anthro in the news 6/22/15

  • Hate in America

In the wake of the shooting in Charleston, many wonder what drives a person to commit a hate crime and whether hate groups have influence.  WROC Rochester carried an article about hate crimes and its study in the U.S. It notes the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which researches hate groups in the U.S. According to the SPLC, there are 784 active and organized hate groups across the country. The article quotes anthropology professor Thomas Gibson of the University of Rochester who studies hate crimes in the U.S. and abroad:

“People who have grown up in a condition of privilege and feel that slipping away, they’re the most likely recruits for hate groups…In a way the rise of social media and the way people’s extreme views can get reinforced by someone just sitting alone in a basement, I think is a cause for more concern perhaps than the organized groups.” Gibson says the patches seen in a photo of the Charleston shooting suspect, represent the past racial apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and a connection to supremacist ideologies that could easily be bolstered online. “People who might for whatever personal reasons nurture certain grudges can now find like-minded individuals all over the country or even all over the world.”

  • Beyond black and white: Transracial identity

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald addressed the question of racial identity as brought to popular attention in the case of Rachel Dolezal, who has chosen to live as a black woman. It quotes Farida Fozdar, associate professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Western Australia. The Dolezal case, she says, is complex:  “It reminds us of the US’s one-drop rule, which for so long meant that anyone with one drop of African-American blood was classified as African American…Since then, we’ve become much more constructivist about it, to the point that ethnic identity is seen as being about self-identification. But no one ever thought that meant that a white person with no black heritage, but black friends and family, can claim to be black. We’ve had the idea of ‘passing’ for a long time, but it has always meant people of black heritage ‘passing’ as white, in order to improve their life chances. So this is an interesting counterpoint.”

  • When in Rome…Travel is a privilege, not a right
Climbing Mount Kinabalu. Credit: LotteMae.

Professor of anthropology Wade Davis of the University of British Columbia published an op ed in the Global and Mail, inspired by recent arrests of several Western tourists in Malaysia: “On May 30, two young Canadians, Danielle and Lindsey Petersen, 22 and 23, respectively, reached the summit of Malaysia’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu. In their exuberance they, and eight other trekkers, stripped off their clothes and frolicked in the sun. Many were shocked to learn that this juvenile gesture of joy resulted in the arrest and detention of the brother and sister in Borneo, along with three of their companions (a police hunt is under way for the five others). But upon their return, I would offer some advice: Travel is a privilege, not a right. And the purpose of travel is to be open to the wonder of the other, to be sensitive and respectful of the differences that lend meaning to a journey.”

“The peak where the Petersens and their friends shed their clothing is considered by the people of Sabah to be the sacred embodiment of a woman’s virtue. As for causing the earthquake, let me note that in Borneo, even the flight of a hornbill has meaning, as if it were a cursive script of nature, written on the wind.

As an anthropologist, I am often asked how one breaks down the barriers between people and an outsider living as their guest. Not bravado, I always reply, but rather the same qualities that would make a visitor welcome in your own home: Respect, good manners, self-deprecating humour, a willingness to eat what’s put before you.”

  • A good thing: Digital sharing of ethnographic images

A woman from Mongolia has seen what her father looked like for the first time, as part of a digital sharing project launched by Cambridge University. The image of Anta Bu’s father was taken by Ethel Lindgren between 1929 and 1932, when she photographed Evenki and Orochen people in Mongolia and Siberia. Researchers from the U.K. and Russia reunited the images with some of the descendants of those photographed. An exhibition of the “previously unseen images” opens in Cambridge on 23 June. The project is a joint one between researchers from Cambridge, Aberdeen, Hohhot in Mongolia and the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) in St. Petersburg in Russia. The academics sifted through 26,000 photographs as a digital sharing project “to reunite Evenki and Orochen communities with their photographs and thereby their histories and cultural heritage,” said Jocelyne Dudding, one of the exhibition’s curators.

  • Sacred relics: Authenticity is in the eyes of the believer

The Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado) reported on an exhibition of Buddhist relics that has toured the world, going on display in Boulder. The exhibition, presented by the London-based Maitreya Loving Kindness Tour, is at the Boulder Shambhala Center. On display are “ancient and sacred relics from the historical Buddha Shakyamuni” and other Buddhist masters, and some are said to be up to 2,600 years old. “The relics were found from among the cremation ashes of Buddhist masters,” according to the tour website.

Payson Sheets, an anthropology professor at the University of Colorado, said scientists determine the authenticity of ancient artifacts through the context of an item’s discovery, modern dating techniques such as radiocarbon dating, and other methods. But members of religious communities throughout the world look to relics for inspiration regardless of their scientific legitimacy. “There’s a cultural factor here that one’s got to be sensitive to,” Sheets said, referring to the exhibit of Buddhist relics.

  • Fact checking: 5,000 years of humanity?

In a commentary for National Public Radio, Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the University of William and Mary, points out a major error in a graduation speech the U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia gave at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, an all-Catholic girls’ school. His granddaughter was among the graduates. He urged graduates to take a long view as they move through life’s challenges:

“Class of 2015, you should not leave Stone Ridge High School thinking that you face challenges that are at all, in any important sense, unprecedented…Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become CEO of a company that produces edible medicinal marijuana. David Posner is the founder and CEO of Nutritional High International Inc. He is a graduate of York University and the University of Tel Aviv, where he studied sociology and anthropology. “I always knew I was going to go into business, I just wanted to understand the cultural aspects of dealing with people,” he says. “I find it important. I grew up where business, especially real estate, was a part of my family and life, and I saw that.” Nutritional High’s edibles are not yet for sale but should be in Colorado dispensaries by the end of 2015. Posner and his small team signed a deal to use the Jimi Hendrix name in marijuana-infused candies and drinks, which the CEO believes will help them gain recognition in new markets as states pass legalization laws, and among marijuana tourists until then.

