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The Profession of the Color Blind: Sociocultural Anthropology and Racism in the 21st Century

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Abstract

In this essay, I suggest that American sociocultural anthropology has been a "color blind" profession for nearly a half century and that, as a discipline, we need to restore and refine our color perceptions in order to fight the supposedly fixed opposition in American society between "black" and "white" and deal with the racist consequences of this folk opposition. In the first section, 'How Anthropology Became 'Color Blind,'" I delineate the circumstances under which anthropology became the "color blind" profession. In the second section, "Teaching Color Blindness," I discuss the tendency, in teaching sociocultural anthropology, to ignore racism and its effects. In the final section, "Restoring Color Vision," I take up the questions of what the profession needs to do next to cope with racism and its consequences, emphasizing especially the issue of group identities, how they are formulated, inculcated, and overcome, and proposing a Foucauldian model—following Foucault's lead in analyzing relations of biopower and race—for formulating new ways of responding to and resisting the inevitable recastings of racist ideas,

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