Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture

Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture

by Lee D. Baker
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Duke University Press Books


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Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture

In the late nineteenth century, if ethnologists in the United States recognized African American culture, they often perceived it as something to be overcome and left behind. At the same time, they were committed to salvaging “disappearing” Native American culture by curating objects, narrating practices, and recording languages. In Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture, Lee D. Baker examines theories of race and culture developed by American anthropologists during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. He investigates the role that ethnologists played in creating a racial politics of culture in which Indians had a culture worthy of preservation and exhibition while African Americans did not.

Baker argues that the concept of culture developed by ethnologists to understand American Indian languages and customs in the nineteenth century formed the basis of the anthropological concept of race eventually used to confront “the Negro problem” in the twentieth century. As he explores the implications of anthropology’s different approaches to African Americans and Native Americans, and the field’s different but overlapping theories of race and culture, Baker delves into the careers of prominent anthropologists and ethnologists, including James Mooney Jr., Frederic W. Putnam, Daniel G. Brinton, and Franz Boas. His analysis takes into account not only scientific societies, journals, museums, and universities, but also the development of sociology in the United States, African American and Native American activists and intellectuals, philanthropy, the media, and government entities from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Supreme Court. In Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture, Baker tells how anthropology has both responded to and helped shape ideas about race and culture in the United States, and how its ideas have been appropriated (and misappropriated) to wildly different ends.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822346982
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 03/03/2010
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Lee D. Baker is Dean of Academic Affairs in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, and African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896–1954 and the editor of Life in America: Identity in Everyday Experience.

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Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture

By Lee D. Baker

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2010 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4698-2

Chapter One

Research, Reform, and Racial Uplift

Playing Dead Twice in the Road (version d)

Once a fox heard a rabbit had outwitted a wolf. He decided not to be friends to her any more. But Mis' Rabbit came and begged his pardon, and it was granted. Mr. Fox offered to go hunting with Mis' Rabbit; but the rabbit was lazy and played off sick, and staid at Mr. Fox's house till he was very near ready to come back. Then she ran way down the road, and curled up and played off dead. Brer Fox came 'long and looked at her; but he thought probably she had been dead too long, so he passed on. As soon as Brer Fox was out of sight, Mis' Rabbit jumped up and ran through the field and got ahead of him, and laid down again to fake Mr. Fox. This time he looked at her and looked into his bag. His bag was large enough to accommodate one or two more, so he put Mis' Rabbit in, and put his bag in the grass, and went back to get the other rabbit. Before he was around the corner Mis' Rabbit jumped up and ran home with Mr. Fox's game. So Mr. Fox found no game when he returned. But one day Mis' Rabbit was walking along, and she asked Mr. Fox what he killed. He said he killed a lot of game, but he had learned a headful of Har'sense. She laughed and went on. -ANDREW W. C. BASSETTE, 1903

This folktale, with its distinctive pan-African trickster motif, was written and recorded by Andrew W. C. Bassette, who was a member of the Hampton Folk-Lore Society (HFS), founded in 1893 by Alice M. Bacon (Bacon and Parsons 1922:76). The educators and graduates of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute formed the society to salvage and record cultural practices of rural blacks to demonstrate that industrial education succeeded in fostering the so-called Christian civilization of its graduates-in part by using folklore to evaluate how much African heritage remained to be rooted out. "Playing Dead Twice in the Road" was one of hundreds of tales, jokes, and conundrums Bacon compiled into the society's many notebooks of fieldwork during the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Bassette's story was written in 1903 and eventually published in 1922 in an article in the Journal of American Folk-Lore (JAF) titled "Folk-Lore from Elizabeth City County, Virginia." Although Bacon died in 1918, the authors of the article were given as A. M. Bacon and E. C. Parsons, and it was the last article in an issue devoted exclusively to Negro folklore. In her preface, Parsons noted that "two decades ago or more, Miss A. M. Bacon conducted a folk-lore society in Hampton Institute. Some of the material recorded was published in 'The Southern Workman.' Through the kindness of Miss Herron of the Institute the unpublished material was given to me to edit, and appears in the following" (Bacon and Parsons 1922:251). The following seventy-seven pages of that article included the remaining unpublished notebooks of the HFS.

Among her many initiatives, Elsie Clews Parsons underwrote, organized, and guest-edited fourteen single-theme issues of the JAF dedicated to African and African American folk traditions between 1917 and 1937 (Deacon 1997:173, 282-83). Leonora Herron, librarian at the Hampton Institute, had been the secretary of the HFS, which from its inception to its end in 1899 had found in the American Folk-Lore Society (AFLS) one of its staunchest supporters. An occasional coauthor with Bacon in the JAF in the 1890s, Herron thus had a personal connection with Bacon, the AFLS, and its journal, and presumably that is why she turned over an old notebook of Negro folklore to Parsons, a rich white lady who conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Zuñi (Herron and Bacon 1896a, 1896b; Waters 1983:3).

