Reflections: ‘Archaeology in the Time of Black Lives Matter’ Panel Discussion

Last week (25th June) there was a panel discussion about the current state of archaeology and its future in light of the global momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement – you can find the recorded session here.

Event information, sourced from The Society of Black Archaeologists.

I wasn’t able to make it to the live version, but I watched it today and I really recommend it! The speakers and discussion were so engaging, inspiring and insightful and I think non-archaeologists/anthropologists will find this fascinating too. Anyone with an interest in history, culture and social progress may enjoy the discussions of how to create an actively anti-racist archaeology.

This panel discussion was sponsored by the Columbia Center for ArchaeologyThe Society of Black Archaeologists and the Theoretical Archaeology Group (North America).

There were so many great points raised (I have pages and pages of notes), and here are a few that really stood out to me:

  • The unfairness to expect that those who have been subjugated should then have to bear the brunt of the anti-racist labour.
    • Departments shouldn’t ask the one Black faculty member or graduate student to pen a response to events – rather, the faculty as a whole should come together to give a response.
    • There is space for non-BIPOC people to help: critically going through your syllabus, student demography, departmental and institutional partnerships etc. is work you can do. The resources, especially in this age of the Internet, have been put out there for you.
  • Decolonise your bookshelves. Diversify your bibliography. Representation matters, not only in fiction but the photos/illustrations used in textbooks too.
  • Diversifying the popular image of archaeology. Not all archaeologists look like Indiana Jones (aka white men). Archaeology’s contributive potential to helping BIPOC communities needs to be raised in its popular image.
  • Race may be a social construct, but its impact on every aspect of BIPOC lived experiences is very, very real. Race matters. It has bodily effects.
  • Consider the back-end of your BIPOC scholarship/grant if you believe there isn’t enough ‘demand’ for it – is the environment you are making more ‘accessible’ actually toxic (e.g. a field school with a supervisor known to be racist)?
  • Ignorance about these issues at the level of higher education reflects a refusal to know. A conscious choice to brush aside these issues because they make you uncomfortable.
  • Interdisciplinarity of research and intersectionality of BIPOC queer lives. How does power and oppression change their appearance over different spatial and temporal contexts?
  • Black feminism’s importance to Black archaeology: being forced to dream beyond what is possible.
  • It is a constant learning process for everyone. Incorporate new knowledge out of love for your fellow humans.

This panel discussion made me personally reflect a lot on the diversity of the curriculum I studied at university. Looking back, I don’t remember learning about the work of Black archaeologists or much about queer archaeology (until my final year), though in anthropology we fared a bit better. I remember how mind-blowing it was when we were introduced to concepts of structural inequality, queer theory and the memorialisation of state perpetrated violence. It really altered how I see the world.

Thanks for reading! Did you attend/watch this panel discussion? Let me know any thoughts below…


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Hi! We're Haylie and Sabrina, two graduates from Durham University (UK) in BSc Anthropology and BA Anthropology & Archaeology respectively. We've both also recently completed MSc degrees, Haylie in Global Governance & Ethics (UCL) and Sabrina Bioarchaeology and Forensic Anthropology (Exeter). We started this blog as a way for us to share interesting things we were learning, researching and discussing. Hope you find something that catches your interest too!

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