Just when you think you’re working in a progressive discipline – one that is conscious and reflexive with regard to issues of race and gender – you hear a story that makes your heart sink. And it’s never just one story, because once one story has been told others begin to come out. There are stories of people of color and women being consistently overlooked for funding, jobs and promotion. There are stories of women being treated like children, and put in their place. And these stories are all justified by a logic other than race and gender – quality or quantity of work, academic “fit”, lack of funds, abrasiveness or lack of self-control. But it happens so consistently to particular people and not to others that it can’t help but raise questions among those who are paying attention.
Not enough people are paying attention. Our discipline has come a long way. In spite of – and maybe even because of – our history as a colonial science, we have made great strides in terms of being more reflexive and conscious of issues of race and gender in our research. We go to great lengths to ensure that our informants or collaborators feel included – even when they don’t particularly care about our projects. We call out racism and sexism in other disciplines and in society as a whole. But still we have failed miserably in many cases to turn that reflexive gaze upon our day-to-day practices, and in the academic departments we call home.
I’m not the first person to call attention to this, and if this post gains any traction in the discipline it will serve as one more tragic reminder that the voices of women and people of color are not being heard. But I feel the need to do something, and writing this little blog post on this obscure corner of the internet is the one thing – the one minimal thing – I can do.
What we need is a serious discussion of race and gender within our own field. Not race and gender in “the field” – a space comfortably distanced from our everyday lives even when the actual place is just down the street – but race and gender in our departments, in our writing, in our daily habits. Anthropology has a lot to offer the world, and we make a substantive difference out there, but it’s time to hit home a little harder and make a difference in our own worlds.