Findings: Part 4 from Issue 3 of Anthropology Now

CUNY Graduate School Student Collective:

Akissi Britton, Risa Cromer, Chris Grove, Carwil James, Martha Lincoln, Michael Polson, Sophie Statzel, John Warner

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.

Silencing Race

Angelina E. Castagno. 2008. “‘I Don’t Want to Hear That!’: Legitimating Whiteness through Silence in Schools.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 39(3): 314–333.

Despite the adage “Silence is golden,” stifling and ignoring student discussion about race in schools helps reinforce whiteness as the status quo. Angelina E. Castagno’s one-year ethnographic study of two junior high schools in Utah found that the primary lessons taught about race and racism are often communicated through silence. This remains common even in school districts that embrace “multiculturalism” as school policy, educate racially diverse student populations, and employ racial categories to measure and track gaps in academic achievement. White educators frequently prioritize their own comfort over allowing frank discussions about race in their classroom both by remaining silent about race and racism and by silencing students’ “race talk.” Teachers use racially coded language—such as language ability and reference to social class—to avoid talking about the social significance of race in structuring the school environment and student experience. Further, teachers ignore “race talk” by failing to address students’ informal charges of systematic racial discrimination and by failing to interrupt racist comments by students in class. Such “color-mute” strategies convey to students that systemic racism is either nonexistent or unimportant. Teachers also actively silence student commentary about race as “impolite,” thereby reinforcing the message that race should not be publicly discussed. Engaging in silence and silencing helps to enforce the illusion that race does not matter and reinforces the dominance of whiteness in schools.

Given the ongoing prevalence of de facto racial segregation in public schools in the United States, such a consistent pattern among educators defending the racial status quo through silence is troubling. Castagno’s research illustrates that teachers’ desires to alleviate conflict and fear of broaching discussions about race provide the emotional base for silencing race-talk. However, this commitment to politeness reinforces the status quo and inhibits educators from challenging students’ racial biases. Recognizing that all U.S. youth encounter a social world steeped in racial images and organized by racial hierarchies, adhering to the rule that “silence is golden” does our youth an injustice.

Sophie Statzel

Waging Tourism

Rebecca Stein. 2008. “Souvenirs of Conquest: Israeli Occupations as Tourist Events.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 40:647–669.

Last March, global media outlets celebrated the resumption of package tours to war-ravaged Iraq as a sign of more settled times and a potential revenue stream in a devastated economy. A more critical look at tourism raises uncomfortable questions about the global distribution of wealth and power. Who has the financial means and political standing to cross borders as consumer and voyeur? What kind of travel is celebrated in tourist accounts, obscuring more painful journeys of economic migrants, refugees, and prisoners? When colonial occupation or military violence facilitates vacationing, another question arises: when does tourism become complicit with violence?

Rebecca Stein addresses this last question with reference to Israel in her article, “Souvenirs of Conquest.” She explores connections between militarism and leisure through a critical reading of media accounts of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and ensuing occupation, as well as the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Israeli tourist activities boomed in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other occupied Palestinian cities in the days following the 1967 war. Reports of sightseeing excursions, pilgrimages, and bargain-hunting expeditions lauded Israeli tourism while masking the recent violence. Occupied Palestinian territories were redescribed as tourism locales at the same time that they were recon-figured as exploitable sources of cheap labor and natural resources, markets for Israeli commodities, and targets of territorial expansion through the construction of settlements.

In accounts of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli soldier becomes the new tourist-consumer. The violence and suffering of war are hidden amid tales of outings to restaurants and markets, of soldiers dancing the night away in clubs and enjoying the hospitality of their Lebanese hosts at a picnic.

Tourist accounts depict occupation in “positively pleasurable terms, rewriting [incursion and occupation] as experiences of collective sightseeing” (661). Stein argues that tourism is a tactic of “anti-conquest”—a means of cloaking ongoing state violence and occupation in a consumer-friendly shroud. Tourism explicitly avoids recognizing the violence that underwrites it. Reminders of this entanglement of tourism and militarism abound, whether in new package tours to Iraq or in picnicking sightseers in the hills above Gaza, replete with binoculars and portable espresso machines, consuming scenes of destruction in the first days of 2009.

John Warner

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