Post #4: The Inherent Hypocrisy

Isn’t it funny how we, from one of the richest schools in the nation, went to learn from one of the poorest ethnic groups in the nation for the purpose of education. In anthropology and sociology and in studying impoverished and oppressed groups, there lies an inherent power gradient and hypocrisy. I would almost push this to the point that if we do not actively advocate or do things to solve the unjust poverty Native Americans and the Tohono O’odham face, then we have failed. We now possess more knowledge about the O’odham than the majority of the world, and in possessing this knowledge and having experts and residents take time out of their day to educate us, there may be responsibility with it. 38 percent of the Tohono O’odham are in poverty. Around 25 percent face unemployment. The real crisis on the border is the alarming humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of our eyes. And we’re going to chalk this up to a cool learning experience, or a nice trip to the Southwest. Don’t get me wrong, the opportunity and ability to learn about a resilient, beautiful culture is amazing, but I wonder about the opportunity of the O’odham to learn about the things they are passionate about. I wonder about the opportunity the O’odham had in the past to learn about themselves in boarding schools with their language and culture stripped. I wonder about the woman at the museum who told us many O’odham were scared or hesitant to teach their children their own language, in fear they would be punished for it. Becoming more educated about a subject can never bring harm, but I ask if there’s something wrong in seeing injustice and letting it slide. Of this we’re all guilty, and I don’t know the answer. 

3 Replies to “Post #4: The Inherent Hypocrisy”

  1. I am sort of conflicted about this. I would argue that all anthropology research should be done objectively, only presenting figures, data, findings that were arrived at using the scientific method, as you did with the figures on poverty and employment. I see it as a social science with heavy emphasis on the science, but that’s just me.

    My main conflict I that of the scientist vs. activist. I see an anthropologist as a person who shows how things are for different cultures, not matter how great, how bad, or how contrary they may seem. Their goal is to say how things are, but not how they should be. Using this information, an activist then is able to present the case for how it should be and achieve social change. I am uncomfortable with mixing both as I feel compromised objectivity equates to compromised research.

    How do you feel about this?

  2. This is an interesting post and I think you bring up some points worth talking and thinking about, but I don’t think I agree with you about this being a hypocritical experience. Yes, we are a rich school, but I think that is largely irrelevant to our going to the Tohono O’Odham Nation. I think more of this course existing related to the idea that Harvey worked with the Tohono O’Odham for years and now has the opportunity to teach his knowledge and for us to learn about a culture that is integral to the United States yet many of us don’t get a chance to learn about them. I think the Tohono O’Odham we spoke with were excited about our presence and the ability to talk to us about their culture. Just because they don’t have the opportunities yet to visit Virginia does not mean that we’re hypocritical. I think it’s just the state of the world and we’re doing our best to balance different situations.

  3. Grayson, as you are raising some tough questions that I think we all have to face about what our obligations are as fairly priveleged members of society. As one of the professors, I am absolutely thrilled to know that students are grappling with these questions. I often wonder what good, if any, we are doing with these classes. Reading a post like this is the best kind of encouragement I could get.

    I agree with Eric S in that I don’t think we are being hypocritical by visiting the Nation. Yes, we are lucky to be able to take trips like this and it is true that most of the children of T.O.N. will not likely have similar oppotunities and certainly not in the abundance that we have them. So yes, it reflects some fundamental truths about inequality of wealth and oppotunity. However, is this particular expenditure of our wealth hypocritical? specifically, does it exacerbate the inequality or the poverty that we profess to care about? I certainly hope that is not the case.

    The purpose of these trips, as I see then, are to learn about the land and the people. My belief (and hope) is that it is difficult to do that without acquiring some empathy and understanding. Yes, we are fortunate to have the means to do this, but ultimately the justification for it will be determined by how we use the experience over the course of your career and lifetime.

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