Antiquity an international journal of expert archaeology VOLUME 71 NUMBER 274 DECEMBER 1997 Why are there so few black American archaeologists? Maria Franklin. Abstract: The small number of African American archaeologists is surprising, given the discipline's 100-year history in the country. According to a survey conducted by the Society for American Archaeology, most of its members are European Americans, with only a few black Americans in its rolls. Ironically, archaeology is a potent tool for discovering African-American culture and history. By examining the processes and effects of oppression, ethnocentrism, racism, sexism and class inequality can be countered. Archaeology can thus be a means for empowering black communities. Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1997 Antiquity Publications, Ltd. A Society for American Archaeology survey (1997) reports that its membership is overwhelmingly 'European American'. Although it is no longer true that archaeology in the US is simply man's business rather than woman's, where are the practising archaeologists descended from historically marginalized groups so much of archaeology studies? 'Why are there few black American archaeologists?' is a question only now being raised as it relates to the appropriation and social construction of the past by archaeologists (e.g. Bond & Gilliam 1994; Schmidt & Patterson 1995). These issues are significant if one believes that archaeological interpretations are often uncritical histories created by state-supported specialists whose work is widely used to justify, not challenge, 'existing power relations' (Schmidt & Patterson 1995: 5). Thus, a growing number of archaeologists, questioning their role as 'stewards of the past', are experiencing critical self-reflection (e.g. Leone et al. 1987; Potter 1994; Pinsky & Wylie 1989; Wylie 1983; 1985). Nearly every American archaeologist is white, and some now acknowledge that their (often self-promoted) public image as sole authorities of the past, their privileged access to cultural resources and the ideological power generated by their sociopolitically conditioned interpretations of the past can have dire consequences for descendant communities, including African Americans (Bograd & Singleton 1997; Franklin in press; Stone 1997). One response, proposed and variously implemented, is to diversify the practice of archaeology by bringing members of minority groups in through education and recruitment (Honerkamp & Zierden 1997: 142-3; McKee 1994). Ideally, this would assure that the needs of their various communities are met, and that the process of creating histories is shared by representatives from all groups. If archaeologists are having to take such measures, it may be worth asking 'why', in a discipline with a 100-year history in the US, there is a relative absence of blacks from the archaeological scene. Just how many professional African-American archaeologists are there in the US? The only reliable empirical evidence for this comes from the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). Fortunately, many (most?) anthropological archaeologists belong to the SAA, which is the largest American organization of professional archaeologists, with nearly 6000 members (Zeder 1997: 12). In 1994, the SAA distributed a survey in order to obtain a membership profile (Zeder 1997: 12-17). Out of the 5000 questionnaires sent out, 1700 members replied. In the 'ethnicity' category, 98% of those who responded (about 1500) indicated 'European American'. The remaining 2% consisted mostly of Latin American nationals. Only 1-2 respondents were black Americans (Melinda Zeder pers. comm., 1997). Currently, there are only a handful of African Americans in the US with PhDs who specialize in anthropological archaeology (four, by my count). Still, if people working for CRM firms, the National Park Service, museums and at historic sites as professional archaeologists with BA degrees and above are counted, the numbers would still be low. Why is this so? On so many fronts, our struggle to overcome barriers instituted and perpetuated by racism has deeply impacted the choices we make regarding careers. A portion of black Americans who have managed to obtain a higher education are pursuing caaHers where there is greater potential for economic and social mobility. Many individuals have chosen professions in response to the urgent needs of black communities, pursuing careers where they may have more immediate effects on public policy, health care, civil rights legislation, etc. The fields of business, medicine and law immediately come to mind as presenting better opportunities for blacks to excel in American society, and to 'give something back' to our people. Still, a few of us have chosen anthropology. Although holding no promise of power and prestige, we are attracted to the challenge of combating ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, and class inequality by elucidating the processes and effects of various forms of oppression. Many, if not most of us, feel compelled to study the people of the African diaspora, in essence choosing to study ourselves. This is in keeping with a black intellectual tradition that has concerned itself with arriving at some understanding of black people and their experiences not imposed upon us by whites. This being the case, one still has to wonder why there aren't more black archaeologists, given the plethora of African-American archaeological sites investigated in the past 30 years. Issues include the public perception of archaeology, and our attempts as archaeologists to build relationships with the public, especially with descendant communities. When the American public believes that archaeologists are strictly involved with studying the exoticized 'other' or 'ancient civilizations', they are not far off the mark. Americanist archaeology was formalized with the study of Native Americans, and perhaps most of us still investigate American prehistory. The popularity of museums, National Geographic magazine, a growing proliferation of TV documentaries on archaeology, and the image of Indiana Jones, all go to construct a public perception of archaeologists as digging in far-away lands, searching for clues of long-lost societies. American historical archaeology is a relatively recent development, and its initial focus on early Anglo-Americans continues to capture much of the spotlight (e.g. recent excavations of the fort at Jamestown Island, Virginia). Archaeology might hold more appeal for black Americans if they knew of its potential as a powerful tool for uncovering black histories. Yet, despite the growing number of historical archaeologists studying African-American culture and history, black Americans in particular remain unaware of such endeavours. Thus, archaeology's potential as a means of empowering black communities remains largely unrecognized by the very people who stand to gain or lose the most as a result of these interpretations of various black pasts. This is largely due to the omission on the part of archaeologists to communicate their findings specifically to impacted communities and descendant groups (e.g. Davis 1997: 85). I remain optimistic, however, for I do see changes on the horizon. As archaeologists have come around to realizing (often at the 'prodding' of descendant communities) how problematic it is for an overwhelmingly white, homogenous, and largely uncritical group to have cornered the market on American history and prehistory, a growing number are making earnest efforts to transform the discipline. A few historical archaeologists are now recruiting African Americans to participate on excavations, with the hopes of encouraging them to enter the profession (Andrew Jackson's Hermitage in Tennessee, and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia are two good examples of this strategy). Some archaeologists are working with local black history interest groups, and other concerned members of the community (e.g. Franklin in press; Honerkamp & Zierden 1997; Leone 1992; McDavid 1996). As this dialogue between archaeologists and black Americans continues to grow and take shape, the discipline's potential for addressing socially relevant issues, and for empowering black society ('knowledge is power') only strengthens (e.g. Epperson 1997). Archaeology is being forced to undergo growing pains at a fairly rapid rate. Archaeologists must now strive to be socially responsible, and accountable to various communities that we have historically avoided. Our continual support from the public demands that we change our ways. While there are currently few black American archaeologists, the numbers can only go up. The word is out, and the visibility of African-American archaeology in particular is heightening. I've noticed lately that I am no longer the only young, black American present at archaeology conferences. Acknowledgements. I would like to thank Karla Slocum, Rachel Watkins and Leah Johnson for their helpful advice. 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