Black Anthropologists: Aggressive Unit of American Anthropological Association Commits to Diversity and Redefining Black Culture

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Black Anthropologists: Aggressive Unit of American Anthropological. Association Commits to Diversity and Redefining Black Culture

by Donald Winbush

ATLANTA -- At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Helan E. Page is studying the representation of African Americans in parks run by the National Park Service.

Janis Hutchinson at the University of Houston is researching social and cultural factors that influence young Black women's decisions about condom use.

And at Elizabethtown Community College in Kentucky, Pem Davidson Buck is investigating big business' use of prison labor to augment its labor force.

These examples illustrate the relevance of anthropology to present-day society and its relevance to African-American life, says Page, the UMass-Amherst professor. Page and her colleagues are all members of the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA), which is intensifying its effort to recruit Blacks to the discipline. Page is president of the ABA, a unit of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), which held its 93rd annual meeting here recently.

Finding ways to increase the visibility of the two-decades-old Black anthropologists' organization and to strengthen its programs to recruit and nurture Black anthropology students, especially graduate students, were focal points when the ABA members convened.

The AAA meeting had as its theme, human rights. Coretta Scott King served as keynote speaker after welcoming remarks by Spelman College President Johnnetta Cole, a 1993 winner of the AAA Distinguished Service Award.

Cole called Atlanta "the cradle of human rights" and "the home of institutions bearing the names of two of the world's most prominent human rights champions, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library."

Cole, herself an anthropologist, told the gathering that "just as surely" as they were scientists, "we anthropologists are human, too." She reminded them of their membership in a group that has "historically stood in defense of human rights."

King, who received a standing ovation, said an increase in human rights activity worldwide signaled a "global awakening." Then she admonished, "As my friends from Amnesty International will verify, we have political prisoners in this country. Capital punishment is a form of legalized murder tolerated by no other democracies. Justice is still more of an ideal than a reality for those who can't afford an attorney to represent them in court.

"We have to start embracing a broader definition of human rights, if America is to prosper and meet its potential. We have to envision health security as a right, not a privilege. Decent housing, affordable education and employment opportunities should also be rights, not privileges, in the world's wealthiest democracy."

Diversification a Priority

Echoing Scott's sentiments, ABA's Page intends to boost diversity within the AAA to accomplish some of these goals. Page contends that Black anthropologists, and others whose research touches Black life, play an important, though often overlooked, role. Anthropology, she says, traditionally has not been an especially strong calling among Blacks. …