To­ward de­colo­nial an­thro­pol­ogy

Call­ing out racism and work­ing to­ward de­colo­nial an­thro­pol­ogy at Mcgill

The McGill Daily - - News - Writ­ten by Meara Ber­nadette Kir­win & Mar­celle Par­touche Gu­tier­rez | Visual by Mariya Voloshyn

When I try to ex­plain what so­cio-cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy is, I usu­ally say that it’s ‘like so­ci­ol­ogy but with sto­ries in­stead of statis­tics.’ My peers and I ap­pre­ci­ate it for its power to help us ques­tion and de­con­struct our our own ways of think­ing and liv­ing. An­thro­pol­o­gists can use their re­search and writ­ing for fos­ter­ing cross-cul­tural un­der­stand­ing, like Zora Neale Hurston, and for chal­leng­ing the ideas be­hind sys­tems of op­pres­sion, like Laura Nader or Au­dra Simp­son. Of course, there is a lot of an- thro­pol­ogy that we are not proud of, both in the past and the present. An­thro­pol­o­gists have of­ten been on the wrong side of his­tory – us­ing their re­search and the­o­ries to pro­mote and jus­tify slav­ery, colo­nial­ism, as­sim­i­la­tion poli­cies, and bi­o­log­i­cal and cul­tural racism. Sioux scholar Vine Delo­ria Jr. wrote “In be­liev­ing they could find the key to man’s be­hav­iour, [an­thro­pol­o­gists] have, like the churches, be­come fore­run­ners of de­struc­tion.” An­thro­pol­ogy can be a tool for Other­ing, for speak­ing over peo­ple, for cram­ming the di­ver­sity of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence into Euro­cen­tric the­o­ries of hu­man­ity.

While most of our cour­ses at Mcgill crit­i­cally ex­am­ine these prac­tices, and some en­cour­age al­ter­na­tive an­thro­po­log­i­cal prac­tices, our class­rooms of­ten per­pet­u­ate the very colo­nial re­la­tion­ships and ide­olo­gies that an­thro­pol­ogy tries to desta­bi­lize and cri­tique. My peers and I iden­tify colo­nial­ism in our stud­ies as the priv­i­leg­ing of white peo­ple and white ide­olo­gies to the detri­ment of Indige­nous peo­ple and peo­ple of colour, and the marginal­iza­tion of their ideas. In an­thro­pol­ogy, this of- ten man­i­fests as the study of his­tor­i­cally and con­tem­porar­ily col­o­nized peo­ples us­ing Western method­olo­gies and the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works. It also shows up when we talk about colo­nial­ism as part of the his­tory of an­thro­pol­ogy, in or­der to ig­nore the fact that colo­nial ide­olo­gies and at­ti­tudes per­sist in present prac­tices. We as stu­dents, as well as our pro­fes­sors and ad­min­is­tra­tion, per­pet­u­ate colo­nial­ism through our si­lence and our fail­ure to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo. When we don’t ques­tion why most read­ings on the syl­labus are by white men, or the ways that racial­ized stu- dents are made to feel un­com­fort­able and ex­cluded in our class­rooms, we fur­ther in­grain these prac­tices as the nor­mal, nat­u­ral way of the aca­demic world. This is the mean­ing of “struc­tural colo­nial­ism.”

While “de­col­o­niz­ing an­thro­pol­ogy” is a catchy slo­gan for our goal, I’m wary of di­lut­ing the real mean­ing of “de­col­o­niza­tion.” As Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang write, “De­col­o­niza­tion brings about the repa­tri­a­tion of Indige­nous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to im­prove our so­ci­eties and schools.” In

