ABA Works in Progress Session at the 2012 AAA Meetings. Photo courtesy Riche' Barnes

Race and blackness have been all over our televisions as of late. Barack Obama called a news conference to specifically speak to the problematic constructions of black masculinity in US culture and their tragic consequences for Trayvon Martin. Attitudes about race and racist attitudes were exposed in the language of participants in the TV show Big Brother and the TV personality Paula Deen, as well as in the reaction to the commercial about the interracial Cheerios family. At the same time, one of the most popular TV shows, Scandal, features an African American woman in designer clothes who is practically in charge of the government. In the United States and around the globe, individuals and societies wrestle with the empowering and oppressive dynamics of race and ethnicity. The Association of Black Anthropologists will offer theory on the construction of race and critique anthropology’s analysis of the same in the invited sessions, roundtables and papers presented at the 112th Annual Meetings in Chicago.

ABA Works in Progress Session at the 2012 AAA Meetings. Photo courtesy Riche’ Barnes

Building upon the rich anthropological and sociological history of Chicago is the invited session, Revisiting the Chicago School: Engagements with Race, Class and Gender through Contemporary Ethnography. The session’s goal of making sense of the shifting place of ethnographic research in the present are addressed by Laurence Ralph’s work on “at risk” gang members’ resentment of being researched by Chicago social scientists, Mary Patillo’s critique of the Chicago School’s emphasis on social ecology, Karla Slocum’s exploration of the Chicago School’s impact on studies of Oklahoma’s black towns, and Christine Walley’s analysis of the comparative contributions of contemporary and Chicago School ethnography. The discussants are William Julius Wilson and Nicholas De Genova who use their own work on social inequality in Chicago to frame the interdisciplinary conversation.

Two prominent women anthropologists of Chicago present their experience and thought in the roundtable, Black Women’s Intellectual and Political Work Chicago Style: Conversations with Cathy Cohen and Barbara Ransby. The two scholars have employed interdisciplinary perspectives to develop their activist oriented scholarship. Joining the conversation are Angela Gilliam, Signithia Fordham and Janis Hutchinson. The five will discuss the roles of women in grassroots and community activism with particular attention to issues of violence, health and education.

A second roundtable is After the Atlantic Revolution: Rethinking an Anthropological Tradition, Part II. In commemoration of the watershed moment in the 1990s when scholars first used the term Atlantic to define an emergent body of scholarship, the presenters ask to what extent the insights of Atlanticist scholars have been successfully institutionalized by anthropologists of other regions? The participants in this discussion include Jemima Pierre, Yadira Perez Hazel, Jafari Sinclair Allen, Ana Ramos-Zayas and Barnor Hesse.

Responding to the 2013 Annual Meeting’s call to examine anthropology’s capacity in terms of knowledge production is the Invited Session, Race and Racism in Comparative Perspective: Part II. The ambitious goal of this panel is to seek a comparative basis through which to better grasp historic, contemporary and evolving forms of race, racism and inequality produced by neoliberal policies and global capitalism. To that end, the participants will employ case studies of diasporic descendants of African slaves, indigenous populations, immigrants, refugees and other displaced people who are increasingly exposed to criminalization, securitization and racial subordination. Presenters in this session include Nina Glick-Schiller, Andrew D Spiegel, Timothy Patrick Daniels, Cheryl Mwaria and Raymond G Cordrington.

A number of papers contribute to the discussion of race by examining specific experiences of blackness. The session, Embodied Politics of Place in the Black Diaspora, explores how blackness and the politics of representation intersect in the making of racialized space. Specifically, the authors examine how social geography, the erotic in black expressive culture, and visual technologies of race can be employed to theorize the ontological fact of blackness without resort to essentialism. Seeking to deepen the critical dialogue on the intersection of embodied subjectivity and space, the participants share their work on topics such as social death and black women’s health activism in Los Angeles as well as visual representation and consumer culture in Brazil.

Black Mirrors, Emergent Ethnoracial Configurations and Afro-Indigenous Futures is a panel concerned with the convergences and divergences in the construction of black and indigenous identity politics. Three of the papers are case studies on how African American hip hop culture is reimagined in the music, language and self-expression created by the indigenous peoples of Bolivia, Liberia and the United States. A paper on the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem describes the group’s negotiation of the duel indigenous legacies of Hebrew and African American dietary practices. The presenter examines how this community’s return to the diet of their Hebrew ancestors lends itself to an investigation of indigeneity in the Americas and black indigneity writ large.

Included in the other sessions are papers on topics such as the inequality of housing rights for black families in Brazil, the connection between relative power and hygiene practices for black women in the United States, the experience of economic development policies by Garifuna bread makers in Honduras, the politics of a collaborative African American and Native American national museum exhibit, and the efforts of a multi-racial public policy think tank of formerly incarcerated academic professionals in Brooklyn. The Association of Black Anthropologists is excited about the contributions these panels will make to the national and global conversations on race, culture and identity.

Andrea C Abrams is an assistant professor of anthropology, gender studies and African American studies at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. She is the Program Chair of the ABA and can be contacted at andrea.abrams@centre.edu.

Please visit the ABA website for more information about the section. Contributions to this column can be sent to karen g williams (kwilliams2@gc.cuny.edu).

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