As members of the Association of Black Anthropologists, we often discuss the impetus for various interpretations of African-American history, culture, and experiences, especially within the field of anthropology. This effort can be troubling because often our experiences are labeled, categorized, and interpreted from a Eurocentric perspective. Such interpretations can sometimes lend themselves to a justification for slavery, subjugation, and a race-caste system in America. In so doing, any difference from the European norm is considered deviant. The question always seems to be phrased: Why are they different from Europeans? Such phraseology assumes deviation from an historical norm, and European culture and physique. If this is so, we must reevaluate the roots of portrayals of African Americans within the American sociocultural/scientific environment. We must also, then, examine the African-American response to such interpretations and imagery. This book endeavors to begin this process by investigating various ways African Americans are presented in printed media and in the visual arts, their conceptualization of black identity and cultural nationalism, and how hypotheses, i.e. genetic hypotheses, are formulated to explain their social behavior. This volume is based on papers presented in a symposium hosted by the Association of Black Anthropologists entitled Managing the Past and Controlling the Future: the Role of Anthropologists. The symposium was held at the national meeting of the American Anthropological Association in New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 29, 1990.
The goal of the symposium was to discuss various presentations and interpretations of African-American culture by non-African Americans and the impact of those portrayals on African-derived people. During the organization of the symposium, issues revolved around white co-optation and stereotypical interpretations of African-American culture. Topics at the conference centered on