the case of Mcgill, de­col­o­niza­tion means re­turn­ing stolen land to the Kanien’kehá:ka and Anish­naabe peo­ple. Rec­og­niz­ing and re­spect­ing that, I main­tain that it’s im­por­tant to ag­i­tate for an an­thro­pol­ogy that al­lows Indige­nous and other peo­ples from col­o­nized coun­tries to speak for them­selves. Indige­nous scholar and crit­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist Kim Tall­bear ex­plained to me in an in­ter­view that she would de­fine “de­colo­nial an­thro­pol­ogy” as “the ac­tual prac­tice of an­thro­pol­ogy in the ser­vice of an­ti­colo­nial­ism.” While “colo­nial­ism” means lit­er­ally steal­ing land from Indige­nous peo­ples, it also can re­fer to the ways white supremacy has struc­tured our lan­guage, our knowl­edge, and our sense of self. As such, I con­tinue to use the lan­guage of “de­col­o­niza­tion” while ac­knowl­edg­ing that no mat­ter how much we work to­wards mak­ing Mcgill’s an­thro­pol­ogy pro­gram di­verse and in­clu­sive, we can never re­ally de­col­o­nize this in­sti­tu­tion as long as it stands on stolen Indige­nous land.

Métis an­thro­pol­o­gist Zoe Todd ar­gues that “The academy is an­thro­pol­ogy’s ‘hu­man er­ror:’ the white su­prem­a­cist, Im­pe­rial hu­man di­men­sions of the academy it­self pre­vent the re-imag­in­ing of dis­ci­plines like an­thro­pol­ogy.” There­fore, the “class­room colo­nial­ism” ex­plored in this ar­ti­cle has as much to do with how the univer­sity works as it does with how an­thro­pol­ogy works. Through this ar­ti­cle, I hope to make these colo­nial prac­tices vis­i­ble, and en­cour­age the whole of the Mcgill com­mu­nity to­ward an­ti­colo­nial ac­tion in our aca­demic spa­ces.

The “I”s in this ar­ti­cle re­fer to Meara, but Mar­celle con­trib­uted greatly to both the writ­ing and think­ing be­hind this piece, and we there­fore con­ceive of it as a shared piece. Both of us are cur­rent or for­mer Mcgill an­thro­pol­ogy stu­dents. I (Meara), as a white set­tler stu­dent from Al­berta, have not di­rectly ex­pe­ri­enced the marginal­iza­tion that my friends and class­mates of colour have de­scribed to me – in my stud­ies, or else­where. While it is by no means the place of white or set­tler stu­dents to take lead­er­ship roles in de­colo­nial projects, it is also un­ac­cept­able for us to re­main silent on the is­sue. My in­ten­tion in writ­ing this ar­ti­cle is to con­tinue the work, which has been led by Indige­nous and peo­ple of colour for decades, of mak­ing colo­nial­ism vis­i­ble in our aca­demic spa­ces. Every­thing in this ar­ti­cle is ow­ing to these schol­ars and to the folks gen­er­ous enough to share their sto­ries and thoughts in in­ter­views.

Pol­i­tics of the canon

There are cer­tain an­thro­pol­o­gists and schol­ars that ev­ery an­thro stu­dent ‘needs to know’ by grad­u­a­tion: Mali­nowski, Boas, Geertz, Mead, Evans-pritchard, Fou­cault, Fanon, Marx, But­ler; in short, “the canon.” These schol­ars have had large im­pacts on how the dis­ci­pline of an­thro­pol­ogy has de­vel­oped, and need to be stud­ied in or­der for us to un­der­stand where con­tem­po­rary the­o­ries and prac­tices orig­i­nate. How­ever, it’s im­por­tant that we think crit­i­cally about who we read and who else we might be ig­nor­ing. Sara Ahmed, a fem­i­nist cul­tural stud­ies scholar, ad­dresses the pol­i­tics of the canon on her blog, Fem­i­nist Killjoys, as it works through our col­lec­tive “ci­ta­tional prac­tices.” The thrust of her ar­gu­ment is that if we con­tinue to cen­ter our aca­demic work around mostly white, mostly male schol­ars, these schol­ars will re­tain the power to guide our aca­demic dis­ci­plines. They be­come eas­ier to ac­cess, more rel­e­vant to con­tem­po­rary re­search, and slip eas­ily into the canon. If, in­stead, we chal­lenge our­selves to ref­er­ence and think with schol­ars who have been marginal­ized through racism and sex­ism, we can de­con­struct hi­er­ar­chies of power in the academy and chal­lenge the no­tion of canon­i­cal texts al­to­gether.

