I love zombies! Not only are zombies popular, but in the immortal words of Levi-Strauss, zombies “are good to think with.” Zombies stand (stagger?) as powerful metaphors supporting everything from emergency preparedness to invasive species education. Scholars draw on zombies as part of an engaged pedagogy to spark student interest. This includes Drezner’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies and Harman’s Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx. I have also joined the horde by using the zombie apocalypse to teach geospatial analysis. Anthropologists have studied zombies for decades and I draw on this rich tradition as part of my freshman seminar to introduce students to anthropology with an exploration of zombies past, present, and future.
This post is a copy of my upcoming piece for the 2010 Anthropology News special issue on “Anthropology and the Census”. The only differences between the published version and this one is the inclusion of references here.
I began researching the tragic history of Rosewood, Florida in the spring of 2005 as a side project. Initially, I felt the inability to conduct conventional archaeological research at the site hindered its potential to provide me with a suitable PhD research topic. This self-serving perspective gave way as I realized I could create a rich project drawing on the traditional historical methods of archaeology, new media and digital technologies, and engaged visual anthropology. Today, I refer to my work with Rosewood as engaged visual archaeology and it forms the basis of my PhD.
Practically nothing remains of the prosperous, majority-black town of Rosewood located in the fertile Great Gulf Hammock of North Florida. Once home to a bustling agricultural community which grew cotton, grain, citrus, and all manner of vegetable. By the 1920s, the neighboring town of Sumner began to eclipse Rosewood in economic importance due to a large sawmill recently opened there. Sumner was a company town where few workers owned their own property, and spatial segregation between its black and white populations was severe. These two communities had maintained relatively peaceful relations for years. Then, on New Year’s Day 1923, a white woman in Sumner fabricated a black assailant to hide her extramarital affair and that tentative peace was shattered forever.
Following the accusation, a white mob quickly headed for Rosewood and encountered the home of Sam Carter. At first, the mob interrogated Carter by hanging him from a tree by the neck, and when it seemed they might release him, a man leveled his gun at Carter’s face and New Year’s Day ended with the sound of a shotgun blast. Rumor and hatred spread quickly through rural Florida, eventually reaching the Klu Klux Klan in Gainesville, only forty miles away. By the sixth of January three other blacks had been murdered and the mob began the systematic burning of Rosewood. During this time a train came through town at four in the morning to pick up women and children, who had spent the previous couple of nights hiding in the swamps. The train took families to towns like Otter Creek, Archer, and Gainesville’s black district where descendants live to this day.
New Historical Methods for Commemorating Community
My academic interest in Rosewood seeks to combine the conventional questions of my discipline with emerging theoretical perspectives. Whereas modern historical archaeology consistently investigates issues of identity and economic position, only a handful of scholars attempt to combine such perspectives into a cohesive whole. The specific application of intersectionality analysis in historical archaeology remains a difficult task for obvious reasons. The challenge, of course, is to accurately ‘map’ these various axes of identity and inequality as lived experiences. A challenge compounded for the archaeologist.
The apparent solution requires a combination of complimentary data, but which datasets and how? Since my research with Rosewood centers on commemorating the community and not solely the tragic events of early 1923, a diachronic analysis of race, class, kinship, and gender in regards to property ownership and space requires a new methodology. I begin with geographic information systems (GIS) and historical property records. This involves re-creating historical property boundaries through time in the GIS. This time-series data gives a clear picture of property ownership and answers the following questions. Who owned what? When did they buy it? How much did they pay for it? When did they sell it? How much did they get? Were the prices fair for the day?
Property records alone rarely provide detailed information about race, kinship, and so forth. As I populate the historic property GIS with information, census records provide much of the additional information making a historic intersectionality analysis possible. While other places in America must deal with a twenty year gap in census data, the Florida state censuses of 1885 and 1895 allow the researcher to bridge this break. The addition of census data expands the questions above. Which jobs made enough money for home/property ownership? Did a Black school teacher make the same as a White school teacher? Did children inherit land or buy their own? How was kinship expressed spatially on the landscape?
