Lee Baker "Anthropology as the Reliable and then Unreliable Arbiter of Whiteness"


Monday, March 20, 2017, 4:15pm to 6:00pm


Tozzer 203

During the early 20th century, immigrants to the US had to be free and white or free and black to obtain citizenship in the United States.  However, the not-quite-white immigrants who wanted to claim the privilege of whiteness turned to anthropology among other disciplines to ratify their whiteness. Whether it was Turkish or Armenian, Afghani or Japanese, district court and Supreme Court justices turned to the scientist of race and culture to be the arbiters of who was white and who was not.  Anthropologists were reliable until they began identifying East Asians from Northern India as Aryan and thus white, based on their Indo-European language.  After that, science could no longer be trusted. And common sense became the arbiter of whiteness.

Mrs. A. Hehmeyer Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, and African and African American Studies at Duke University.

He received his B.S. from Portland State University and doctorate in anthropology from Temple University. He has been a resident fellow at Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Johns Hopkins’s Institute for Global Studies, The University of Ghana-Legon, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Humanities Center. His books include From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954 (1998), Life in America: Identity and Everyday Experience (2003), and Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture (2010). Although he focuses on the history of anthropology, he has published numerous articles on such wide ranging subjects as socio-linguistics to race and democracy. Baker is also the recipient of Richard K. Lublin Distinguished Teaching Award, and served as Duke's Dean of Academic Affairs from 2008-2016.