Archaeology, Structural Racism, and the Seahawks: Musings on #SHA2015 2

Diaspora was a central topic at #SHA2015“Peripheries and Boundaries” was the theme of this year’s Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) Conference in Seattle. Many of the symposia focused on the issues that arise when people and archaeologists focus on spaces in flux including diaspora, racialization, power differentials, and identity. Along with the question “Will the Seahawks win the Super Bowl”, these issues also dominated my experience at this year’s #SHA2015.

Seattle was generous to us. It didn’t rain and was much warmer than the preceding weeks. Most of our flights arrived on time, avoiding the issues associated with the Polar Vortex that frequently hampers the SHA conferences. Beer was abundant. There was a surfeit of Seahawks pride. I saw old friends, made new ones, and had a blast.

My takeaways from #SHA2015

In addition to the many excellent presentations on historical archaeology projects, Mullins and Ylimaunu’s discussion of the suburban African American “golden ghettos” remains in my mind, #SHA2015 provided a lot of food for thought that I will spend the rest of the year digesting. Here are some of the salient things from this year’s meeting:

There are a lot of underwater archaeologists—I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity of symposia and participation of underwater archaeologists in this year’s conference. It made me realize how many underwater archaeologists there are in our field and the importance of their contributions to the SHA. Since I joined the SHA, the annual conference has always been titled “Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology”. I have watched a number of excellent presentations on underwater archaeology, including this year’s summary of the recovery of F-1 engines from the Saturn V rocket by Bezos Expeditions, but I never realized the extent of the underwater archaeology presence at the annual conference until now.

I was also made aware of some of the issues underwater archaeologists face with regard to inequality and professionalism. At the “Equity (Issues) for All: Historical Archaeology as a Profession in the 21st Century” panel, several underwater archaeologists discussed workplace issues associated with conducting cultural resource management for underwater petroleum exploration and construction. The panel focused on the 2014 PLOS One study by Clancy et al. who found, among other things, 64% of field researchers (archaeologists, anthropologist, geologists, biologists, ect.) had experienced inappropriate conversations about sexual orientation, gender attributes, or beauty that could be considered sexual harassment. Additionally, Clancy et al. also found that female researchers are 3.5 times more likely to report sexual harassment than men.

Professional experiences mentioned by underwater archaeologist in the equity issues panel revealed that this form of harassment (sexism, sexual harassment, poor treatment by clients because of gender, ect.) is also present in their field, mirroring many of the issues terrestrial CRMers face in the workplace. I also learned that the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA) has taken the lead on addressing this issue by drafting a sexual harassment policy. I believe the ACUA policy should also be adopted by the SHA.

Ultimately, the panel concluded that improving equity in archaeology comes down to self-policing and peer-pressuring the practitioners among us who are known to create situations that can be categorized as harassment. We all recognized that it is not okay to make others feel uncomfortable in the workplace because of the things we say and/or do. Nearly every large organization has a policy that strives to prevent workplace harassment, but we all know the power differential in these organizations frequently prevents people from speaking out against inappropriate behavior. We also know that in many instances these large organizations attempt to save face by not punishing the perpetrators of harassment for myriad reasons. The only way harassment will end is by cultivating reflexivity within the field and speaking out against inappropriate situations before they escalate.

Revealing structural racism provides a starting point for moving forward—Back at the SHA conference in Sacramento (2006), Alexandra Jones and Kelly Deetz gave a presentation that confronted the fact that structural racism in American society influenced the way the archaeology operates as a field and, indirectly, that the SHA as an organization perpetuates this racism. We all just kinda stood there in awe that these two archaeologists who were then grad students would say out loud what everyone in archaeology already knew: Archaeology is overwhelmingly white and this strongly influences our community of practice.

At the end of the presentation, all the archaeologists clapped. Black archaeos clapped wildly. White archaeos were less enthusiastic.

In my experience, white people do not like confronting white privilege. Some do not acknowledge it exists. Others just avoid the topic. A few recognize this privilege and are actively working to extend opportunities to non-whites in hopes that this “talented tenth” will help eliminate white privilege throughout our field. A small cadre of archaeologists in the SHA have taken the lead on anti-racism work and are pushing to help make our peers in the organization aware of what we can do to make the SHA a more inclusive organization.

