Mark Anderson, “From Boas to Black Power: Racism, Liberalism and American Anthropology” (Stanford UP, 2019)

Mark Anderson’s From Boas to Black Power: Racism, Liberalism and American Anthropology (Stanford University Press) is at once a story about US anthropology and US liberalism from the 1930s to 1960s.

By interrogating the Boasian intervention into the idea of biological race, Anderson shows how, despite their progressive and anti-racist intentions, Boas and ‘the Boasians’ naturalised the idea of the United States as a white nation and helped to entrench problematic discourses, such as “colour-blindness”.

Alongside tracing the history of Boasian thought on race, highlighting the paradoxes and strange logics in Boasian anti-racism, Anderson identifies contemporaries who undertook more rigorous examinations of race, who offered more critical anti-racist analytics, but were sidelined in the history of US anthropology.

From Boas to Black Power doesn’t attempt to deny that the Boasians offered a trenchant critique of the biological conception of race, but shows that their commitment to liberalism undermined a true reckoning with how race shapes the United States.

Mark D. Anderson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, and also wrote Black and Indigenous: Garifuna Activism and Consumer Culture in Honduras (University of Minnesota Press).

Lachlan Summers is a PhD candidate in cultural anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, USA, where he researches earthquake politics in Mexico City. He and his friends were permanently banned from teaching at UCSC for participating in the wildcat strike of 2019-2020. He is a contributing editor for Cultural Anthropology and can be found on Twitter @backup_sandwich.

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