Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blogging a(way) Eurocentrism?

Catching up on my blog reading, searching for those posts that have meaning, analyzing why they resonate...deconstructing before the storm (Gustav's bearing down--decidedly masculine in all his labels and metaphors).

Neuroanthropology is one of my favorite blogs to read, not because I have the academic background to truly engage with it but because of its unwavering insistence to understand from an ethnographic context. It resonates strongly with my gut. Students discussing psych experiments bring me up short. Blinking and seeking to shift the brain out of anthropological context. Can't do it. "But what is the context of these studies?, I ask. These are socialized Americans (whatever that is) this is not human behavior its the behavior of one group, at one moment, in one place. Neuroanthropology reminds me to insist upon that context; and, perhaps more importantly, it reminds me to trust my anthropological gut--the one that lives comfortably with the lived experiences of "the other"; the one that refuses to live totally in an English-speaking Wikipedia of consensual knowledge. Change the question, change the focus, move the perspective, my gut demands.

The delights that comes from the shared gut are the gift of open blogging/linking/pinging/ and trackbacking.......

1D4TW has Max pissed at the never-ending, drip, drip, drip of the Eurocentric racism couched in linguistic terms. I chuckle in complete agreement and steal his thunder for my blog title. Reading his words, I analyze the chuckle. Its the kind of moment you see when Ory Okolloh softly condemns Paltrow's ridiculous poster and then nervously giggles at her own righteous indignation. The same indignation that propels me to question the transformative nature of Wikipedia and Web 2.0 tools. That same discomfort from knowing that while I benefit from those tools, relish in them, participate enthusiastically with them. I blink. non-African, Africanist advocate self feels the contradiction, the anger, irritation, and nervous giggle in my gut.

Last year at this time, I was dealing with the Lucy issue. She was on her way to Houston under the shadiest of circumstances. Lucy the World's Oldest Prostitute, the 'ho, the exploited; she who is no longer in the sky but, definitely with diamonds. Yes, I am referring to the bones found in Ethiopia, 3.18 million years old. Such controversy. I Googled and read and called old friends, sorting it all out in my mind. I tucked my many issues in my brain and headed off for a large, public forum at Rice University, anxious to witness the fight that was to come. The fight that never was. The bios and archys in attendance lined up firmly behind the museum's decision. It was wonderful, it was great, it was going to transform America's views of evolution. The bones, the real bones would hold the magical, mystical transformative power of science, she would blind us with her science.

But, but, but....I said, uncomfortable with the microphone in a crowd. If her travel is for the greater good, why not China? 1.3 billion. The power of the bones could transform numbers untold. Or what of continental nation/state ethnicity/ rights? Africans won't see her (unless, we are truly counting Gwyneth Paltrow). Deep breath. In my mind I know just what to say: "I have stood among (one with but not one with) a small group of women beside an orange-bright dirt road, somewhere, nowhere in Africa, while the trucks bearing tourists high above the dirt, bound for the Serengeti, roll by. Dirt embedded in my scalp, my ears, my fingernails, African dirt, deep in my pores. Quiet words spoken to me with the nervous giggle. "I will never see the animals of my own country, the animals these Wazungu go to see." (You will find a webcast of the event here, I am nervously fumbling through my point some 1 hour and 17 minutes in.)

Its an African Story.

"Surely, we could at least acknowledge the privilege of our own position", I ask.....At least......

Eventually, Kappelman of UT speaks--a good man--no doubt, trying to breach the awkwardness. He is making a web site. He will make pictures, beautiful multi-dimensional images. There are internet cafes all over Ethiopia. People can log on..can see them..can share... collective relief. Problem solved. I remain seated. I hate that microphone. Its moved on. Far across the room. And the voice in my gut says to no one in particular, "But, why isn't that good enough for us?"


Maximilian C. Forte said...

Thanks very much, I was not more than just dimly aware of the Lucy debate, and the post as a whole was really well worth readings, and thanks also for the link to 1D4TW, I wasn't sure that more than a couple of people were seeing it. I am "off" to see that archived webcast. I thought your points, as mentioned in the post, were critically important, and I am extremely disappointed to once again see the harder questions being brushed aside in the name of dogged business as usual. For all of the much vaunted self-criticism of anthropology, I think it is a much more conservative discipline than many are prepared to admit -- point out that it is white dominated, even at the level of the student body, and you get silence.

Maximilian C. Forte said...

typos again...I really need to invest in a shotgun

Pamthropologist said...

What's a shotgun? Should I know?

Lucy was a local controversy but I agree with you about the general conservatism in anthro. We are snots.

I have a lot of fun reading the blogs but only some really resonate. I enjoy your two. Thank you.