One ex­am­ple of a crit­i­cal ap­proach to the canon is that of Mcgill pro­fes­sor Gretchen Bakke, who taught me an an­thro­pol­ogy the­ory course in 2016. In a re­cent in­ter­view, she ar­gued that when study­ing canon­i­cal texts, in­stead of un­crit­i­cal ac­cep­tance, it’s im­por­tant that stu­dents learn to an­a­lyze how these texts are in con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers in the field. This al­lows us to trace not just how an­thro­pol­ogy as a dis­ci­pline changes and trans­forms, but what po­lit­i­cal, the­o­ret­i­cal, so­cial, and ge­o­graph­i­cal con­texts shaped its trans­for­ma­tion. Fur­ther, it al­lows us to see what texts were not can­on­ized, and how some the­o­ret­i­cal moves were made at the ex­pense of oth­ers. As Tall­bear ex­plained to me, “be­cause an­thro­pol­ogy has had the self-re­flex­ive mo­ment, and has had fem­i­nist an­thro­pol­ogy and peo­ple of colour an­thro­pol­ogy and Indige­nous an­thro­pol­ogy, in the world I run in, it has in­cor­po­rated those cri­tiques into the canon. It’s still mar­ginal, but at least it hasn’t writ- ten it out of the canon in the way that, say, the bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences don’t in­cor­po­rate their his­to­ries of fail­ure around race.” Both Bakke and Tall­bear re­veal that the an­thro­po­log­i­cal canon is change­able and chang­ing, and that we must ask our­selves why some voices still re­main mar­ginal to the con­ver­sa­tion.

Pol­i­tics of the class­room

Who is in­cluded in the canon, on our syl­labus, and in our fac­ulty has im­pli­ca­tions not just for the dis­ci­pline as a whole, but in the lives of my friends and class­mates at McGill. Sev­eral class­mates – all women of colour – have shared sto­ries with me of be­ing made to feel that they are not le­git­i­mate stu­dents of an­thro­pol­ogy, and that their iden­ti­ties and their knowl­edge don’t be­long in an­thro­pol­ogy class­rooms.

Marie*, a U3 in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment stu­dent, started her de­gree in an­thro­pol­ogy but soon be­came frus­trated and dis­il­lu­sioned by the colo­nial dy­nam­ics of the dis­ci­pline (though she says that in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment is not much bet­ter). As a Black African woman, she could not see her iden­tity or ex­pe­ri­ences re­flected in ei­ther her pro­fes­sors or the au­thors of her course texts. Black African women were not pre­sented as an­thro­pol­o­gists, de­spite the fact that Black Africans are of­ten the sub­jects of an­thro­po­log­i­cal study in canon­i­cal texts. Of course, there are plenty of Black African an­thro­pol­o­gists, such as Clara Fay­orsey, Kwesi Kwaa Prah, and Maxwell Owusu, but none have been taught in any of Marie’s or my classes, while plenty of white Euro-amer­i­can an­thro­pol­o­gists are cen­tered in the dis­ci­pline.

Mes­saouda*, a re­cent Mcgill grad­u­ate with a ma­jor in an­thro­pol­ogy, is of mixed race back­ground, iden­ti­fy­ing as both North African and Mex­i­can, and ex­pe­ri­enced ex­plicit dis­crim­i­na­tion from a pro­fes­sor. At the start of her fi­nal se­mes­ter, she re­al­ized that she was miss­ing a re­quired course for which she didn’t have the pre­req­ui­sites. The stu­dent asked to take the pre­req­ui­site course con­cur­rently with the re­quired course, ex­plain­ing her need to grad­u­ate that se­mes­ter. She ex­plained how so very few stu­dents who, like her, grew up in fos­ter care grad­u­ate univer­sity.

