July 25, 2009

Race, public discourse, and anthropology

So, when it comes to public controversies and "discussions" about race and class, this week has been pretty eventful. First of all, there is the whole debacle that involves professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Sgt. James Crowley, and President Obama. Then there is the situation in which a prominent Florida neurosurgeon, Dr. David McKalip, was caught forwarding an offensive manipulated photograph of Obama as a "witch doctor" (that's how it has been described repeatedly by several media sources).

Following the ensuing conversations, confrontations, and disagreements over these issues has been incredibly frustrating, considering my career choice. But it is also instructive to look at how issues such as race and class are talked about, and how different groups of people react and contribute. People become divided across ideological, political, and all sorts of other lines. But what I am most interested in is finding out different ways to open up more dialog about these kinds of issues, and to get more and more people to listen to an anthropological perspective--which I think can be extremely beneficial and insightful.

My question is this: how can anthropologists get involved in this kind of public discourse? Should we get involved? What can we say about these kinds of public confrontations, and what can we contribute toward finding ways to foster greater understanding and communication? In what ways can anthropologists interject themselves into these kinds of volatile public debates?

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