K. Beckham- Week 2- Systems of a Difference

Based on the first lecture, cultural anthropology started with white Europeans coming across other cultures through missionaries and military people and imposing judgement on their culture and way of life with a very ethnocentric point of view. Cultural anthropology was a study of “us” and “them” which are separated often based on projections of the other culture and what they are not in relation to what “we” are. The way differences were described came about from the way outside viewers were shocked and frightened by other cultures. This made them want to classify these other cultures by putting them in a system they understood where some cultures were considered more advanced or behind.


One way in which anthropologists grew to justify classification based on development was because of Darwin’s theory of evolution. People applied the theory to social being in a way that put many non-white cultures as inferior to more “developed” white cultures. However, the fault in this way of thought has since been realized. Cultures cannot be better or worse and development is merely a judgement from one culture that ignores the complexities of why a culture may be that way, as in the case of hunting and gathering societies. Despite this realization, much bias still exists.


In the lecture on “Race and Human Diversity” and “Race: The Power of an Illusion” we can see how race has been incorrectly linked to genetic differences. Because it is easy to separate people based on what visual differences such as race, we make separate people and make connections based on it, despite having no biological basis. For example, many of the students doing the experiment to compare their genetic makeup said they expected to be most similar to the person most similar to them in race and gender. In addition, track runners were interviewed and many admitted to predicting ability based on the race of their opponent. However, we have found that physical appearance variation is produced by mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift and that race speaks more about culture than biology even though the world, the United States in particular, treats race as a genetic difference.


In “Recognizing Cultural Diversity” it explores how evolutionism enforced the idea that differences in the way humans live can be classified as phases in a single development where all societies are working toward the same goal, the way white European-dominated societies live (104). We compared all other societies in relationship to our own, like in the case of the Japanese feudal system (106). It is easy to view cultures as better or worse, developed or undeveloped, similar or different, because of the way it simplifies diversity, however it is by no means the most ethical or most useful way to study cultures.


The text, “Blackness, Citizenship, and the Transnational Vertigo of Violence in the Americas” illustrates how blackness is viewed in the Americas and how it has led to the marginalization and disenfranchisement of black people, most recently seen since the Ferguson shooting. The way race has formed socially, historically, and politically in America defines the way which people can express citizenship depending on their race.


“Here Come the Anthros (Again): The Strange Marriage of Anthropology and Native America” investigates the way anthropology looks at Native American people and culture. It first illustrates the long used “us” and “them” mentality in the Intro with the example of the movie Avatar. It depicts the white people with much technology encountering a group of indigenous people who are seen as exotic and primitive in comparison.


The reading looks at several different issues of ethnocentrism in anthropology. Here are two related questions I have:

-Is it possible to study cultures in an unbiased manners and is it worth attempting, or are there better ways cultural anthropology should be practiced?

-In what ways can cultural anthropology better the lives of marginalized culture groups?

4 thoughts on “K. Beckham- Week 2- Systems of a Difference

  1. Anthropology will be able to better the lives of marginalized culture groups because it will assess the culture and their morals instead of people only looking at their skin color. A major change that could happen would be violence and politics as outlined by Christen A. Smith in, “Blackness, Citizenship, and the Transnational Vertigo of Violence in the Americas”. Right in the beginning they outline the point that, “It is about an emerging global politics of race, citizenship, violence, and nation that requires us as anthropologists take stock of our approaches to these topics” (Smith 384). Anthropologists will be able to bring awareness to the general public about skin color and culture being separate things and hopefully change people’s negative connotations towards certain ethnicities. Anthropologists will also help people understand violence of particular ethnicities and explain it in a way that will make the people who don’t understand what is happening empathize with them.

  2. I also had similar questions after going over the lectures and reading. With regard to how anthropologists bettering the lives of marginalized culture groups, I felt like anthropologists were responsible for creating the differences that people see in others, at least originally. With false science and theories, like race having a biological basis and the great chain of being, these were used to marginalize other. Today obviously these theories are disproved, but people are still ingrained to see difference. People should be judged on their character and not their look, but after generations of being told it is a biological “fact” that people who look different are different, it is hard for people to think otherwise. I do not know if it is possible to study cultures in an unbiased manner, seeing as how it has been difficult for people to do for hundreds of years. I think we naturally think that anything that isn’t “ours” culturally is weird. For example, in one of the first lectures we had it said eating bugs is normal in some cultures, but to others it is gross. Many people will naturally see it as gross and may not be able to overcome their biases and say it is gross.

  3. While doing the readings myself, I had a similar thought that you had, questioning how anthropologists better the lives of cultures and groups. During the readings, it seemed like anthropologists have cause a good deal of harm to some culture groups like the Native Americans. However, I believe that today’s anthropologists are very aware of the past mistakes and they can actually help change the way people think about other cultures. The anthropologists can hopefully make people think in a less ethnocentric way than before. Studying cultures in an unbiased manner would be extremely difficult for anyone because people are so used to what is “normal” for them. However, I do think it is possible to study cultures in an unbiased manner with enough practice and field work. Even though it may take practice, the amount of knowledge gained makes studying other cultures worth it so future generations can be educated and not make the same mistakes others have made in the past.

  4. I enjoyed how you broke up your ideas for each part of the week’s readings and videos in multiple paragraphs. It made your ideas very concise and easy to read. I also like how you dedicated an area at the bottom for your two questions, it made them easy to find. One last thing that I think you did a really great job of talking about “us and them” and how cultures that were not white were thought of as inferior. I do think though that you could have talked about the how religion was involved into how culture was talked about. So why they were scared? And how they used a religious hierarchy to explain what missionaries and military men saw (Lectures). Another thing that I think you could have added on to, was your two questions at the bottom by telling which article you associate your questions with or maybe if they are overall questions you felt went with all of the articles.

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