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Reflection on Anthropological Articles

Essay 1

The African American society in the United States has attracted literary and scholarly attention because of its unique blend of socio-cultural heritage and struggles. Having arrived in the Americas as slaves in the 17th century, and gradually having gained their rights as American citizens and human beings, African Americans have been studied as an ethnic or racial group, broadening the reaches of anthropology by challenging the Anglo-American perspective and its Boasian Tradition and influence. The publications by James Adam Redfield and George W. Stocking, who are adherents of the Boasian paradigm, provide valuable insights into the anthropology of African Americans, which can be traced from their rich, longstanding, and chequered history. The readings expose the value of narratives as a means of transmitting knowledge and culture, thus making them useful in anthropological studies.   

James Adam Redfield published Ethnography in Antiquity in 2019, by Oxford University Press, 2019. This reflection is on my understanding of ethnography and its application in historical documentation. Similarly, George W. Stocking authored Glimpses into my own black box: And exercise in self-deconstruction in 2010.  The two authors explain what ethnography is, insist that it has a scientific foundation and practice, and cannot be divorced from events that occurred during medieval times. In Redfield’s book, the relationship between ethnography, scientific knowledge, and mode of representation to that knowledge are explained from a humanistic discipline’s perspective. In his explanation about ethnography, Redfield identifies the three underpinning concepts, which include the conceptualization of ethnography as a collection of knowledge that has been created and amassed scientifically, as a systematic process through which such knowledge is sourced and gathered, and as an approach by which it is represented and transmitted for propagation and prosperity.[1] However, he notes that the historical meanings have evolved to yield the more contemporary ones such that despite having appeared after the debut of enlightenment sciences, it has deep antiquity foundations often encountered in humanistic disciplines. He observed that ethnography enjoys a longstanding legacy of self and other representation in the olden days, which has persisted to the present day to influence the major ethnographic topics, such as ethnicity, race, religion, gender, culture, and nationhood. Despite the transformation in the literary meaning and influence of such legacies, Redfield observed that analogous patterns that are conceptual and literary have influenced the transformation of ethnography and its current form and influence.

Likewise, in Glimpses into my own black box: an exercise in self-deconstruction by George W. Stocking, the focus is on the experiences of the author as a member of the communist party during its helm and when the west was most concerned and disoriented. Stocking observes that communism was construed to take various forms that could not be termed to be associated with liberalism and democracy, yet many of those associated with communism in the United States at the time were wrongfully assigned.[2]  At the time, Americanism was perhaps the only binding virtue among the occupants of the United States and that families had been torn apart and separated because being thought to hold beliefs that were extremely divergent from the mainstream American society.  Consequently, the author and his father did not share much information and almost became estranged, just because they did not share similar political affiliations and ideals. However, this book is most compelling in its argument causes the authors to reckon that the law enforcement and investigative agencies in the United States were the tools most employed to monitor the public and ensure that communism did not spread.[3]  The title to the book indicates the difficulties encountered by the author and the cognitive disorientation from misconstrued political identities, presented as self-reflective poems and narratives, which are termed as the ‘black box’.

Personal Reflections and Critical Commentary

Both publications bring to light the challenges of self-identity and expression emanating from the content in the narratives often captured in ethnographies. The focus of the two publications is the anthropology of African Americans and the ethnography documented in their experiences and struggles since the slavery days. Redfield and Stocking are two accomplished anthropologists that advanced their profession through the tutelage of Franz Boas renowned for pioneering modern anthropology. As such, these writings challenge the normal and regular thinking in anthropology, which associates human character and behavior with the biological makeup of the individuals. In turn, the two authors are believers of the social and environmental influences on human behavior. This has helped explain that African Americans do not behave in the manner that they do because they have a high concentration of melanin in their skin, but rather because they have vast and diverse experiences that have been passed down generations through narratives. In this case, African Americans have experienced systemic oppression since the days of slavery, which has shaped their worldview.

I agree with the authors’ notion that each group’s culture should be viewed on its own merits and subjectively in the end. Therefore, the culture of the African Americans is neither superior nor inferior to that of Caucasian Americans, despite that having been marketed in favor of the while Americans for a long time. In this regard, both publications present African Americans as a group of people whose experiences from slavery, institutionalized marginalization, and racially-inspired publicity have inspired prominent writers and scholars to share their knowledge with the world through publications. However, even after sharing their knowledge and experiences, particularly with racism, discrimination, and institutionalized disempowerment, Redfield and Stocking enter into a self-reflective mode when they interrogate the dark histories of their kind and what it has turned the African Americans of the contemporary times to be in the backdrop of a multicultural and multiracial nation-state. Nonetheless, self-reflection is critical in contemporary anthropology because it helps trace the effects of cultural transformation and evolutions on diverse perspectives, including those about oneself. Therefore, it is not surprising to have African Americans being associated with non-American attributes or character that is seen to endanger the mainstream American culture, which is Caucasian dominant. This is evidenced by the association between African Americans and communism in George W. Stocking’s publication. Nonetheless, to avoid such misnomers and erroneous judgment, I agree that anthropology should adopt a scientific approach as suggested by James Adam Redfield because it injects objectivity in a usually subjective topic and matter. However, quantifying a behavioral aspect of a group of people is especially challenging considering that there is no standard behavior to serve as a reference, just like there is snot standard or correct culture against which other cultures can be gauged.