Still, both the pro­fes­sor and the depart­ment head re­fused her re­quest. Thank­fully, the Dean of Stu­dents ap­proved her en­roll­ment. But be­fore start­ing the course, she vis­ited the pro­fes­sor who had orig­i­nally re­fused her en­try. “The pro­fes­sor told me that ‘peo­ple like me’ were lucky to be at Mcgill, and that I should take ad­van­tage of the pre­cious time I got in the class­room. The pro­fes­sor said that this might be my only chance to ex­pe­ri­ence an ed­u­ca­tion like this, and that I should be grate­ful and not want to rush the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“Through rep­e­ti­tion of the sen­tence that ‘some­one like me’ should ap­pre­ci­ate my time in univer­sity, she con­de­scend­ingly im­plied that I would surely never be equipped to do re­search, so again, I’d bet­ter sim­ply en­joy the time I have as a stu­dent. I felt hor­ri­ble through­out the en­tire en­counter, some mo­ments were so in­sult­ing and dif­fi­cult to en­dure; I re­mem­ber squeez­ing my phone and hold­ing back my tears. I was shocked and an­gered, par­tic­u­larly by the phrase ‘peo­ple like you;’ was the pro­fes­sor re­fer­ring to my skin colour? My per­sis­tence in academia de­spite my sta­tus, my class, my past as a child in care? Which an­gle of my Oth­er­ness, of my de­viance in re­la­tion to a pre­dom­i­nantly priv­i­leged white an­thro­pol­ogy depart­ment per­son­nel was this pro­fes­sor re­ally re­fer­ring to?”

Bekkie*, a South Korean an­thro­pol­ogy stu­dent raised in Canada, no­ticed in both an­thro­pol­ogy and other Arts dis­ci­plines that many of her pro­fes­sors and class­mates val­ued her con­tri­bu­tions to the class as a “case-study,” but not as a the­o­rist: “A lot of pro­fes­sors ex­pect their white stu­dents to elab­o­rate on the the­o­ret­i­cal side, ask­ing ques­tions about read­ings and what­not. Where, for a stu­dent of colour to speak out and be taken se­ri­ously, it’s more pow­er­ful to come from their ex­pe­ri­ence rather than like, ‘my cri­tique of this thing…’” She went on to say, “when I wrote an es­say about my own story, I felt like [pro­fes­sors were] more fas­ci­nated than when I in­tro­duced an idea of do­ing some­thing which was more aca­demic or the­o­ret­i­cal. I don’t know whether to take that as my ad­van­tage, or as a kind of fetishiza­tion of the Other.”

This ap­par­ent an­thro­po­log­i­cal fetishiza­tion of the Other pre­vents Bekkie and other stu­dents of colour from be­ing rec­og­nized as fully ca­pa­ble the­o­rists and in­tel­lec­tu­als be­yond their sto­ries about cul­tur­ally ex­otic “life ex­pe­ri­ence.” While this is likely a phe­nom­e­non in many dis­ci­plines, it is par­tic­u­larly trou­bling in an­thro­pol­ogy, where the field’s colo­nial tra­di­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by white an­thro­pol­o­gists study­ing com­mu­ni­ties of colour. Bekkie de­scribed the longterm reper­cus­sions of this aca­demic fetishiza­tion: “My per­sonal iden­tity was ac­tu­ally quite shifted – to think that I’m this, that I’m a case study. And in many senses it’s bet­ter to be a case study, [be­cause that’s what’s val­i­dated by the sys­tem].”

Mes­saouda and Bekkie both ar­gued that the un­equal power re­la­tion­ship be­tween pro­fes­sors and stu­dents is cen­tral to the main­te­nance of struc­tural colo­nial­ism in uni­ver­si­ties. For ex­am­ple, Bekkie de­scribed a pro­fes­sor who in­tro­duced the scholar Paul Farmer as an ex­am­ple of an an­thro­pol­o­gist do­ing eth­i­cally re­spon­si­ble, rel­e­vant an­thro­po­log­i­cal work. When a stu­dent ques­tioned this, mak­ing an ar­gu­ment that Farmer’s project is ac­tu­ally an ex­am­ple of colo­nial “white saviour com­plex,” the teacher quickly shut down the cri­tique. Bekkie ex­plained that it’s dif­fi­cult, both in­tel­lec­tu­ally and prac­ti­cally, to chal­lenge the the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works that your pro­fes­sor brings into the class­room. Even as­sum­ing that your pro­fes­sor val­ues in­de­pen­dent thought, do­ing re­search and the­o­ret­i­cal work to craft crit­i­cal ar­gu­ments, rather than just re­gur­gi­tat­ing what you’ve al­ready been taught, is more than many stu­dents have time or en­ergy for. We are, then, re­warded for agree­ing with our pro­fes­sors, and main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo. We could say that pro­fes­sors op­er­ate in their class­rooms like can­on­ized schol­ars do in our ci­ta­tional webs – their ideas, le­git­imized by the aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion, guide and limit the the­o­ret­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal bound­aries of the course.

