Bermudian professor’s theory on White dominance praised
In September 2019 archaeologist Catherine Draycott led a public discussion in Bermuda on why the vast majority of people in her field were White.
It drew the attention of the editors of the digital anthropology magazine Sapiens, who asked that she write an article for them.
“I was flattered, but replied that I thought really it should be the province of a Black archaeologist,” said Dr Draycott, an associate professor at Durham University in the UK. “They asked if I would co-write it and so I asked Dr William White, an historical archaeologist with whom I had been in touch, to be the lead author. He has written and presented widely on the topic including through his blog, Succinct Research. We collaborated to put together statistics, his personal experiences, why better proportional representation matters and suggestions to help.”
Why the Whiteness of Archaeology is a Problem appeared in the July 2020 edition of Sapiens and in December was named one of the magazine’s top contributions for the year.
When Dr Draycott, a former reporter with the Mid-Ocean News, broached the subject as part of the local biennial seminar series ThinkFest, she had no idea how in tune her message would become.
“The killing of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests brought consciousness of and conscientiousness about racial inequalities to a new level,” she said. “Platforms were being offered to Black public intellectuals and increased numbers of people were listening.
“Covid in many ways helped too, as it propelled panel discussions and talks online, where they could be opened up to audiences the world over. The Society of Black Archaeologists was able to harness this and put on a series of impressive panel discussions about archaeology in the era of BLM and about public monuments and iconoclasm. This meant that when the article in Sapiens appeared, it was even more timely.”
There was some negative reaction to the article however archaeologists of colour “identified with the issues raised”.
Dr Draycott added: “There was a discussion of the article through the Facebook group for British Archaeological Jobs and Resources, and a significant post by a Black British archaeologist was saved in their online blog. William and I were also recently contacted by someone who has reposted the article on Indian Country Reddit, where it attracted similar reflections on experiences in the comments.”
Said Dr White, an assistant professor at the University of California Berkeley: “It definitely has sparked discussion in the comments and forced folks to recon with what they've been doing. It's part of a suite of efforts, like the Indigenous archaeology collective that is precipitating a group of [Black, Indigenous and other people of colour] archaeology advocates pushing harder for change.”
Dr. Draycott is grateful for the opportunity presented by ThinkFest, describing the experience as “transformative” for her.
“For me personally it provided a great opportunity to talk about an issue that had been rumbling around for ages in an environment that, unlike the UK, is not majority-White. But it wasn’t about me only talking; it was for me to listen, and I learnt a lot from local community members, such as Afrakan science teacher Haile Maryam.”
Alongside her 2019 talk Dr Draycott ran an online survey to find out about Bermudians’ attitudes to archaeology and try to tease out if there were any discrepancies among social groups, racial, gender, age and class. She presented preliminary results at a London conference in December 2019, but the impact of Covid on UK universities has delayed finishing writing the final report.
“I will be getting back to that a.s.a.p. in the new year,” she stated.
She hopes to extend the survey work and help towards island-led projects.
“This is a time of change in academia,” Dr Draycott said. “Colonisation is still practised in archaeology and other academic fields with foreign, usually Anglo-American or European, groups coming in to work in discrete groups with foreign concepts and questions of little relevance to local and descendant communities. The concept of community archaeology has been and still is being developed to counter this. Archaeologists in the SBA are leaders in this, too.”
See Sapiens’ Best of 2020 list here: www.sapiens.org/news/best-of-sapiens-2020/. Read William White’s blog Succinct Research, here: succinctresearch.com. Listen to the Society of Black Archaeologists recordings here: www.societyofblackarchaeologists.com/events