Findings : Anthropology’s Persistent Race Problem


To what extent do college anthropology departments unknowingly reproduce academic spaces in which being white is the norm? Critically taking on race, racism, and racial practices within anthropology, Brodkin, Morgen, and Hutchinson argue that anthropology has “not done well when it comes to decolonizing their own practices around race” (545). Their reasoning revolves around two types of practices: a racial division of labor within departments, as well as a range of everyday practices that recreate white public spaces. 

Where has anthropology gone wrong in creating a more inclusive and equitable discipline? The authors find, through an online survey of anthropologists of color, that while the discipline has made gains in terms of diversity and inclusivity since the 1960s, these gains have not been significant. Thus, many anthropologists of color feel that they get put on “diversity duty,” meaning that they are deemed responsible for researching race on behalf of the discipline and taking on issues of race in the university (550). This creates a pernicious division of labor in which their white counterparts have more time doing research and writing because they do not have to be responsible for issues of diversity and race. Another problem that Brodkin et al. point to is the preservation of a primarily white intellectual lineage in which works by minority scholars and their role in theory building are not reflected in the canon. Lastly, they argue that departments need to think about their own internal practices and “be conscious of class and gender associated social and financial responsibilities as well as different levels of class-associated academic know-how” (554). 

The authors offer a stinging, but necessary, critique of our discipline that needs to be taken seriously by everyone in the discipline, not just anthropologists of color. In their conclusion they call for a shift in the belief that because anthropologists study race and racism they aren’t also implicated in its perpetuation, in particular through the creation of “white spaces.” These authors believe that this call for internal critique will only translate into true change if the American Anthropological Association intervenes by collecting more data on diversity and engaging in the a more active promotion of it. Simply put, the authors’ recommendation is that the discipline needs to practice what it preaches and take seriously the points of view of those who are its “internal others” (555).


Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson. 2011. “Anthropology as White Public Space?” American Anthropologist 113:545–556.


This column, a new regular contribution to Anthropology Now, will highlight emerging anthropological research that has the potential to reshape contemporary social and political debates. A series of short reviews will be coauthored and edited each issue by a diverse student collective from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, which has historically supported publicly engaged anthropology. The members of the collective would like to thank Katherine McCaffrey, Ida Susser, and the rest of the editorial board for this opportunity and their continued support.

In addition, the members express their appreciation to the “Discoveries” student collective of the sociological journal Contexts for generously advising on process and approach.
CUNY Graduate School Student Collective: Neil Agarwal, Carwil Bjork-James, Emily Channell, Mark Drury, Linsey Ly, Malav Kanuga, Madhuri Karak, Manissa Maharawal, and Amiel Melnick

3 Responses

  1. Just curious but does nobody recall the decade(s) when people (mainly minorities) ushered in the idea of diversity? It, to me, is 0f little surprise that minority anthropologists get saddled with these responsibilities. After all, it was they whose work initiated the very things that they are now apparently unhappy performing, so hpq

  2. And let me say I am sure that some will disagree with me. Go ahead. But know that you reap what you sow, so to speak.

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