This methodology therefore involves the following steps; (1) identify the appropriate historic property records, (2) translate the boundary information in the document into a GIS file, (3) identify the owner in the census, (4) add census data to the GIS record, and (5) analyze the relationships between complimentary datasets contextually (and statistically if one likes). In regards to Rosewood, these steps are repeated hundreds of times for a period beginning in 1860 and continuing to 1930. In this way, we have a diachronic dataset which traces the development and destruction of Rosewood’s community; a dataset forming the first step in creating an engaged visual archaeology of redress.
Engaging the Modern World with Anthropologically-Informed Historical Information
The self-identified descendant community of Rosewood still commemorates the events of 1923, and more importantly their relationships to each other through time. The engaged visual anthropology aspect of this project involves working with this community. I have and continue to interview survivors, who are in their nineties, as well as work with the advocate community gathered around this story. Recently, I created a 25 minute video drawing on the above for use during educational bus tours organized by descendants and advocates to the area around Rosewood. This video is the first in an eventual series combining history, anthropology, and new media. Ultimately, all of the complimentary data above will inform the final stage of the project – the complete, virtual reconstruction of Rosewood and its environs.
You can view the progress by visiting the Virtual Rosewood Research Site, which will host an interactive version of the re-created landscape. As the visitor moves from one place to another in this digital environment the voices of survivors, descendants, and kin will replace the narrator and discuss their connections to specific sites, structures, and homes encountered in the virtual environment. The aim is to produce a collaborative and literally multi-vocal interpretation of Rosewood.
I consider the website, public talks, and virtual tours as forms of truth-telling. While this project centers on one place, tracing the experiences of the community through time directly intersects with other forms of inequality existing along a deeply historical continuum of violence. This work raises public awareness of ongoing, historically-conditioned social inequalities, and provides a set of techniques transplantable to other contexts; a new methodology aiding reparations activism with persuasive data for social justice work.
Recently, as part of a small collective of anthropology students here at the University of Florida, I have begun turning my attention to postcolonial studies as a possible complimentary theoretical perspective for critical race theory (CRT). My interest in postcolonial theory focuses on its ability to intersect with a critical race theory framework to produce a deeper understanding of race, racialization, and racism in American society. I believe this combination holds the potential to expand each perspective in unique ways. Critical race theory remains a mostly US-based approach (with notable exceptions in education studies in Australia). Conversely, the majority of postcolonial research continues to focus on locations outside the US – a useful and important exception include King’s edited volume Post-colonial America. By understanding the possible connections between CRT and postcolonialism, I hope to extend the applicability of the first beyond our nation’s borders and advocate for more postcolonial research of America.
Critical race theory began as a movement in law departments during the 1970s and 1980s, roughly the same time postcolonialism and subaltern studies arose. Again, like postcolonial studies, CRT has quickly spread to other disciplines such as political science, ethnic studies, education, and so on. Today, the movement encompasses a group of scholars and activists interested in the relationship between race, racism, and power. CRT broadly draws on critical legal studies, critical theory, and social feminism with specific influence from Antonio Gramsci, Jacques Derrida, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr. The work of CRT scholars generally accepts six basic tenets. The following list also points to intersections between CRT and anthropology.
1) Racism is ordinary – it is the common, everyday experience of most people of color. This does not (alone) refer to overt, interpersonal violence like hate speech, but refers instead to the complex institutional and structural oppressions and inequalities which continue to haunt American society.
2a) Developing a Diverse Strategy for Transformation – this theme challenges ideas that any single policy can solve discrimination across society.
2b) Interest Convergence –large segments of the world do not have an interest in seeing the status quo challenged. This includes lower and middle class Whites who identify with the wealthy and powerful because of a perceived ethnic similarity.
