This past semester (Spring, 2010), professors Pamela Calla (CLACS visiting scholar and Anthropologist) and Carmen Medeiros (CLACS Faculty Fellow and Anthropologist) started a new CLACs sponsored Working Group titled, “Racisms in Comparative Perspective”. I had the great pleasure of being a part of this innovative new group, as scholars from around the NYC area, and from around the country, came together to start really thinking about how, in the efforts to combat racism around the world, we can theorize how racism on a larger scale.
The semester started with a public talk by Charlie Hale , Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of Texas-Austin, titled “Racial Eruptions: The Awkward Place of Blackness in Indian Centered Spaces of Mestizaje”. In his talk, Professor Hale described coming across what he referred to as “racial eruptions” both during his extensive fieldwork with Afro-descendent and Indigenous peoples in Guatemala, and during his life as a Latin Americanist broadly. His central questions hinged on the ways in which racist discourses seem to be circulating transnationally, globally, and in certain moments they erupt to the surface. He referred to products advertised with racist imagery, and to expressions of racism by indigenous peoples against black or afro-descendent people and vice versa. It was a great kick off presentation, followed by the smaller working group meeting the following day.
The second meeting included a paper by Associate Professor of Anthropology at UC-Davis, Marisol de la Cadena. Her work on racism in Peru really urged the group to think about how racism is not always about what is made visible, but what is silenced. Her work , for example, shows how in Cusco, Peru, the wholesale rejection of biological racism in the 20th century led to a kind of cultural racism in which race denoted as skin color was replaced with race denoted as culture and education, that was still actually very racist. In this case, she shows how the silencing of race by discourses of education, decency and culture actually kept race and racism very much alive, through a kind of recoding process.
The third and final meeting was with Agustin Lao-Montes, Associate Professor of Sociology at U-Mass-Amherst. His paper was titled “Racial Stratification” and in it he discusses the need to bridge thinking about race and racism coming out of different disciplines at different times about different places.
All in all, the working group met three times with three professors working on these issues transnationally, hemispherically and globally. As a start to a new working group, it was a very provocative series and we are all looking very much forward to next year’s meetings.