Along with nearly two dozen other articles on African ethnology and African and African American folklore, Bacon's and Parsons's article of 1922 was cited in Alain Locke's New Negro (1968:444) in 1925. Yet in that volume, such folklore was not, as it were, the same rabbit as the one collected by the HFS-for the purpose of Locke and his associates was to demonstrate that New Negro intellectuals were succeeding in empowering new understandings of black culture, in part by using folklore to embrace their African heritage. Thus the New Negro rationale for collecting folklore in the 1920s was virtually the opposite of the HFS rationale in the 1890s. This one tale was first used to articulate the uplift project, and two decades later it was used to bolster the heritage project. And while the United States endured tumultuous changes during these periods, what is important to my argument here is that black educators and white reformers turned to anthropology and encouraged ethnologists to help articulate the uplift narrative for African Americans while at the same time, as we will see in the next chapter, white reformers and Indian activists turned against anthropology and spurned ethnologists to help articulate virtually the same narrative regarding uplift for Native Americans.

Several scholars have noted how anthropology was employed during the Harlem Renaissance and used in the service of the heritage project (Hutchinson 1995:61-77; Huggins 1971:28-30; Lewis 1997:102; Possnock 2000:210). None, however, makes the case better than Daphne Lamothe in Inventing the New Negro: Narrative, Culture, and Ethnography (2008). Yet few historians of anthropology have specifically explored the role of the field in the late nineteenth-century club and racial uplift movements within African American communities. The divergent ways in which the black and white crusaders for uplift and boosters of heritage interpreted Negro folklore over the course of two decades suggest that anthropologists and anthropology in the United States played different roles during different historical periods. In short, the ethnology of Negro culture was used in diverse ways to play a small but significant part in the complex and ever-changing racial politics of culture.

General Armstrong's Racial project for Reconstruction

One way to better understand the relationship between early anthropology and the bootstrap-pulling uplift project galvanized by Hampton's favorite son, Booker T. Washington, is to turn to Washington's mentor and early benefactor, the tireless founder of the Hampton Institute, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Although the educational component of the project flourished in the efflorescence of Reconstruction respectability and enduring Southern sensibilities, it was a product not of the American South, but of American empire. Armstrong learned the strategy of using industrial education to develop Christian civilization from his father in the Sandwich or Hawaiian Islands in the 1840s. This is also where he learned how to use folklore as a yardstick to measure it.

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was founded in 1810 to proselytize the so-called colored races, and it launched its Hawaiian campaign in 1819. In 1831, General Armstrong's father, the Reverend Richard Armstrong, graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and vowed to be among the number of missionaries the board was sending to the South Pacific that year, so he asked the seminary's principal, Archibald Alexander, to write him a letter of recommendation that testified to his "pure zeal for the glory of God" and his commitment to the "salvation of the heathen" (Engs 1999:2). To serve abroad, however, he had to be married, so he asked Clarissa Chapman, a recent graduate of Westfield Normal School and a teacher at the Pestalozzian Infant School in Brooklyn, New York, to be his bride. The two devout Presbyterians were married and set sail the following November on an arduous voyage to Honolulu, where they were stationed for less than a year before they assumed a difficult mission in the Marquesas Islands, which they soon aborted. Upon the Armstrongs' return to Hawai'i, the missionary board stationed them and their growing family in Haiku, a small community in the remote upcountry of Maui. They spent seven difficult but successful years on Maui, and as a result of his successes Reverend Armstrong was appointed to the powerful and storied Kawaiaha'o Church in Honolulu. During his years on Maui, Armstrong observed that the natives were in need of "steady industrial occupation." As he ministered to the health and welfare of the populace, he convinced Kanaka Maoli to build schools, churches, sugar plantations, and sawmills.

Armstrong was shrewd and rose through the ranks of the missionary and government agencies. Closely associated with other powerful Protestant missionaries like Richard Williams and Gerritt P. Judd, he became the minister of public instruction in the islands, a member of the House of Nobles, a member of the King's Privy Council, and a close advisor on both spiritual and policy matters to King Kamehameha III (Lindsey 1995:1-2; Talbot 1969:3-37; Armstrong 1909:1-4; Engs 1999:10). Armstrong was perhaps best known for his creation and administration of the many missionary and government schools expounding his philosophy of moral and industrial education, which above all aimed to civilize the natives. He outlined his teaching philosophy in a letter responding to his appointment by King Kamehameha III as minister of public education in 1847:

No sphere of labor sir, would be more congenial to my feelings, than the department of public instruction, and I may add, no branch of the government, seems to me of more vital importance to the welfare, of the Hawaiian race than this. Education, intellectual, moral, and physical, is the great lever by which philanthropists of every land, are seeking to redeem and elevate the mass of people. Here it is of peculiar importance, where the glory and safety of the nation must depend in so great a degree upon the proper training of the young. If depopulation here is to be arrested; if the vices which are consuming the natives are to be eradicated; if an indolent and thriftless people are to become industrious and thrifty: if Christian institutions are to be perpetuated, the work must be accomplished mainly where it has been so prosperously begun, in the education of the young. (Armstrong 1887: 29-30)

Writing to his daughter in 1844, Richard Armstrong explained why the "inhabitants" were in need of this type of education: "Had they skill and industry they might abound in every good thing.... But, poor creatures, they will not very soon shake off the low wretched habits of their former state. Their government, until recently, was one of the worst forms of despotism ... and in those days a character was formed which will not soon be entirely reformed. When I look over this valley, I think what a Little Yankee skill would do here?" Armstrong even complained that the "king himself is as near to being an animal as man can well be & most of the high chiefs are ignorant, lazy, and stupid." His remedy to help advance what he called "Christian civilization" among these near-animal heathens was to improve "the heart, the head & the body at once." As he surmised, "This is a lazy people & if they are ever to be made industrious the work must begin with the young. So I am making strenuous efforts to have some sort of manual labor connected with every school ... without industry they cannot be moral."