The theoretical concepts highlighted in the two publications include primitivism because communities with cultures viewed to be inferior to others are considered to be primitive. According to this concept and its application in anthropology, societies transit from barbaric to civilised cultures as they evolve. However, inferior cultures remain in their rudimentary cultural forms, a situation often associated with people of African descent. Consequently, African Americans suffer much derogation even in politics, as demonstrated by Stocking. In his arguments, African Americans were wrongfully associated with communism because of their collective culture. However, their collective nature needs to also be viewed from an experiential perspective in which African Americans endured many misdeeds by remaining together and comforting each other, unlike the Russian and Chinese communism perspective, which is primarily an economic model rather than a cultural one. Similarly, the two publications serve a functional purpose because they highlight the introspection of the authors as anthropologists curious to understand the cultural origin and evolution. They associated their unique cultural characteristics with darkness, which can only make sense when contextualised against the dominant anthropological foundations and principles of what are considered to be civilized societies.


African Americans contribute significantly to the American culture. However, their cultural identities and contributions have been overshadowed by the derogatory labels given to them by the admirers of the Anglo-Saxon cultures. However, African Americans need to be viewed as real or authentic Americans with a different cultural orientation that is unique but a pertinent component of the American culture as it is known today. In this regard, the unique culture of the African Americans should be viewed from an African perspective rather than a European one, and the personal narratives of African and African American scholars can help contextualize the cultural peculiarities observed in this minority community, which is an integral constituent of the American society.     

Essay 2

African Americans are continuously featured in anthropology studies involving the United States. The importance of this community to the American society and their significant contribution to the American culture makes their study pertinent and necessary. In anthropology studies, tracing the cultural practices of a group helps to decipher their behaviours and actions, which in turn, elucidates their attitudes, beliefs, and values. In this regard, in the following publications, the evolution of the African Americans is traced from a historical perspective, which is used to explain their current actions and behaviours. The importance of history in explaining the culture of a people is reiterated and affirmed.

Sharon Lockhart-Carter co-authored and published an article about the healing traditions displayed by the African American community in the United States, specifically at Camp Minisink. The article, “Somebody Bigger than You and I” is about a narrative set is the slavery epoch before the United States became a nation as we know it. Although Lockhart-Carter and colleagues narrated about the occurrences of more than four hundred years of African enslavement in the United States, the narrations are made contemporary because they are interpreted to Camp Minisink, in New York, which propagates African traditions and culture, including healing techniques.[4] Lockhart-Carter narrates how the early African occupants of Minisink preserved and passed on family values including, the sense of family, service and unconditional low for fellow human beings, and a robust spiritual orientation that acknowledges the presence of a greater force or power that sustains life and all its forms. She and her co-authors develop the Minisink Model, which they use to explain the relationship between traditional African Americans and the contemporary ones and the evolution process, which has preserved the historical aspects of African Americans in their contemporary lives. In stories told from a first-hand experience and through song and poems, Lockhart-Carter et al. explain how the sharing of events from the past have helped build the resilience of the African American community, which has seen them survive untold hardships before the concept of freedom and liberalism took centre stage the politics of the country.[5] In turn, the African American community has managed to withstand the challenges associated with racism, hate, and terrorism, and the anguish they deliver.   

Staying with the same topic, Melville J. Herskovits wrote a chapter in Americans from Africa about “Africanism in secular life”. In this chapter, Herskovits grapples with the troubled life of African Americans that is rooted in the legacy of slavery. The chapter explains the differences between institutionalised and traditional of the American society, and particularly those of African descent, and how the differences are evidence in the economic, political, religious, and social practices of this segment of the American population.  The chapter draws specific parallels particularly related to religiosity and secularism.[6] It notes that although the African American community has made great strides in securing their freedoms and equality in the American society, they unique religiosity helps them cope with the hardships they continue to encounter. In turn, they have built a resilience that propels them forwards and towards great heights in society.

However, Africans have transmitted their cultural behaviours through generations in an informal manner, of what is considered as uninstitutionalised manner. In other words, Africans have maintained their unique traits over time by transmitting such knowledge using public and secret organisations. Indeed, it is the secret societies associated with slavery that are well known compared to the no secret associations, which despite their lack of sensationalism, have been known to transmit critical Africa  American behaviour and practices. But Herskovits insists that African Americans brought their Africanism to the Americas, and with it many cultural traditions, beliefs and rituals.[7] In turn, what is termed as African etiquette is still visible in the African America culture, which differs remarkably from that of the dominant Anglo-Saxon Caucasian culture.

