116th AAA Annual Meeting in Washington D.C.

artwork by: Yoshirei Shin

A group of us, Akio Tanabe, (U of Tokyo), Jon G. Russell (U of Gifu), Faye V. Harrison (U of Illinois, President of IUAES), Kristín Loftsdóttir (U of Iceland), and myself presented papers at the session, ”Between Visibilities and Invisibilities: Forms of Racism and Anti-Racism in the Twenty-First Century,” which Faye Harrison and I organized at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. This year the AAA meeting was held in Washington D.C from Nov. 29th through Dec. 3rd (Our session was on Dec. 2nd). The theme of our session corresponded to our focus in Volume One of the series, Dismantling the Race Myth (in Japanese, 2016), this time bringing a distinct group of scholars into the conversation, all of the members were cultural anthropologists. The topics covered varied from examinations of changing social positions of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in India, which is rapidly ”developing” in forests with abundant natural resources (Tanabe); the U. S. nation-wide debate in 2015 over Rachel Dolezal, who had been “passing” as “black” along with the issues of trans-race and trans-gender (Russell); the deprivation of land and human rights of Native Americans in the name of resource development (Harrison); racism and exclusion against Lithuanians whose phenotypes are no different from those of the majority in Iceland (Loftsdóttir); and finally a conceptualization of the converse and diverse modes of racism and racial representation (Takezawa). Subhadra Channa did a great job in interweaving all papers. We hope to publish an anthology in the future.

I took advantage of being in DC, and visited some museums during the AAA meeting. I was excited to see two paintings by Roger Shimomura, who was one of the three artists I featured in my chapter that appeared in Vol. III (Hybridity) of Dismantling the Race Myth. I was so proud of Roger and also was deeply impressed at the precise brush touches of his works. While the rest of the paintings in the “1990-Present” exhibit at the American Art Museum the room were all portraits of celebrities, such as Bill Gates, Colin Powell, and George H. W. Bush, his masterpiece, “Shimomura Crossing the Delaware” was the only piece in the room that was there because of the artistic quality of the piece. What a great achievement for his work to be included in the permanent exhibition at the authentic and white-centered museum.
At the Newseum, which opened in 2008, I was so absorbed by the exhibition that I spent four and a half non-stop hours viewing it. Those who claim that hate speech is a freedom of speech (including some politicians) should visit the Newseum to learn the origin of the United States First Amendment. I was particularly impressed by the presentation of the civil rights movement, the Watergate, FBI, 9/11, etc. relating to journalism. Everyone was crying in the video room of 9/11. In this part of the exhibition, the film and the camera of a photographer were on display. The video on exhibit depicted the camera`s owner as he ran towards the first tower (the one which collapsed first), he kept shooting numerous photos in the heavy ashes, until the last minute when he was buried by the one which collapsed second). Later, I laughed out loud when watching the TV clips of Steven Colbert, Trevor Noah and other comedians making jokes about Trump. In the Pulitzer Prize room, I was also deeply moved by the photos as well as the stories behind them. The Newseum is a must-see museum along with the Holocaust Museum for researchers in DC. (Text by Yasuko Takezawa)

Ours was a wonderful panel for less than wonderful times. Thoughts of the future, of a new century, traditionally inspire hope. However, as we approach the second decade of the twenty-first, mankind’s recognition of its common humanity remains a dream deferred. Instead, we greet a new century in which an unstable, reckless wannabe dictator sits in America’s Oval Office, the threat of nuclear war looms, the specters of racism, xenophobia, nativism, and intolerance are globally resurgent and those in power continue to escape accountability.
Still, it is inspiring to see how the AAA has responded to these issues and how our panel and its project contributes to fostering ongoing conversations that, one hopes, will bring about lasting solutions by reminding us that invisible coalitions made visible may fulfill the delayed promise of our century. (Text by John G. Russell)

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