Archive for March, 2011

Anthropology, Evolution, and “Scientific Creationism”
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 14: 103-133 (Volume publication date October 1985)
James N. Spuhler
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to my Tutor….

My dearest Simone,

I read “Anthropology, Evolution, and ‘Scientific Creationism’ and I feel at a loss for what to say.  I find it hard to believe that such a large percentage of Americans reject evolution.  The article was published in 1982 and quotes Gallup Poll numbers:  “44% of the population in the United States does not accept an evolutionary origin for the human species.”  Looking at a December 2010 Gallup  poll, 40% of Americans believe that “God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago.”

So looking around a little longer – with the concept phrased a little differently, it seems 25% reject evolution rather than the 40% implied by the other poll.  From a February 2011 poll…. “39% of Americans say they ‘believe in the theory of evolution,’ while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way.”

I found The Sensuous Curmudgeon a good read.  The site focuses on the “evolution vs. creationism” controversy in the U.S.  I’ve only poked around a little.  I don’t agree with all the viewpoints on the site, but the coverage and commentary seem extensive.  The writing is witty, funny and snarky.  I’ve bookmarked it to read more later.

I grew up in Mississippi, so I likely knew a lot of people with creationist beliefs.  I don’t think I ever had a science teacher who was willing to teach creationism in the classroom.  I specifically remember a junior high teacher (sometime in the 1980s) saying with passion that she would not teach creationism.  I don’t remember the details, but I think a local school board must have been considering forcing science teachers to teach creationism (didn’t happen).  I think many of the people in the area who believed in creationism, didn’t think it should be taught in schools — some of them believing that teachers couldn’t be trusted to teach creationism the right way.

I’ll leave it at that for now.

My heart to yours,


Theories and Politics in African American English
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 23: 325-345 (Volume publication date October 1994)
Marcyliena Morgan
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

I read “Theories and Politics in African American English” shortly after reading “A Survey of Afro-American English.” I didn’t write down many of my thoughts at the time and at the moment I find myself not in the best mood to write anything, but I will. Marcyliena Morgan’s review was published over a decade after the one by John Baugh, but the discussion doesn’t seem much changed. Shall I bore you with my passing thoughts over the week? Morgan uses the term African-American English (AAE), so I’ll go with that.

Some of the discussions of AAE seem to describe speech elements that I tend to associate with Southern rural speech generally. I wonder whether some researchers and non-black residents outside the South associated certain speech elements more exclusively with AAE because they only encountered that speech from black people. I’m thinking of the large migrations of blacks from the South and how others may have taken certain elements of Southern speech to be AAE exclusively. It’s been a while since I’ve spent any significant amount of time in rural Mississippi, so my memory of distinctions between white speech and black speech in the area are a bit fuzzy. Morgan discusses the lack of third person singular verb agreement in AAE – this I remember to have been common in the region. I could imagine just about anyone saying, “Oh, he don’t mind…”

Growing up, the black people in the area referred to the local speech as talking “country,” while more standard English speech was deemed talking “proper.” There were country-talking white people and proper-talking black people. There were distinctions between black and white speech, but I’m hazy on what those were. I am left with the impression that the dividing line between black and white speech was not as clearly drawn in my rural Mississippi area (in the 70s and 80s) as I get the impression it may be in some of the academic literature, at least in regard to some of the basic grammar.

Morgan writes that African-American parents did not believe the differences between AAE and standard English were significant enough to create misunderstandings in the classroom and that instruction should be in standard English. This was the thinking where I grew up and I tend to agree. The most significant thing for me was having teachers who understood my experience as a black child. Several of the older teachers and the principal at my elementary school were more mindful of the fact that they were educating black children. Younger black teachers weren’t as much that way. I went to a different all-black elementary school for one year and the teachers there didn’t speech as much to the experience of a black child either.

The older teachers were more likely to speak directly and specifically about things being said about black children and black people in academia and in the general media. We got the rundown – This is what you will hear; This is how you might feel about it; Here is an alternative way to view things. As far as speaking standard English, they spoke about the possibility of being teased by peers and the wider black community; they spoke to black males as far as dealing with the perception that speaking standard English might be seen as being more effeminate; they spoke about dealing with negative responses from whites in the community; they spoke against the more negative and belittling characterizations of AAE.

