Statement on the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020
The Department of Anthropology affirms its solidarity with our Black students, faculty, staff, and community members in the struggle against racism and structural violence. Black life is vital to this University and community. As a Department, we embrace the American Anthropological Association’s call “[...] to apply [our] professional research, scholarship, practice, and teaching to [overturn] the deeply entrenched institutional sources of race-based inequality that are barriers to a more just and sustainable world.”1
The violent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Dominique Rem’mie Fells, Riah Milton, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others--past, present, and future--underscore the damage done to individuals, families, and society by a history of erroneous beliefs in the scientific validity of race. As Interim Dean Ron Walcott aptly observed, “To continue to ascribe these tragic deaths to the actions of a few bad actors ignores the historical and systemic racism in our society."2 Research shows that unarmed Black individuals are about 3.5 times more likely to be shot by police than their unarmed white counterparts.3, 4
As Anthropologists, we reject recent efforts to normalize notions of white supremacy and racial hierarchy. As the American Anthropological Association’s statement on race says the concepts of a white race or any other races were imagined into existence over the past few centuries to justify the expansion of European political power. But these concepts do not correspond to biological or historical evidence, which overwhelmingly indicate that humanity consists of a single, intermixed human family.
We recognize that in Athens, Georgia, the history of racial inequality is all around us. Black families and neighborhoods are integral to the Athens community. Yet, segregationist laws prohibited racialized groups from fully participating in public life until 1964, and Black, Latinx, and white residents today continue to live in different neighborhoods, patronize different businesses, and possess differential access to the University’s resources, educational opportunities, and associated networks of privilege.
At our University, the histories of racial inequality are typically erased from public view, while patriarchs and aesthetics of the Antebellum South are celebrated and memorialized. Our campus is built upon land that was seized from Muscogee-Creek and Cherokee peoples,5 with enslaved laborers of African descent and convict laborers among those who built it.6 This history is perhaps encapsulated most clearly in the building where anthropology instruction and research occurs. Baldwin Hall is named for Abraham Baldwin, who supported the slave trade and was a member of the Constitutional Convention that determined enslaved persons would be counted as having 3/5ths the value of a white person.7 The building itself sits on top of the lower end of a historic burial ground where those interred were enslaved African and African-American people, many of whose bodies were destroyed or lost during construction, and many of whom remain unacknowledged beneath the ground.8
It is our departmental responsibility to respect these histories and work for change.
1. American Anthropological Association. 2020. Anti-Racism Resources. [Accessed 8 October 2020]. https://www.americananthro.org/ParticipateAndAdvocate/Landing.aspx?Item…
2. Wolcott, Ron. 2020. Statement from Ron Wolcott. Interim Dean of Graduate School, University of Georgia. Accessed June 29, 2020. https://ils.uga.edu/student-life/program-statements/
3. Ross, C. T. (2015). A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014. PLoS ONE, 10(11), e0141854.
4. Ross, C. T., Winterhalder, B., & McElreath, R. (2018). Resolution of apparent paradoxes in the race-specific frequency of use-of-force by police. Palgrave Communications, 4(1), 61. doi:10.1057/s41599-018-0110-z
5. Schwartzman, Grace M., and Susan K. Barnard. 1991. "A Trail of Broken Promises: Georgians and Muscogee/Creek Treaties, 1796-1826." The Georgia Historical Quarterly 75 (4): 697-718.
6. Grady Newsource. 2019. “UGA Exhibit Breaks Down South’s Past Involvement with Convict Labor.” Grady Newsource website. October 24. Accessed July 15, 2020. https://gradynewsource.uga.edu/uga-exhibit-breaks-down-souths-past-involvement-with-convict-labor/
7. Coulter, E. Merton. 1987. Abraham Baldwin: Patriot, Educator, and Founding Father. Arlington:
8. Gresham, Thomas H., Laurie J. Reitsema, Kathleen A. Mulchrone, and Carey J. Garland. 2019. Archaeological Exhumation of Burials in the Baldwin Hall Portion of the Old Athens Cemetery, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia: Final Report. Athens, GA: Southeastern Archeological Services, Inc.