The combination of morality, industry, and church was not a novel philosophy of education. Mrs. Armstrong, for example, had been an instructor in a school modeled after the philosophies of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who incorporated similar values in his curriculum, and her influence over her husband's philosophies is not well known. What made Richard Armstrong so successful as an educator, missionary, and confidante to the king was his intimate knowledge of the traditional language, customs, and folklore of his charges. Using his genuine respect of Hawaiian language and culture, he became an important facilitator of the Great Awakening during which thousands of Hawaiians converted to Christianity by the mid-nineteenth century. Even King Kamehameha IV, who detested the influence of missionaries, noted that Armstrong "was an eloquent preacher in the Hawaiian language" and commented on "his accurate knowledge of the Hawaiian language, and the facility with which he wielded the pen of a translator" (Armstrong 1887:57-58). In fact, Armstrong's institutional efforts to increase education increased Hawaiian language literacy, which helped to facilitate Kanaka's distinctive tradition of protesting against colonialism and imperialism through poetry and prose, often waged within the pages of Hawaiian-language newspapers (Silva 2004:45-86).

As Richard Armstrong labored at his mission to make Puritans out of Polynesians, he often used cultural markers to demonstrate how far Kanaka Maoli supposedly had come, suggesting, for example, that the natives "have better clothes than they used to have" and explaining that "we rarely see a native now unclad or even wearing native kapa." But he also used such markers to show how much civilizing work remained to be done, lamenting that the natives "still live in small and filthy grass huts, destitute of every comfort, and herding together often a dozen sleeping on mats in one small house without even a partition, and some of them, as if to make bad worse, keep their dogs and ducks in the house during the night" (1887:63).

During their final year on Maui in 1839, Mrs. Armstrong gave birth to Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the sixth of their ten children. Samuel grew up close to his father, and in a memoir titled "From the Beginning" explained how Richard Armstrong's philosophy of education shaped that of Hampton. Comparing the Lahaina-luna Seminary, which taught Greek and Latin, to the Hilo Boarding and Manual Labor School, Armstrong remarked that "as a rule the former turned out more brilliant, the latter less advanced but more solid men. In making the plan of Hampton Institute that of the Hilo School seemed the best to follow.... Hence came our policy of teaching only English and the system of industrial training at Hampton. Its graduates are not only to be good teachers but skilled workers, able to build homes and earn a living for themselves and encourage others to do the same" (1909:4-5).

In 1860 Samuel Armstrong left Hawai'i to attend Williams College, where he came under the influence of its president, the philosopher and missionary Mark Hopkins. As the Civil War erupted, he answered Abraham Lincoln's call for Union Army volunteers. Accepting a commission as captain, he recruited and trained Company D of the 125th Regiment of New York. Promoted to major and then to colonel, Armstrong was put in command of the 9th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops, and in March of 1865 Lincoln made the twenty-six-year-old Hawaiian citizen a brevet brigadier general.

Although Armstrong demonstrated great leadership and courage in the battle to preserve the Union, he confessed to his mother that "the Union is to me little or nothing." He explained that he "was a foreigner, a Sandwich Islander, who had no local sympathies." He saw "the great issue to be that of freedom or slavery for 4,000,000 souls" (Talbot 1969:115-18), but as he told his Williams classmate Archibald Hopkins, "I am sort of [an] abolitionist, but haven't yet learned to love the Negro." His most consistent reason to fight was rooted in his faith that God did not intend for the souls of people to be bought and sold: "I go in, then, for freeing them more on account of their souls than their bodies, I assure you" (Talbot 1969:86). In a less searching letter to Hopkins, he castigated those who fought for honor or God, saying, "That's all poppy cock." Armstrong provided a set of more quotidian reasons: "I say strike, in order that you may get $100 or so per month, see the country, wear soldiers' clothes, save the land from anarchy, rescue the Constitution and punish the rebels-long live the Republic!"


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Table of Contents

Preface: Questions ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

1. Research, Reform, and Racial Uplift 33

2. Fabricating the Authentic and the Politics of the Real 66

3. Race, Relevance, and Daniel G. Brinton's Ill-fated Bid for Prominence 117

4. The Cult of Franz Boas and His "Conspiracy" to Destroy the White Race 156

Notes 221

Works Cited 235

Index 265

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Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Paridesea More than 1 year ago
hats off to mr. baker for a well written and informative read.i gained a lot of info. and understanding of the subject gave me a new view and way to look at the questions i have entertained in my studies.thank you.