This dy­namic was clearly demon­strated in an an­thro­pol­ogy class I was at­tend­ing at the be­gin­ning of this se­mes­ter. On the first day of classes, the film Of the North by Do­minic Gagnon was shown. The film is a com­pi­la­tion of “found footage” up­loaded to Youtube, all de­pict­ing peo­ple and places in North­ern Canada. Many Indige­nous artists and ac­tivists have ac­cused the film’s di­rec­tor of bla­tantly per­pet­u­at­ing a racist stereo­type of the Inuit as drunks, and, af­ter much pub­lic ag­i­ta­tion, the Mon­treal In­ter­na­tional Doc­u­men­tary Fes­ti­val (RIDM) of­fi­cially apol­o­gized for in­clud­ing it in their 2015 fes­ti­val. Our class dis­cus­sion, how­ever, en­gaged with the film as a “con­tro­ver­sial” art

“In be­liev­ing that they could find the key to man’s be­hav­iour, [an­thro­pol­o­gists] have , like the churches, be­come fore­run­ners of de­struc­tion.” —Vine Delo­ria Jr. Sioux scholar/ac­tivist “I was shocked and an­gered by the phrase ‘peo­ple like you;’ was the pro­fes­sor re­fer­ring to my skin colour?” —Mes­saouda* Mcgill an­thro­pol­ogy grad­u­ate If we con­tinue to cen­ter our work around mostly white, mostly male schol­ars, they will con­tinue to slip eas­ily into the canon.

piece rather than ex­plic­itly ad­dress­ing the trou­bling po­lit­i­cal and so­cial cli­mate that pro­duced this film and is re­pro­duced by it. Af­ter Gagnon came in to speak about his film, many stu­dents voiced their discomfort and out­rage, but crit­i­cal en­gage­ment with the film or the dis­cus­sion with Gagnon was not en­cour­aged or given space by the pro­fes­sor. This event demon­strated once again the power of our pro­fes­sors in guid­ing and lim­it­ing the the­o­ret­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal lim­its of dis­cus­sion.

Vi­sions and schemes for de­colo­nial an­thro­polo­gies

If we’ve de­cided that some­thing needs to change, and we’ve de­cided that that change might be called ‘de­col­o­niz­ing,’ we next need to ask: what might a de­colo­nial an­thro­pol­ogy look like at Mcgill? And who needs to do what to make de­colo­nial an­thro­pol­ogy a re­al­ity on our cam­pus? Do pro­fes­sors have to change the ways they teach? Does the ad­min­is­tra­tion need to change their poli­cies? Do stu­dents need to speak up a lit­tle louder? Do we need protests? Calm con­ver­sa­tions in board rooms? I would say yes, we need all of those things. There are stu­dents or­ga­niz­ing around de­colo­nial academia on cam­puses in Eng­land, South Africa, and Al­berta, who might give us some ideas:

