Mother, mother: On police violence and race in the U.S.
The Huffington Post carried an article discussing recent writings about the problem of policing and race in the U.S. It mentions the work of Christen Smith, professor of anthropology and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas Austin. She argues that addressing the problem of anti-black police violence also requires taking into account the traumatic and long-term deadly effects on the living, who are often women: “We know from the stories of black mothers who have lost their children to state violence that the lingering anguish of living in the aftermath of police violence kills black women gradually. Depression, suicide, PTSD, heart attacks, strokes and other debilitating mental and physical illnesses are just some of the diseases black women develop as they try to put their lives back together after they lose a child.”
Can cultural “appropriation” ever be called theft?
Hawaii Public Radio reported on Disney’s pulling of its Moana costume for children because of the negative reaction to it as racist and derogatory. The piece quotes Tevita Kā‘ili, associate professor of cultural anthropology and department chair at Brigham Young University Hawai‘i: “This costume should have never been made in the first place…It’s difficult for me to see how Disney can benefit and make a lot of money off of someone else’s culture…Especially someone as significant as Maui.”
Two social scientists at the University of Oxford,, one a social anthropologist and the other an economist, co-authored an article in the Huffington Post about how “…European states need to go beyond the obvious target, ISIS and its twisted interpretation of Islam, and delve deeper into the complex genesis of violence. Violence is located not just in extremist ideology but also in struggles over the distribution of power within and across nations.” And later on, they write about “…the need to problematize the state and its policies alongside their targets of attack. We need to unpack the common sense view of the state as a benevolent agent operating under explicit policy directions.” Mohammad Talib is Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz fellow in the Anthropology of Muslim Societies at the Oxford Centre for Islamic studies, and Adeel Malik is Globe Fellow in the Economies of Muslim Societies.
Stop the killing: A message from Miss Honduras
National Public Radio (U.S.) carried an article about the national costume worn by Miss Honduras, Iroshka Lindaly Elvir, in the Miss Universe contest. It included many decorative skulls. According to archaeologist Rosemary A. Joyce, professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Elvir’s costume drew on Maya culture to bring world attention to violence in Honduras. The U.N. has ranked Honduras as having the highest murder rate in the world. Joyce noted that: “[Elvir] uploaded pictures to her Facebook page in which she is wearing that outfit holding a sign [that reads] ‘CICIH YA’ which is a call for an independent, U.N.-appointed anti-corruption task force to be appointed for Honduras.”
Indigenous peoples everywhere seek the right to say no to various outside interventions. The National Post (Canada) reported on the controversial plan to build a giant telescope in Hawaii on top of Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain. A proposal to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) makes claims that it will benefit the whole world, and that Mauna Kea is the best and most rational place to build it. The article quoted, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology and American Studies at Wesleyan University: “…telescopes on Mauna Kea are “supplant(ing) our indigenous temple of worship” and the TMT would constitute a “desecration” of the cynosure of Hawaiian existence. The Post article goes on to comment: “Canadians know well what this sort of fight looks like at home. It turns out other places have aboriginal peoples who want the right to say no, too.”
U.S. as major threat to world peace and security
PressTV (Iran) carried an article about the possibility of a new nuclear arms race involving Russia and China and untold financial costs. It drew on comments from Dennis Etler, professor of anthropology at Cabrillo College in California. Etler noted that the United States has “a military budget which exceeds that of all other countries combined, ” adding that the U.S. “has hundreds of military bases spread across the length and breadth of the globe, it has invaded sovereign nations throughout the world to protect what it claims is its national security, it has imposed economic sanctions on countries it deems adversaries, and supports subversion and separatism in order to dismember nations it wishes to control…This has all happened time and again. The U.S. as a result of its unilateral actions has become the major threat to world peace and security.”
A piece on National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on how the coconut industry in Thailand thrives on the use of the labor of trained monkeys. Some observers claim that this work constitutes animal abuse. Skeptics of allegations of abuse include Leslie Sponsel, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Hawaii: “…the monkeys are very similar to family pets, and for some households, even like family members to some degree. Young ones are trained, and they are kept on a chain tethered to the handler or to a shelter when not working. They are fed, watered, bathed, groomed and otherwise cared for. They often ride to the coconut palm plantation on the back of a motor bike or in a cart driven by the handler…That is not to say that there is never any cruelty or mistreatment.” Sponsel added that overall he respects “the poor farmers and others who are just trying to survive and prosper in support of their families.” A trained monkey can pick an average 1,000 coconuts a day while a human can manage to pick 80.
Domino effect of violence in northern Afghanistan
Al Jazeera published an op-ed by Morwari Zafar, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford and visiting scholar in the Institute of Global and International Studies at the George Washington University. She argues that violence in northern Afghanistan threatens the country’s vulnerable populations and jeopardizes stability in the country as a whole. Faryab province used to be a stable, economically self-sufficient home to nearly one million multiethnic inhabitants: “But today, Faryab simmers dangerously. Against the backdrop of the US government’s latest extension of its military commitment to Afghanistan, it is worth noting that the province is precariously situated along the same political fault lines that recently rattled Kunduz province.”
