward illuminating and disrupting the intimate and structural reproduction of White supremacy—in what and who we teach, in how we value and engage others’ research, in how we support students and our communities at large, and in how we advocate and mobilize for disciplinary and institutional change. We will collaborate with others in innovative ways to support our students, colleagues, and community members and to advocate for disciplinary and institutional change. We will do this in relation to the declarative statement and the imperative of these protests: that Black lives matter.

The Bowdoin College Department of Anthropology

Sara Dickey
Susan Kaplan
Lauren Kohut
Willi Lempert
Stephen McIsaac
April Strickland
Shreyas Sreenath
Krista Van Vleet

Anti-Racism Resources