The stu­dents’ union at SOAS, the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Lon­don, de­spite the in­sti­tu­tion’s fairly im­pe­ri­al­ist name, is a group com­mit­ted to de­col­o­niza­tion in many spheres of life at their univer­sity. The union’s 2016-2017 “De­col­o­niz­ing SOAS: Con­fronting the white In­sti­tu­tion” cam­paign aims to in­crease crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion about the school’s ra­cial in­equal­i­ties and colo­nial struc­tures, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar fo­cus to the pol­i­tics of the canon in their cour­ses. They de­mand that “the ma­jor­ity of the philoso­phers on our cour­ses are from the Global South or it’s di­as­pora. SOAS’S fo­cus is on Asia and Africa and there­fore the foun­da­tions of its the­o­ries should be pre­sented by Asian or African philoso­phers (or the di­as­pora).” Fur­ther, they de­mand that “If white philoso­phers are re­quired, [they must be ap­proached] from a crit­i­cal stand­point.” To this end, they’ve set up a work­ing group be­tween stu- dents, fac­ulty, staff and ad­min­is­tra­tion to dis­cuss how these goals will be achieved.

At the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) in 2015, a stu­dent cam­paign formed around the slo­gan “Rhodes Must Fall,” a call to re­move the statue of Ce­cil Rhodes, an early Bri­tish im­pe­ri­al­ist, from UCT cam­pus. The cam­paign was con­fronta­tional from the out­set, and it worked. Rose, a mem­ber of Rhodes Must Fall’s Ox­ford Univer­sity chap­ter, re­ports: “On March 9, 2015, a stu­dent threw a bucket of hu­man fae­ces on the statue, and par­tic­i­pated in a toyi-toyi dance with other pro­test­ers. Gain­ing both me­dia at­ten­tion and sup­port, a swift vote saw the re­moval of the statue one month later. It was a vic­tory in the fight for the de­coloni­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa.” This ac­tion grew into an on­go­ing move­ment, de­scribed on the group’s Face­book page as “A stu­dent, staff, and worker move­ment mo­bil­is­ing against in­sti­tu­tional white su­prem­a­cist cap­i­tal­ist pa­tri­archy for the com­plete de­col­o­niza­tion of UCT.” It sparked sim­i­lar move­ments at uni­ver­si­ties around South Africa and at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford in Eng­land. All of the cam­paigns are on­go­ing, in­volv­ing ac­tions both diplo­matic and mil­i­tant, sym­bolic and ma­te­rial.

A third in­spir­ing ex­am­ple is the Na­tive Stud­ies Course Re­quire­ment Group at the Univer­sity of Al­berta. Fol­low­ing the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg and Lake­head Univer­sity in On­tario, stu­dents and pro­fes­sors at the Univer­sity of Al­berta are call­ing for one course in the Na­tive Stud­ies depart­ment to be a re­quire­ment for all univer­sity un­der­grad­u­ates. They’ve cir­cu­lated a pe­ti­tion, and they’re con­tin­u­ing to hold pan­els and con­sul­ta­tions with var­i­ous stake­hold­ers.

Here at Mcgill, the Provost’s Task Force on Indige­nous Stud­ies and Indige­nous Ed­u­ca­tion is con­duct­ing re­search and draft­ing pro­pos­als for ini­tia­tives that might bet­ter sup­port Indige­nous stu­dents as well as pro­mote Indige­nous ed­u­ca­tion in var­i­ous aca­demic pro­grams. Their rec­om­men­da­tions will doubt­less be rel­e­vant to the an­thro­pol­ogy depart­ment, as well as all stu­dents and pro­fes­sors at Mcgill, but the of­fi­cial in­sti­tu­tional re­sponse to struc­tural colo­nial­ism will not dis­man­tle the sys­tem. As il­lus­trated in the ex­am­ples above, there are things that we, as stu­dents, as well as our pro­fes­sors, can and must do in our in­di­vid­ual prac­tices and as or­ga­nized col­lec­tives to chal­lenge colo­nial aca­demic prac­tices at Mcgill.