…become a journalist. Tony Abraham began as a contributor at Philadelphia in 2014 before becoming lead reporter for in Delaware in 2015. He is interested in local startups, civic tech, and social entrepreneurship. He graduated from Temple University, where he studied English and anthropology.

…become a barista and designer doughnut baker. Georgia Potts, along with her partner, David Bignell, are baristas turned doughnut barons in Perth, Australia. Their designer doughnuts, “served oozing with brown sugar custard, topped with rose petals, or pumped with butterscotch goo and brittle sprinkles, reinterpret the classic cinnamon-sugar pastry.” Potts is a sociology and anthropology graduate.

…become a singer and pianist and anti-hate music activist. Doing doctoral research in a ninth grade music classroom in Hamburg, Germany, set Emily Joy Rothchild on a path to work with students on a recently released CD and music video that addresses terrorism, Islamophobia and hate. Rothchild, a singer and pianist, earned her Ph.D. in the anthropology of music from the University of Pennsylvania this spring after conducting research in Hamburg, Germany, for three years. Her dissertation examines a government funded school in Hamburg that was established to integrate the children and grandchildren of migrants into German society. Students are taught German norms of discipline, punctuality and professionalism. They also take classes in rap, dance, “beat-box” and graffiti art. Top students are selected to become part of an elite group of Hip Hop Academy students who travel to other countries as cultural diplomats. Most of the students are Muslims of Turkish, West African or Middle Eastern descent. Let Me Speak, an album against ISIS, sprang from the students’ commitment to stand up to terrorism, ISIS, and daily discrimination based on religion or ethnicity.

…become an artist and cookbook writer. Using her travels as inspiration, artist and anthropologist Marcella Kriebel has written a hand-illustrated cookbook, Mi Comida Latina. Her trips started during her studies of Latin culture while she also was working on her watercolors. She has a dual degree in studio art and cultural anthropology from Willamette University in Oregon. Traveling throughout Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and farther south, Kriebel cooked with other women in their own kitchens, learning to make their favorite meals. Then she painted the results.

…work in a museum as a curriculum facilitator. Anne Tiballi is curricular facilitator in the Penn Museum’s Academic Engagement Department. Her job is to create interaction between the Museum and the rest of campus. She has a doctorate in anthropology from Binghamton University in New York State. Her dissertation was based on South American artifacts at the Penn Museum.

…become a film and stage producer and philanthropist. Gigi Pritzker is a film and stage producer and CEO of the film production and financing company OddLot Entertainment. She produced Academy Award-nominated Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman, as well as The Way, Way Back and Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, Rosewater. Pritzker has a B.A. in anthropology from Stanford University. Living in Nepal as an undergraduate student led her to produce her first documentary feature in Bhutan, when the BBC kick-started her career in film.

  • In danger: Syrian cultural heritage sites, not to mention Syrian people

News of the bombing of the Ma’arra Mosaic Museum came to Amr Al-Azm just as he appeared on WNPR’s Where We Live. Al-Azm is associate professor of anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio and chair of the Syrian Heritage Task Force.

“The city of Ma’arra has a small museum, but the museum contains an exceedingly important collection of mosaics that come from the nearby sites of the Dead Cities. These sites date back from the 3rd to the 5th century A.D.,” Al-Azm said. A barrel bomb, a crude explosive device often filled with scrap metal, or possibly a naval mine landed in the museum courtyard.  The rotunda of the museum, containing an important library, was almost completely destroyed. The museum’s display halls were badly damaged.

  • Who is Kennewick Man?

The Independent and several other media reported on DNA analysis indicating that the 8,500 year-old skeleton found in Washington State in 1996 indicates that it is of American Indian origin and not white/European. The skeleton became one of the most controversial figures in American anthropology when tribes living in the region claimed that he was an ancestor. The so-called Kennewick Man, has been the focus of a legal dispute between American Indians and the U.S. Government. Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, who led the study published in the journal Nature, said that an analysis of the skeleton’s full genome shows a clear connection with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, one of the five tribal groups that had tried to claim the skeleton as ancestral property from the U.S. Government.

  • Tickled to death: The suffering of slow lorises as pets

The Huffington Post reported on the dire situation of slow lorises who are captured in the wild and sold around the world as pets. A new short film explores the disturbing reality behind the “cute” slow loris videos that have proliferated online over the past few years. The film, which was posted online last week by U.K.-based International Animal Rescue, is part of the animal welfare nonprofit’s Tickling is Torture campaign, which seeks to end the illegal trade in slow lorises as pets. The group launched the project in response to a video of a “pole-dancing” slow loris that appeared online in March,

The article quotes Anna Nekaris, professor in anthropology and primate conservation at the U.K.’s Oxford Brookes University and lead author of a paper called Tickled to Death: Analysing Public Perceptions of ‘Cute’ Videos of Threatened Species, available through the Public Library of Science. Nekaris says that what a loris experiences after capture “is so horrific it cannot be imagined.” She explains on her website that the suffering of slow lorises in the pet trade begins long before they reach a person’s home, however. Slow lorises sold as pets have typically been taken illegally from the wild in Southeast Asia. The illegal pet trade is one of the major threats to the wild population, which is also at risk due to habitat loss and poaching for traditional medicines. All eight species of slow lorises are considered threatened, and the Javan slow loris is one of the 25 most endangered primates worldwide.


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