3) Race and racism are social constructions. These ideas exist in the mind and are social facts in the Durkheimien sense, and as beliefs in the human imagination, motivate individuals and groups to respond to them as ‘real’ things.
4) Differential racialization – dominant groups (and those who psychically identify with them, see point 2b above) in society racialize groups in different ways for various purposes across time; this tenet deals heavily with representation and I believe is an especially important point for historical anthropologists interested in interrogating the development of race and racism (Baker’s From Savage to Negro).
5) Intersectionality and Anti-Essentialism – no person has one fixed and static identity. In order to firmly grasp this idea, research needs to investigate the relationships between various axes of identity and social relations – race, class, gender, and even sexuality (Weber’s Understanding Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality: A Conceptual Framework)
6) Voice of Color Thesis – that voices of the oppressed and/or marginalized should be sought out because of their unique ability to talk to White colleagues about injustices. The development of storytelling as legitimate academic practice among legal scholars is an important methodological intersection here, something that remains outside the mainstream of anthropological education and practice (although an excellent recent volume challenges us to rethink this, Waterston and Vesperi’s Anthropology off the Shelf: Anthropologists on Writing).
These tenets are reconfigured in numerous ways by CRT scholars, but they serve well as a basic introduction to the central ideas being addressed by this group. In specific relation to postcolonial studies, I see a number of immediate connections.
The first intersection deals with postcolonial studies and CRT’s desire to deconstruct or unpack the structural conditions disadvantaging people. By this, I mean the complex ways in which our society still disadvantages individuals and groups based on race, class, and sexuality. This includes the arbitrary application of the law as documented by CRT scholars, the continued discrimination of minorities in the academy, and so forth. For CRT, this tends to focus on base structures such as the legal and education systems; while many postcolonial scholars look at more superstructural forms of ‘othering’ and oppression that focus the investigation on literature, language, and the like (e.g. Fanon, Said). Of course, these are not exclusive domains, Marx and Engel saw them as mutually conditioning (Raymond Williams). The interest in exposing the legacy of colonialism in the modern oppression of minorities, women, and indigenous groups as a historical development is shared by these two groups.
In the context of the United States, this shared goal could offers important insights into various lived experiences of disadvantaged groups. For instance, a postcolonial reading of literature reveals processes of historical silencing (akin to Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History). The erasure of African Americans from The Great Gatsby is a powerful example demonstrating postcolonialism’s utility in an American context as well as highlighting the historical depth of everyday racism in US society as obfuscated in popular culture.
A second intersection revolves around CRT’s ‘voice of color’ thesis. This seems an immediate connection since most postcolonial research in America is firmly situated within broader literary studies, and CRT’s dedication to storytelling suggests a potential alliance between these frameworks. The creation of a counter-storytelling movement combining CRT and postcolonial perspectives informs a new critical race praxis investigating the connections and roles of cultural imaginaries and the continuum of violence in the world today. This coalition of ideas excites me as an anthropologist and I am dedicated to exploring storytelling as a form of counter-hegemonic praxis to fight modern representations of groups, stereotypes and the like that continue to harm these populations in psychological and material ways.
The conversations around the ‘voice of color’ argument for increased minority perspectives in the academy directly intersects with Spivak’s Can the Subaltern Speak. However, where the conversation around Spivak’s work remains controversial (at least in part because of her own positionality at the top of India caste system – itself a product of the colonial experience), the conversation in CRT has produced more positive results. The work of Derrick Bell providing the best example.
As a historical anthropologist combining archaeology and ethnography, the alliance between CRT and the postcolonial critique is a powerful way of investigating the ongoing legacy of disenfranchisement of minorities in America and around the world. CRT is important because these communities must interact with legal systems in ways which continue to produce communal trauma (e.g., Chinese asylum seekers as documented in the film Golden Venture). Postcolonial studies provides a complimentary perspective for investigating how literature and popular culture inform people’s imaginations.