A clear first step, ac­cord­ing to Mcgill pro­fes­sor Ed­uardo Kohn, is to di­rectly con­front the lack of ra­cial di­ver­sity in the an­thro­pol­ogy fac­ulty. Kohn holds that di­ver­si­fy­ing fac­ulty is key, since once they’re hired, pro­fes­sors have a lot of free­dom within their cour­ses. Mar­celle and Bekkie echoed the need for di­verse pro­fes­sor­ships. Mar­celle ex­plained that it’s the “mul­ti­plic­ity of voices” that makes an­thro­pol­ogy pow­er­ful, and that this must in­clude not only ra­cial di­ver­sity but peo­ple from “all walks of life.” The fac­ulty has been press­ing for bet­ter gen­der eq­uity in re­cent years, but an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sors are keenly aware that the ma­jor­ity of the fac­ulty is still white. Kohn of­fered a cou­ple ex­pla­na­tions for this. First, he ac­knowl­edged the struc­tural bar­ri­ers for peo­ple of colour in the aca­demic world – like racial­ized poverty, the school-to-prison pipe­line, and lack of role mod­els – which trans­late into fewer schol­ars of colour el­i­gi­ble for fac­ulty po­si­tions. How­ever, there is also a dy­namic more spe­cific to Mcgill: the depart­ment’s job post­ings are for very “spe­cial­ized hires,” seek­ing schol­ars with par­tic­u­lar aca­demic in­ter­ests and as­sets. Of­ten, Kohn ex­plained, the spe­cial­iza­tions are ones which are not pri­mar­ily en­gaged with by schol­ars of colour. The fac­tors which lead to ra­cial di­vi­sions of re­search/la­bor are com­plex and be­yond the scope of Mcgill, but is some­thing which must be rec­og­nized when de­vel­op­ing hir­ing prac­tices. The Mcgill ad­min­is­tra­tion prefers spe­cial­ized hires rather than “cast­ing a wide net,” be­cause it takes less work and holds less risk. How­ever, a re­search re­port on “Eq­uity in the Hir­ing of Mcgill Aca­demic Staff” re­leased by the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) in 2016 re­veals that hir­ing eq­uity is not taken se­ri­ously by the Mcgill ad­min­is­tra­tion. There is lit­tle in the way of trans­parency or ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures in the hir­ing process, there is no eq­uity of­fice in the Mcgill ad­min­is­tra­tion, and no eq­uity train­ing is of­fered to mem­bers of hir­ing boards. With no eq­uity struc­tures in place, bi­ases such as those per­mit­ted by spe­cial­ized hir­ing prac­tices are al­lowed to per­sist.

Sec­ond, we need to start more ex­plic­itly dis­cussing the po­lit­i­cal con­texts and im­pli­ca­tions of our stud­ies. What we read, how we dis­cuss it, what re­search we do, and what the­o­ries we pro­mote are caught up in real-world struggles for jus­tice and lib­erty. In her book, Na­tive Amer­i­can DNA, Kim Tall­bear de­scribes re­search as a po­lit­i­cal tool, through which knowl­edge is col­lected and mo­bi­lized to ei­ther pro­mote or un­der­mine the needs and de­sires of com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple. This re­minded me of a course I took with pro­fes­sor Colin Scott, which fo­cused on the his­tor­i­cal, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal con­texts of Indige­nous projects for self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. We read texts with ex­plic­itly po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ments, and car­ried this into our con­ver­sa­tions and as­sign­ments. It made vis­i­ble the con­nec­tions be­tween re­search, the­ory and pol­i­tics in our own stud­ies.

Mar­celle ar­gued that the an­thro­pol­ogy fac­ulty, both in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, needs to be more open about dis­cussing per­sonal and col­lec­tive pol­i­tics in aca­demic set­tings. Then, rather than over­look­ing the po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal as­sump­tions we’re work­ing within, the po­lit­i­cal en­tan­gle­ments of our ed­u­ca­tion can be openly dis­cussed and de­bated. When I men­tioned this to Ed­uardo Kohn, he noted that po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal en­gage­ments must be han­dled care­fully, to en­sure that class­rooms re­main wel­come spa­ces for con­ver­sa­tion; spa­ces of ‘play,’ and not po­lit­i­cal dogma. So, while we must ad­dress and grap­ple with our pol­i­tics in ed­u­ca­tional spa­ces, we also must, as Mar­celle said, “be more aware [...] when you say some­thing, pay at­ten­tion to who you’re ex­clud­ing.”