Personal Reflections and Critical Commentary

These two authors have much in common and they have numerous lessons that remain relevant in the contemporary society. The authors reflect on the ancient communities drawn from the African and other minority communities occupying the United States. They explain how the American society has become multicultural because of the huge number of immigrants that held strongly to their cultural practices and traditions. Yet, they illustrate how despite the multicultural and multiracial interactions, a cultural orientation for every ethnic and racial community has found a modernised form that has modernity aspects despite maintaining the traditional qualities. The minority groups in the United States, especially those of African descent have managed to maintain their own unique self-identify over time despite their interactions with those from diverse cultures. The African Americans continue to play a significant role in the political, cultural and social spheres of the United States because they contributed significantly to its foundation and character. Were it not for slavery and its economic empowerment of the new Europeans settlers in the United States, the country would not have generated as much wealth as it did, which enabled the leaders of the eastern states to purchase more land, especially from Mexico to expand the states territory. African Americans have also contributed significantly to the entertainment industry in the United States because it has allowed them to exhibit their musical prowess and sportsmanship. In turn, I feel that the United States would not be what it is today without the African Americans and their unique cultural identify, yet this group continues to struggle for equal treatment and recognition as fully-fledged Americans with similar rights and opportunities like the Caucasian counterparts of European descent.

The robust feeling of self-identification exhibited by Africa Americans have evolved over time and reinforced by individuals that have been highly successful in the American society. People like former president Obama, civil rights activists, such as Luther King and Malcolm X, have inspired a great deal of motivation and enthusiasm, which has been critical in fuelling the African American emancipation project. Besides, many behavioural traits associated with African Americans can be traced back to Africa, where Africanism has taken route and the so called Negro behaviour become established. Anthropological studies of the African American history and culture have enabled the evolution and transition of the African American to be studied scientifically with specific parameters and characteristics pertaining to their culture being identified succinctly and observed objectively. However, I agree that culture is a complex subject that can only be understood with the relevant cultural environment and orientation. This means that one requires to understand the African culture first to fully appreciate the African American culture.


These two publications elucidate the applicability and manifestation to anthropological theories and concepts, such as functionalism, evolutionism, relativism, and primitivism, which link modern perspectives about the human nature and its ancient origins and influences. For instance, these articles and books reveal the place of functionalism in the contemporary American culture, based on it utility in survival of a self-identity of a marginalised people. The publications also demonstrate that despite the passage of time, African American and other minority groups have managed to maintain unique elements of their culture despite its accommodation of diverse ones that come forth with continual integration with other communities or people from different ancestry. The concept of relativism is well espoused in the accommodation that the different cultures of the people constituting the United States, and the appreciation of cultural diversity in the contemporary American society. There is a form or respect and understanding between the different ethnic and racial communities making up the United States, which is unique in the country and often problematic on other countries around the world.


The culture of the African Americans has evolved significantly, although it has maintained its unique character. Narratives by those scholars that have experienced the cultural transformation have helped to contextualize the cultural evolution and understand the driving forces motivating such transformation. However, culture should be viewed as a dynamic rather that a static human phenomenon which requires a combination of subjective and objective approaches in its study. In this regard, anthropologist contribute significantly to the understanding of complex cultures by employing scientific approaches such as those described in the publications by Herskovits and Lockhart, which focused mainly on the evolutionary journey of the African American culture traced back to the slavery era.


Brown-Manning, Robyn, Sharon Lockhart-Carter, and Avon T. Morgan. ““Somebody Bigger than You and I”: The African American Healing Traditions of Camp Minisink.” Genealogy 5, no. 1 (2021): 19.

Herskovits, Melville J. “Africanisms in secular life.” In Americans from Africa, pp. 5-36. Routledge, 2017.

Redfield, James Adam. Ethnography in Antiquity. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Stocking, George W. Glimpses into my own black box: an exercise in self-deconstruction. Vol. 12. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2010.

[1] James Adam Redfield. Ethnography in Antiquity. Oxford University Press, 2019.

[2] George W. Stocking. Glimpses into my own black box: an exercise in self-deconstruction. Vol. 12. University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.

[3] George W. Stocking. Glimpses into my own black box: an exercise in self-deconstruction. Vol. 12. University of Wisconsin Press, 2010.

[4] Robyn Brown-Manning, Sharon Lockhart-Carter, and Avon T. Morgan. ““Somebody Bigger than You and I”: The African American Healing Traditions of Camp Minisink.” Genealogy 5, no. 1 (2021): 19.

[5] Robyn Brown-Manning, Sharon Lockhart-Carter, and Avon T. Morgan. ““Somebody Bigger than You and I”: The African American Healing Traditions of Camp Minisink.” Genealogy 5, no. 1 (2021): 19.

[6] Melville J. Herskovits. “Africanisms in secular life.” In Americans from Africa, pp. 5-36. Routledge, 2017.

[7] Melville J. Herskovits. “Africanisms in secular life.” In Americans from Africa, pp. 5-36. Routledge, 2017.

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