From the outset, the field of anthropology’s conception of the other or other peoples(as in not White European Male colonizers) has been inherently flawed. Sure, it is natural to classify and categorize for man, but amplifying cultural differences to biological differences, paired with the miscalculated application of Darwinism to create social Darwinism, created a narrative of vast divides between the colonizers and the colonized that made it easy to subjugate the indigenous people for “their own good.” Indeed, the guiding ideological idea of the Great Chain of Being literally classified the colonized as lower than the colonized in a way that fit into the religious scripture of the Colonizers. This idea of linear progression towards European society made its way through the Age of Reason and was championed by the likes of Edward Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan. As a result, instead of celebrating and seeking to understand the variety of cultures that exist around the world, they passed lower value judgments to the colonized others and projected their own values onto them. This is especially evident in the definition of what civilized vs. barbaric was. Those in power could make this distinction while those who were subjugated were subject to it. Despite such a problematic beginning, things have turned around. Franz Boas was a pioneer of Anthropology in the United States who helped turned the preceding and problematic tide of colonial superiority by asserting that cultures are equally complex and should be studied as such.
Another major system of difference that mistakenly links culture and biology is the socially constructed and arbitrary nature of categorization by race. In the United states, our legal system supports it via the emphasis on hypo-descent. Lineage from mixed ancestors places people in the subordinate group, and conveys the idea(through the one drop of blood rule) that somehow blood has been tainted. Notably, the contradiction between hypo descent and native american dilution showcases how race is just constructed culturally and through systems of power(folk taxonomies). What particularly maintains systems of difference is the, again false, idea that race is immutable while census data shows just the opposite. This abhorrent misrepresentation of people with certain biological characteristics that are stressed over others(i.e. blackness over whiteness vs. certain body types over others) has major implications in that it perpetuates inequalities, prejudice, bigotry, violence and discrimination towards whatever a culture has historically deemed inferior(see above paragraph.) Christen A. Smith hones in how this insidious process had lead to excessive force used by the police and our legal system(which props up racial categories) towards black people:
“Symbolically, black horizons of death emerge from the cognitive dissociation between blackness and humanity. As anthropologists, we know that 19th-century anthropology associated black people with apes and relegated blackness to the nonhuman realm (Baker 1998, 2010). However, we may not be as aware that this legacy has contemporary social ramifications. Social psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff and his collaborators (2008:294) have found that “a Black-ape asso- ciation influences the extent to which people condone and justify violence against Black suspects.”(385).
In effect, the problematic nature of colonizers’ anthropology seeped into and passed the test of time of any meaningful reform or rhetoric because their twisted and erroneous ideology pervades our systems of power, law, language, perception(through the media) and culture.
My questions are the following:
- How can we proceed to redefine and reshape the systems of power, law,language, and culture that perpetuate discrimination against people of color and demean our differences rather than celebrating them towards establishing our commonality as one human race?
- How does this type of misrepresentation and characterizing of other cultures as barbaric factor into newer forms of prejudice and bigotry in America such as Islamophobia and how is it generally linked to its roots in xenophobia and nativism?