Position Statement on Race and Racism

21 January 2021

The Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa stands strongly besides the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and denounces arguments and actions taken against it. The federal government’s differential treatment of BLM protests in 2020 and the recent invasion of Capitol Hill by white nationalists and others seeking to overturn the election is clear evidence for the need of an honest and open rethinking about the ways that race and racism continue to shape our institutions of public life, including the university. The current evidence showing that COVID- 19 impacts, at a disproportionately higher rate, Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized racial groups, most prominently seen here in the case rates among Pacific Islanders, only compounds this clear and evident problem. Fortunately, the inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris gives hope for positive change. As the nation’s first youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman reminded us in her inauguration poem, “The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” As a Department, we heed this call to bravely self-reflect upon and address race and racism in our everyday teaching and research, and importantly our own lives. As such, the Department has committed to developing a “Race and Racism at Home” theme for our Fall 2021 colloquium series where our own faculty will be invited to speak about how race and racism impacts their own subdisciplines and even their own lives. By more openly discussing these topics in our academic setting, we may be able to learn something from each other about how we see race and racism, and perhaps most importantly, how we can contribute positively to these topics and influence future generations. The goal in this series of talks is not only to identify problems, but also to think through possible solutions.

As with many other academic disciplines, anthropology has long been troubled by questions related to race and racism. Early anthropological studies purporting to provide “scientific” evidence of white superiority through facial and head shape variation was used to help form the foundation of the eugenics movement, which clearly contributed to the Nazi’s Social Darwinism ideology and eventually to the Holocaust. Yet at the same time, anthropologists, particularly starting with Franz Boas, have worked to debunk scientific and other forms of racism by showing the socially constructed nature of race and racism and foregrounding the place of culture and diversity. Understanding its colonial roots, anthropology has heeded the calls from Black and Indigenous anthropologists to decolonize and transform the discipline in a way that is more inclusive and liberatory. Do we let anthropology burn, as some have called for? Or do we get to work making anthropology a space for creating a better tomorrow? Here, at Mānoa, we take seriously our multiple kuleana (responsibilities, privileges, and obligations) to the ‘āina (lands and seas), Kanaka ‘Ōiwi (Indigenous Hawaiians), and all peoples of Hawai‘i, Oceania, and the world that have been impacted by racist behaviors at all levels. As such, we stand ready to fulfill our kuleana to confront abiding structures of racism and other systems of oppression based multiply on indigeneity, class, gender, sexuality, and disability.

So please join us in the fall for our Colloquium Series that will focus on questions about race and racism within our own field of anthropology, particularly from our own faculty’s perspective.