The negativity from whites in the local community could be frightening at times. When my more “proper” speaking cousins from the North came to visit, they often got cold and mean stares from whites because of the way they spoke. Given that there was a certain amount of stigma attached to speaking with a Southern accent, black children speaking more standard English with a non-Southern accent were responded to as if they were being hostile, as if they were attacking whites by speaking in a certain manner.

My favorite elementary school teacher spoke in a manner very similar to that of Maya Angelou. I think of her whenever I hear Maya Angelou speak. This teacher greatly influenced how a I speak and how I think. I was so lucky to have that group of elementary school teachers. I may have some more follow-up on this later.

Ever true,

A Survey of Afro-American English
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 12: 335-354 (Volume publication date October 1983)
J Baugh
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to my Tutor….

My dear Madame,

As is often the case, I have waited too late to write to you given the deadline I set for myself.  I’ve been ill, but the situation would mostly likely be the same if I weren’t.  Still, I will say a few things…

My rural Mississippi hometown was in a predominantly black county and it typified Baugh’s statement  that “urban and rural varieties of BVE [nonstandard black vernacular English] are maintained most by those individuals who have limited contact with nonblacks.”  While a great many of the adults in the area had the “ability to shift their speech styles depending on the social situation and their relative linguistic dexterity,” (Baugh), many of the older members of the community did not perform such shifts.  Because of the stigma associated with BVE, one sometimes had to be careful not to appear disrespectful when addressing these older members of the community in the sense of not subtly implying by use of “standard English” that one thought them stupid or less worthy of respect.  In these cases a fluidity in speech style came in handy.

Several of my elementary school teachers, including my favorite one, strongly encouraged the use of standard English.  What I took from these teachers was that speaking standard English gave “them” one less derogatory thing to say about “us.”  The thinking mentioned by Baugh was definitely floating around–that BVE indicated some genetic inferiority or that black children weren’t learning a real language or that black children were incapable of learning standard English.  My teachers emphasized that style of speech did not speak to intelligence or capability, no matter what “they” said.  We read black authors who used BVE deliberately in their writing because it communicated experience that couldn’t be related otherwise.  We read speeches by black orators, such as Sojourner Truth, that showed that use of BVE was not at odds with wit and intelligence.  I liked this approach by my teachers.

Recently, I’ve noticed on a social media site that black people from my hometown will often spell words in such a way as to make it clear that they are using BVE intentionally and without shame.  I wonder whether this is evidence that the same attitudes present when I was in elementary school are still around.

Ok, if I stop now, I will just make the deadline.  Still reading “America Day by Day.”  Hope to comment more on that soon.

Ever true,

Marxist Approaches in Anthropology
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 4: 341-370 (Volume publication date October 1975)
B O’Laughlin

In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to my Tutor…

Dearest Simone,

I may have just become a bit of a Bridget O’Laughlin groupie.  Her writing is so well-structured.  She gives clear definitions of terms, both directly and in context.  She writes such beautiful paragraphs that I couldn’t stop myself from taking notes.  I’m still working my way through the article.  I imagine that I will rework my notes in the background as I continue to read other articles.

As I read I am trying to decipher when, where, how certain Marxist-type thinking worked its way into my mind.  I feel my thinking is most Marx-like when I’m focused on day-to-day living, the things that I encounter as a person going through the world.  When I’m on that level where I read the newspaper or political commentary as though they were talking about real things about world, that’s the part of my thought that seems to be the most Marx-influenced.  When I’m thinking more about how the mind works and the nature of thought and the nature of existence, it seems my influences aren’t very Marx-like.

When O’Laughlin writes about Marxist views on individualism, I recognize a type of thinking that came to me by way of having read Eastern philosophies (particularly Advaita Vedanta) and American Transcendentalists at a very young age:

…people can individuate themselves only in society, and each individual is determined by a particular set of social relations. Society
cannot be understood as a population or aggregate of individuals, but only as a totality of social relations.

There’s not necessarily an exact correlation with the philosophies that I’ve read, but there is certainly a similar type of thinking about individualism.  The emphasis is on the whole, on the unity, on the Oversoul–individualism is an illusory construct best used to explore how our interactions with others can be a path to illuminating that we are actually one with the other.  I remember thinking as a teenager that rampant individualism in Western culture was having a destructive influence on the general understanding about the nature of the world and the nature of the relationship between people.

I believe that O’Lauglin’s article is one to be read slowly and savored.  And that’s not to say that the same isn’t true for other articles that I’ve read.  I just really love her writing.  Did I say that already?  Also, I feel that my ability to take good notes is coming back to me.

Many thanks for your kindness and attention,