This year, the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) of the SHA sponsored an anti-racism workshop (Introduction to Systemic Racism) that was facilitated by Robette Dias and Dr. Emily Drew of Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. I thought the workshop was amazing and I learned a lot of important things that I will apply throughout my career.

One of the most seminal realizations I took away from this workshop was the fact that the SHA and many other organizations are now forced to grapple with the fruits of past diversity activism. For years, the SHA has worked to increase diversity within the organization. The results of a recent survey of SHA members revealed that the organization has approximately 6% non-white members, which means it is still extraordinarily white but is more diverse than most other archaeology organizations. The workshop facilitators explained that once an organization reaches this level of diversity it begins experiencing a certain level of advocacy from the non-white members who begin asking the organization to address issues of structural racism within the organization. They said this was a turning point where the organization must figure out a way to move from a “colorful white institution” toward a more inclusive, anti-racist one.

This revelation is important for the SHA and all archaeologists because demographics within our trade are changing. Women compose a large portion of our field. The number of non-white archaeologists is slowly increasing and the quantity of archaeologists with a different sexual orientation is also on the rise. As archaeologists, we’ve all had to confront our relationship to Native American heritage but this has not really impacted the structure and operations of our professional organizations. Realizing that the friction between non-white SHA members and the organization’s leadership is normal and can be overcome is an important step in the process of moving the SHA toward an anti-racist, inclusive institution.

Diaspora, diaspora, diaspora archaeology…Wait? What exactly is a diaspora, again? I remember taking a culture contact and colonialism class a few years ago where we attempted to create a workable definition for diaspora that could be applied to historical archaeological sites. This had already been done in the past, but the results were never satisfactory because of the different ways diaspora is evaluated in the United States, Europe, and exemplified in different time periods. We couldn’t improve on the existing definitions. Good luck to anyone who tries.

Several of the presentations and sessions at #SHA2015 addressed issues of diaspora and attempted to apply the concept where other archaeologists have, generally, failed to do so. Applying diaspora as a theoretical framework requires intimate knowledge of the diasporic group at the heart of the analysis, which sometimes forces us to reevaluate our past work as historical archaeologists. One example of how diaspora frameworks force reflexivity was the case Kelly Fong and others made for archaeologists to abandon the term “overseas Chinese.” The use of this term has several implications, most importantly that Chinese immigrants are perpetual foreigners that never became part of the societies where they relocated. Instead, these archaeologists propose that we place the Chinese who traveled overseas for work within a framework that evaluates their role in global capitalism and culture exchange, two systems that characterize modern diaspora studies. This forces us to reexamine issues of power, authority, and stereotyping within the field of historical archaeology.

Seattleites say: “The football gods want the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl again” Based on the NFC playoff race this year, Seattleites have every reason to believe the Seahawks will make it to the Super Bowl in 2015. They soundly defeated the Carolina Panthers (click here to see an excellent recap of the game). Pac Norwies should be proud of their ‘Hawks.

Here’s to a Seahawks repeat in 2015.

Were you at #SHA2015? What was your experience? Write a comment below or send me an email.

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2 thoughts on “Archaeology, Structural Racism, and the Seahawks: Musings on #SHA2015

  • Serra

    I’m interested in what solutions, good or bad, were suggested during the talks about institutionalized racism and the diversity workshops. I don’t need convincing anymore, I want to take the next step. I’m OK with talking and pointing things out, but there’s got to be more to do,right? As a life long feminist, I know how frustrating it is to keep saying the same things over and over, so what’s the way forward? How can I help?

    • SuccinctBill Post author

      The next step is to start reflexively examining our behavior and start thinking about how we all contribute to the problem. Archaeology had to do a lot of soul searching with regard to working on Native American sites in the last 40 years. The result is a environment that is slowly becoming more collaborative. We no longer treat Indians like they are lab rats or that their sites are just “data” for our analysis. Of course, there are still some holdouts but the archaeos from our generation are more willing to work with Natives rather than on Natives.

      We’ve got to do the same for all the other races as well. A NAGPRA for all non-Euroamerican remains would be nice start. A NAGPRA for all historical human remains, including white folks, would be better.

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