Time Magazine published an article by cultural anthropologist John Bowen of Washington University in which he describes three factors contributing to France as a target for jihad: First, France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Second, the French Republic has nourished a sense of combat with the Church—which for some means with religion of any sort. Third, the attack risks to add fuel to the rise of the Far Right in France and throughout Europe. In conclusion, he states:
“France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.”
Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French, Blaming Islam, and the forthcoming Shari’a in Britain.
On Muslim integration and discrimination in France
The International Business Times carried an article stating that the terror attacks in Paris will likely exacerbate the challenges faced by Muslim communities in Europe, as extreme right-wing political parties politicize the tragedy. A large proportion of France’s Muslim population of five million faces day-to-day discrimination along with broader, institutional forms of disenfranchisement, said Mayanthi L. Fernando, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, whose work focuses on Islam and secularism in France. “The problem here is not a lack of willingness among a large number of French Muslims to integrate — many would say they are already integrated — the problem is they are not accepted as legitimately French by the rest of the white, Christian majority…The problem is that on one hand they are asked to prove their integration in the French mainstream, but on the other hand they are facing discrimination day to day and institutionally.”
Colonialism, dispossession, desperation, and suicide
The Guarani Indians of Brazil, according to a report cited in The New York Times and other media, have the highest suicide rates in the world. Overall, indigenous peoples suffer the greatest suicide risk among cultural or ethnic groups worldwide. In Brazil, the indigenous suicide rate was six times higher than the national average in 2013. Among members of the Guaraní tribe, Brazil’s largest, the rate is estimated at more than twice as high as the indigenous rate over all, the study said. And in fact it may be even higher. Continue reading “Anthro in the news1/12/15”→
The dynamic duo of medical anthropologist/physicians, Jim Young Kim and Paul Farmer, published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that Ebola can be stopped if an effective response system is put in place:
“Ebola is spread by direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids, making it less transmissible than an airborne disease such as tuberculosis. A functioning health system can stop Ebola transmission and, we believe, save the lives of a majority of those who are afflicted…To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/8/14”→
An article in The Times (London) cites the research of Harvard University cultural anthropology professor Susan Greenhalgh that reveals how the visit of a Chinese mathematician to an international meeting in Helsinki put him in touch with Malthusian thinking about population growth and its dangers and specifically the book, The Limits to Growth.
Falling down on the job in Cambodia
Over the past two years, many garment workers in Cambodia have fainted and been hospitalized and production has slowed or shut down, according to a report in The New York Times by Julia Wallace, the executive editor of The Cambodian Daily. In one instance, a worker started issuing commands in a language that sounded like Chinese, claiming to speak for an ancestral spirit and demanding raw chicken. No raw chicken was provided, and more faintings occurred.
The article mentions the work of two cultural anthropologists, Michael Taussig and Aihwa Ong, who have described spiritual responses to oppression. Taussig wrote about Colombian peasants working on sugar cane plantations in the 1970s and their perceptions of having sold their souls to the devil.
More closely related to the Cambodian case is Aihwa Ong’s research on spirit possession among women factory workers in Malaysia in the 1970s. Ong interpreted women’s spiritual affliction as a protest against harsh working conditions. Such “protests” however did not result in better working conditions for the women. In Cambodia, in contrast, mass faintings have produced a positive response – indirectly, through public support for workers’ rights after a government crackdown on demonstrating workers and, directly, through a raise in the minimum wage. [Blogger’s note: garment workers in developing countries need all the help they can get, so bring on the spirits!].
The future of jobs in the world
An article in The Economist on the future of employment drew on the work of many scholars including cultural anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics. The views in general are not promising for employment rates, given the ever rising replacement of labor by technology. Increasing income equality is projected. The article alludes to Graeber’s perspective that much modern labor consists of “bullshit jobs” (low- and mid-level screen-sitting that serves simply to occupy workers for whom the economy no longer has much use) and that keeping bullshit workers employed is a ruling class practice to maintain control. [Blogger’s note: interested readers should consult Graeber’s original writings for more details].
Eating cake and talking about death
Art du Jour, an art gallery and education space in downtown Santa Cruz, CA is a bright and cozy place where some 30 strangers gather to talk about death and dying. To help begin those conversations comes a new concept in an unlikely phrase: the Death Cafe. Death Cafes originated in England, the country where the hospice movement began. An article in the San Jose Mercury on Death Cafes in California quoted Shelley Adler, a U.C. San Francisco medical anthropologist who held the first San Francisco Death Cafe this past spring:
“Bundt cake makes everything easier…[regarding death, she says]. “We have more than 100 euphemisms for it. The end. Pass away. Kick the bucket. It’s not that we want to avoid it, necessarily. It’s everywhere, from zombie movies to video games. But we were desperately in need of a platform. And, when you face it, you suddenly feel unloaded. It’s not as scary.”