Is it pos­si­ble to de­col­o­nize our dis­ci­pline’s canon while still pro­vid­ing stu­dents with the nec­es­sary con­text to un­der­stand con­tem­po­rary con­ver­sa­tions? As Kohn noted, an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sors at Mcgill have a lot of free­dom in de­ter­min­ing their own syl­labi; a free­dom that it might not be ben­e­fi­cial to take away by push­ing for ex­ter­nal reg­u­la­tion of course cur­ricu­lum. It’ll come down to a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors: more di­verse read­ings, more trans­parency about po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy, bet­ter hir­ing eq­uity and pro­fes­sor di­ver­sity, and more stu­dent in­put on syl­labi.

An­other es­sen­tial prac­tice is con­sciously cre­at­ing more eq­ui­table, an­tiracist class­room prac­tices. Treat­ing stu­dents equally is not a pas­sive act. Work­ing within an in­tel­lec­tual and in­sti­tu­tional con­text of ra­cial in­equal­ity, both stu­dents and pro­fes­sors must ac­tively work to make sure that stu- dents of colour are not fetishized, marginal­ized, and writ­ten out of the dis­ci­pline. For white stu­dents, this means ques­tion­ing the ways in which we take up space in the class­room, ques­tion­ing the white­ness of the cur­ricu­lum, and ac­tively val­i­dat­ing and sup­port­ing the con­tri­bu­tions made in classes by stu­dents of colour. It means call­ing out our pro­fes­sors when they do or say things which op­press or si­lence our class­mates and marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties. Bekkie em­pha­sized the role of lan­guage in class­room power dy­nam­ics: “the con­ver­sa­tion is in English, which de­ters a lot of English as a sec­ond lan­guage speak­ers from speak­ing out. Even me, I’ve been speak­ing English for twelve years, and I’m usu­ally pretty con­fi­dent, but in classes I’ll just like choke up com­pletely. [...] When I’ve talked to a lot of other peo­ple about it, they feel sim­i­larly, that they can’t ar­tic­u­late enough.” While it’s not prac­ti­cal to de­cen­ter English as the lan­guage of dis­cus­sion, mak­ing space for al­ter­na­tive means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in class­rooms and as­sign­ments has been iden­ti­fied by both Mar­celle and Bekkie as crit­i­cal to over­com­ing colo­nial aca­demic stan­dards. Their sug­ges­tions in­clude al­low­ing stu­dents to do read­ings or as­sign­ments in lan­guages other than French or English when pos­si­ble, and mak­ing space for stu­dents to com­plete as­sign­ments with im­ages, videos, pre­sen­ta­tions, and cre­ative writ­ing.

Lastly, we can­not dis­count the power of di­rect ac­tion and mak­ing a fuss. If, in try­ing to work within the sys­tem, we dis­cover that those in power cling to it too tightly to con­sider re­form, there is value in tak­ing and us­ing the power we have to fight for the univer­sity we want. De­mon­stra­tions, art, theatre, writ­ing, sit-ins, and pop­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion are all tools avail­able to us. While the fo­cus is and should al­ways re­main on de­col­o­niza­tion for the sake of col­o­nized peo­ples, we all ben­e­fit when struc­tural colo­nial­ism is chal­lenged. As Mar­celle said, “let us ac­cept and ex­am­ine the com­plex­ity that many mi­nor­ity stu­dents find them­selves in. If we al­low their sto­ries, their in­tu­itions, and re­sponses to lead the di­a­logue, we can find our­selves guid­ing aca­demic knowl­edge to­wards new the­o­ret­i­cal in­sights.”

A clear first step, ac­cord­ing to Mcgill pro­fes­sor Ed­uardo Kohn, is to di­rectly con­front the lack of ra­cial di­ver­sity in the an­thro­pol­ogy fac­ulty. We could say that pro­fes­sors op­er­ate in their class­rooms like can­on­ized schol­ars do in our ci­ta­tional webs. “My per­sonal iden­tity shifted – to think that I’m this, that I’m a case study.” —Bekkie* Mcgill an­thro­pol­ogy stu­dent Do we need protests? Calm con­ver­sa­tions in board rooms? I would say yes, we need all of those things.

*Names have been changed

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.