Sunday, December 6, 2009


This piece is a little different from the rest as it deals with my academic side - a side I thought I would not address in this setting. But I have come to realize that anthropology as a disciple and academia as an institution are deeply intertwined in my personal identities and goals. After presenting at the 2009 American Anthropological Association's annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA I realized that I can mold my different interests and identities together in order to create a life, and a career, that I want to live.  Let me explain.

I am an anthropologist.  It's what I do and what I have come to love.  But, in recent years I have intensely began to question my relationship with this field.  Surrounded by pretentious middle and upper class white students and faculty who view me as "the minority on minority fellowship" I have developed a jaded view of the purposes and intent of anthropology as a disciple.  I came into this field with the purpose of trying to tackle issues of inequality and human rights through research.  Now, as a 5th year Ph.D candidate, with two Masters in different aspects of the subject, I have come to question the sincerity of the disciple I was so enamored with when I was 14 years old.  Facing institutional racism from all universities I have attended, dealing with colonial mindsets, being seen as the "other" by so called colleagues, coming to terms with white privilege at every turn, and understanding the impact of sexism within the larger academia I have come to realize that without anthropology I would never had realized these larger processes were operating...but that it is also the practice of anthropology by larger anthropologist which allows these inequalities to exist (within the academy). (Yes, I said it!)

But, yesterday in a session that honored the memory of Katherine Dunham, an African-American anthropologist who created the Dunham technique in dance, my faith and excitement for the field came back with a vengeance.  "The Matriarch of Black Dance, Dunham used dance as her ethnographic representation.  In the session I attended various Black anthropologist (junior and senior faculty) used dance, song, instruments, script, and the audience to illustrate the impact and importance Dunham had on the deconstruction and reinterpretation of ballet.  The overall presentation was spell-bounding as the academics brought the theory and technique to life, bringing a much needed energy and creativity to the presentation format.  After the two hours the group was given a standing ovation.

This talk breathed new life into my academic bones as the thoughts and techniques I only entertained in my head were given a space to become reality.  The creator of the format, Dr. Elizabeth Chin from Occidental College, is trying to shake up the dusty old academy and allow for new and more innovative forms of expression and dissemination.   As a student this was what I needed.  The use of visuals and art has always been in the back of head with little pieces coming to the surface, but fear of denial and "unacceptability" keeps the rest hidden.   Not now.  The spirit of Katherine Dunham was brought back to life in that session.  Now I look forward to bringing my creative side into my academic endeavors.  The old academy needs some shaking up and I look forward to being apart of that change.

Now I journey back to Bristol with new ideas in my head and new energy in my heart.


Sam said...

This is a really interesting turn of events. I can't wait to see where this takes you.

AMANDA said...

Damn, I'm sorry I missed that! However, I'm glad that it helped to reinvigorate your studies.