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From Savage to Negro

From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954

Lee D. Baker
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 313
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  • Book Info
    From Savage to Negro
    Book Description:

    Lee D. Baker explores what racial categories mean to the American public and how these meanings are reinforced by anthropology, popular culture, and the law. Focusing on the period between two landmark Supreme Court decisions-Plessy v. Ferguson(the so-called "separate but equal" doctrine established in 1896) andBrown v. Board of Education(the public school desegregation decision of 1954)-Baker shows how racial categories change over time. Baker paints a vivid picture of the relationships between specific African American and white scholars, who orchestrated a paradigm shift within the social sciences from ideas based on Social Darwinism to those based on cultural relativism. He demonstrates that the greatest impact on the way the law codifies racial differences has been made by organizations such as the NAACP, which skillfully appropriated the new social science to exploit the politics of the Cold War.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92019-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Race in the United States is at once an utter illusion and a material reality, a fiction and a “scientific” fact. It is a political wedge and a unifying force. It is structured by legislation yet destabilized by judicial fiat, shaped by public opinion but also configured by academic consensus. Though historically contingent, it is constantly being transformed. The history and reality of race and racism in the United States force individuals to negotiate daily between the ideological pillars of democracy—justice, freedom, and equality—and stark racial inequality. Whether one looks to Alexis de Tocqueville or Studs Terkel, this...

  6. CHAPTER 1 History and Theory of a Racialized Worldview
    (pp. 11-25)

    I begin my narrative proper with a discussion of turn-ofthe-century anthropologists in the United States and how they contributed to the formation of racial categories. The history and politics of race, however, predate the formation of anthropology as an academic discipline. The first half of this chapter is intended to foreground the twentieth-century material with a brief history of the origins of race in the United States and review the contributions of the first “American school of anthropology” in the mid-nineteenth century. The second part of this chapter outlines the turbulent racial politics in which turn-of-thecentury anthropologists found themselves embroiled....

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Ascension of Anthropology as Social Darwinism
    (pp. 26-53)

    The rise of academic anthropology in the United States occurred in the late 188os and was concurrent with the rise of American imperialism and the institutionalization of racial segregation and disfranchisement. And like the anthropology that bolstered proslavery forces during the antebellum period, professional anthropology bolstered Jim Crow and imperial conquests during the 1890s. Before the 188os the study of anthropology — or ethnology, as it was also called — tended to be an ancillary interest of naturalists and a romantic pastime for physicians interested in the so-called races of mankind. As discussed in the previous chapter, Samuel Morton, Josiah Nott, and...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Anthropology in American Popular Culture
    (pp. 54-80)

    Chapter 2 has demonstrated how the anthropology produced by the first ethnologists reproduced ideas of race and culture consistent with Social Darwinism, racial segregation, and global expansion. I want to emphasize that I am focusing on the intersections between the formation of anthropology and processes of racial formation by exploring how the “fathers of anthropology” established the discipline in part by reproducing and reinforcing popular ideas about racial inferiority. In return, ethnologists received both tacit and direct institutional support. For example, the way Brinton shifted his research focus from linguistics to the evolution of the races, the way Powell supported...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Progressive-Era Reform Holding on to Hierarchy
    (pp. 81-98)

    WJ McGee and fair organizers held onto notions of Social Darwinian evolution while fantasizing about reaching “enlightenment” to create a sense of nationalism and reflect the ascendancy of the United States for millions of visitors to the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. Perhaps working-class fairgoers believed that their station in life was the highest in the world once they contrasted themselves to the Pygmies and Negritos, but the euphoric sense of superiority soon dissipated.

    In the years before the fair and in the wake of debilitating depressions that concentrated finance and industry, many Americans began to challenge laissez-faire economic policies and...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Rethinking Race at the Turn of the Century W. E. B. Du Bois and Franz Boas
    (pp. 99-126)

    Eugenics was one particular project during the reform movement; other projects intersected and clashed with applied toothand-claw evolutionism. Intellectuals of all stripes were contesting nineteenth-century paradigms during the decades that straddled the dawn of the twentieth century. In education, John Dewey synthesized American pragmatism with stimulus-response theory to pioneer functional psychology, which helped to formulate new teaching methods and school curriculums.¹ In economics, Thorstein B. Veblen wroteThe Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions(1899), in which he introduced the notion of conspicuous consumption, insisted that economics be studied in terms of cultural institutions, and critiqued...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The New Negro and Cultural Politics of Race
    (pp. 127-142)

    The anthropological discourse on race between the world wars was not touted at world’s fairs or in other vehicles of popular culture; nor was it congruent with wider currents of public discourse.¹ Yet anthropology played important roles in the process of racial formation on both sides of the color line. Holding onto its prestige as the “science” of race and culture, anthropology began to effectively counter dominant ideas about race articulated by people in the media, southern state legislatures, and all branches of the federal government. During the 1920s and 1930s artists and intellectuals of the New Negro Movement used...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Looking behind the Veil with the Spy Glass of Anthropology
    (pp. 143-167)

    The rise and fall of Negro folklore within anthropology, and the relationship between the JAFL and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, is a story seldom told in the annals of the history of anthropology.¹ African American scholars were attracted to anthropology during the Harlem Renaissance because they saw the discipline as a way of documenting and celebrating their African heritage. Nathan Huggins has explained that

    the popularity of folk materials among the promoters of the New Negro marks a significant step in the Negro intellectual’s gaining self-consciousness and self-confidence. Remarkably, this Afro-American concern with the preservation of folk materials was...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Unraveling the Boasian Discourse Anthropology and Racial Politics of Culture
    (pp. 168-187)

    During the decades that enveloped the Great Depression and the New Deal, the NAACP could not rely on Democrats in Congress or the White House to pass Civil Rights legislation. Franklin D. Roosevelt could not support bills empowering African Americans; if he had, southern Democrats would make sure that his New Deal legislation did not become law. The judicial branch was the only recourse, so the NAACP turned to Charles Hamilton Houston, dean of the Howard University Law School, to pull together an elite corps of legal scholars, strategists, and litigators to fight school segregation in the federal judiciary. The...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Anthropology and the Fourteenth Amendment
    (pp. 188-207)

    The initial strategy that the NAACP National Legal Committee pursued to challenge racial segregation was to equalize separate facilities created for African Americans. By 1935 Charles Hamilton Houston was spending most of his time with the NAACP and developing its plans to equalize public schools. He outlined, in theCrisis, specific objectives for the organization’s new agenda in “Educational Inequalities Must Go”:

    At the present time the N.A.A.C.P. educational program has six specific objectives for its immediate efforts:

    a. equality of school terms;

    b. equality of pay for Negro teachers having the same qualifications and doing the same work as...

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Color-Blind Bind
    (pp. 208-228)

    What role does U.S. anthropology play in racial formation processes in the late 1990s? It is certainly not the same as it was a hundred years ago, but some of the dynamics and relationships persist. The intersection and convergence of racial politics and discourses produced by the media and social scientists remain integral to the processes that form and reform racial constructs. Similarly, specific interest groups selectively appropriate certain aspects of social science to help further those interests. Whether it isThe Bell Curve, informing restrictive welfare reform, or a race-evading multiculturalism, reinforcing the Supreme Court’s interpretation of a “color-blind”...

  16. Appendix: Time Line of Major Events
    (pp. 229-238)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 239-286)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-312)
  19. Index
    (pp. 313-325)