Re: >Decolonizing anthropolo

Biskowski, Marty (biskowsk@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU)
Mon, 6 Feb 1995 02:18:00 PST

Todd N Nims 2/2/95 wrote.

On Mon, 30 Jan 1995, Biskowski, Marty (G) ANTHRO wrote:
> Proposal #4
> Reparations must be paid for the appropriation and destruction
> of Native American lives, land, and indigenous knowledge.
> I am all in favor of this, under the following conditions:
> (1) Native Americans promote the paying of reparations to those of
> descent (like myself) whose ancestors were denied their language and culture
> by Russians, and were, at various times, trashed by Mongols, Germans, and
> hosts of others.
> (2) Similar reparations be payed to every descendant of other cultural
> groups that have ever been abused by another (including various indigenous
> cultures that were extinguished by contact with other indigenous
> I suppose after embracing these tasks, we might all be clear on the
> difference between seeking justice and seeking advantage. I think my own
> effort at paying reparations for the wrongs done by my ancestors would be
> waive payment of reparations for the wrongs done to them.

> I have to agree. If people want to talk about reparations for>
wrongs done to their people then I have a list a mile long. People may
>as well face it, every group of people or culture on the face of this
>planet has been screwed by somebody else at least once. But if people
>still want the wrongs righted through reparations then Im very willing to
>jump on to the bandwagon. There are a few governments that have lots of>
money floating around and there are a few works of art in the Vatican
>that would make my "pain" so much easier to bear.
>Todd N. Nims
Auburn University, AL

John Cook wrote:

I'm sorry. I see all this as a rather insensitive depoliticisation and
trivialisation of what are, to my mind, valid and important concerns raised
by Robert Johnson. Robert's suggestions were very similar to what Australian
anthro's deal with in respect to indigenous Australians. I simply don't
think it's good enough to respond with. "So you think you suffered, well
tough we all suffered."

Anthropology, as I see it, has a definite responsibility to respond
critically, but with sensitivity to these issues. The future of anthropology
as a discipline depends on it. The head in the sand approach won't work.

Why for instance should native Americans, if you see no need in offering
some sort of compensation for their colonial history, be at constrained by
the demands of US citizenship. Are you going to write it off as a valid
historical process when someone bombs your dept. or will you suddenly decide
that this is inhum,ane and demands reparation,

Biskowski writes:

At the beginning of my response to Johnson's proposals (not given here),
I noted that I was sympathetic with the concerns embedded in them but that
they were too vague to be taken seriously as any kind of guidelines for
action. I suppose the best evidence that I was correct is the apparent lack
of any clear consensus in understanding what the proposals asked for on the
part of list respondents.
Considering John Cook's response has helped me put my finger on the
central problem in these proposals, or at least the first four I examined.
The proposals are fully a political tool written in innuendo -- wrongs are
suggested, but not specified; criminal acts are mentioned, but the
perpetrators are either unidentified or long dead. In either case, the
"charge" is unanswerable, not because of any injustice, but by a trick of
rhetoric. Clearly, whatever Johnson's intentions, it seems that these
proposals can only accomplish the injustice of laying an unspecified guilt at
the door of anyone who cannot claim the shelter of a Native American
heritage. For this reason, it is hard to take them seriously except in the
very negative sense that someone might be attempting the intellectual
equivalent of a mugging.
With regard to my reponse to Proposal 4, I suppose the first
misconception I have to clear up is that I intended no jocularity in my
response. If the standard of justice is past suffering, any and all who
suffered stand equal. Cook seems to think that politicization is some kind
of acid test -- politicized groups deserve reparations, but those who at this
time are insufficiently vocal are undeserving. Well, my own notion was that
my response was a kind of acid test, too. Look and see whether or not
politicization is intrinsic to your notion of justice, and think about what
that implies about your sense of ethics.
Also, Proposal 4, in dealing with injustice in the distant past -- which
realistically is beyond any hope of fair redress -- sidetracks us from what
should be the main issue, which is injustice in the present. To some, this
may be a subtle point of distinction since much present injustice inflicted
on Native Americans (and various ethnic groups worldwide) has roots in past
maltreatments. But seeking justice in the present involves striking a balance
which respects the rights of everyone, including the immigrants, children of
immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants, and so forth, of the present day
indigenous population. All the descendants of immigrants, whether their
ancestors arrived 12,000+ years ago or yesterday, deserve fair treatment.
Nothing of this is carried in the demand for reparations in Proposal 4; if
anything, the tenor is very much to the contrary.
I don't think that anyone who reads this list believes that Native
Americans have been justly treated. But we can provide remedies to present
day inequities which deny Native Americans equal access to resources and
opportunities. Anthropology does have an important role to play in addressing
inequities which arise as a result of cultures in conflict, but this does not
automatically mean that we should condemn our own culture, or members of it,
without due consideration. If we are to build a future with less, and not
more, problems of this type, we need to commit ourselves to deal with
everyone fairly. And Johnson's proposals, as they currently stand, seem
incompatible with that goal.

Marty Biskowski