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?