Race and the SHA

It is common for us to feel invigorated by the annual conference, after hearing great papers, discussing innovative ideas, renewing relationships, and embracing a new resolve to do the work of making SHA a better organization that we all be proud of. Although our poster wasn’t officially sponsored by the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) (they helped to inspire it), Cheryl LaRoche and I presented on “Race and the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA): Steps Toward Claiming an Anti-Racist Institutional Identity.” It generated considerable interest, raised important issues, and will serve to support the board’s decision to embark on anti-racism training, for which they should be commended. The board’s commitment to doing this work is a bold step in an important direction that can truly transform our organization and make it more inclusive.

What follows is the text of our poster, a considerably condensed version of an essay we contributed to the Winter 2012 issue of the Newsletter.

Archaeology and Racial Hierarchy

Archaeologists know that racial hierarchy structures the material world, yet we have seldom considered how white privilege influences our practice.

The Whiteness of the SHA

White men created the SHA and structured it to meet their needs as members of white society. This is reflected in its personnel, programs, constituency, and mission, and the ways historical archaeologists are trained in the academy.

Racial Socialization

We all have been socialized in a racist society and consequently carry and perpetuate attitudes of either internalized racial oppression or internalized racial superiority. This socialization process serves to maintain racial hierarchy.

Transforming the Discipline

We can effectively address the racial disparities in our profession and begin to claim and put into practice an anti-racist organizational identity by examining the way we recruit students, foster their development, and inculcate academic values. In order to transform the SHA into a truly diverse and welcoming organization we must address the barriers to access that continue to maintain our organization’s white, male, heterosexual, and middle class membership and principles.

Our Collective Responsibility

The mission of seeking diversity involves all historical archaeologists and should be our collective goal as we work to transform our field and our organization in an effort to claim an anti-racist institutional identity.

The Gender and Minority Affairs Committee

It’s hard to believe that only a year ago the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) reconvened in Austin. Much came out of that collaboration, fueled by the active participation of SHA members in the committee organized forum, “Where do we go from here? GMAC at the crossroads.” Panelists and attendees raised key issues and discussion focused priorities for the committee going forward. One question consistently raised was: how do we create diversity within our organizations? Since Austin, a number of initiatives were started to work towards this effort. The new GMAC Student Travel Award is one such effort. This award facilitates student efforts to build and maintain networks as well as participate professionally in annual conferences. The committee also felt that, in the same vein, mentors for underrepresented students would support organizational diversity.

This is why the GMAC, in collaboration with the Academic and Professional Training Committee, is developing a mentoring program and seeks to connect students with SHA members who share research and other interests. Mentoring serves to build relationships over both long and short term as well as foster career growth. It is through these types of engagements that underrepresented students can obtain advice about critical skills and confront problems or issues specific to their experience. To learn more and share ideas about mentoring, attend the GMAC sponsored forum, “Mentorship in Historical Archaeology” on Thursday, January 5 at 1 PM.

The only way we can create a more equitable and diverse SHA is to get involved. Join us for the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday, January 5 at 7:45 AM or join the Student-Subcommittee of GMAC on Friday, January 6 at 7:45 AM.