A Mighty Convergence: Anthropology, Black History, and Love

I live in New York. By the time February rolls around, I’m over the cold, short, icy, gray, slushy days. I’ve always regarded February as a short miserable month- at least for the weather.  Other aspects of February excite me. When I was in elementary and middle school, because I attended predominately Black schools until 8th grade, we always had really big Black History Month celebrations. We had concerts, visited African museums, memorized the literary works of Black scholars and writers, had visiting guest speakers, sampled the delicious cuisine of the African diaspora. It was lit!

My mom mimicked that energy at home. This meant weekends were filled with trips to Harlem, Schomburg Center, and anything else that was exciting to her and educational for me. She was also an early childhood educator and felt it was important that we always find ways to celebrate something. Her favorite holidays were the ones where crafts could be involved. We celebrated Valentine’s Day. She loved to buy all the materials to make Victorian-style Valentine’s (tons of red and magenta lace doily papers!) and sweets for friends, family, classmates, and our dogs. We also thought celebrating love during Black History Month was incredibly fitting.

In 2015, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) declared the 3rd Thursday in February to be National Anthropology Day, which was later renamed World Anthropology Day. After all, being human seems to be a thing that is experienced globally. Thus, the Great Converge of February Awesomeness was almost complete.

In 2020, a group of Black biological anthropologists, scholars and students began to grow a community to help us find and support each other. This group, Black in BioAnth Collective (or BiBA) sprinkled a touch of magic upon the Great Converge of February Awesomeness that is now Black in BioAnth Week! During this week, a group of the members organizes lectures, interviews, hosts fun ways to connect and learn on social media, and more. These week-long events help to promote the work and contributions of a variety of different academic and non-academic biological anthropologists in the African diaspora. Noted on the BiBA website (as well as the actual survey results of the study),

“A 2014 survey conducted with members of the American Association for Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) found that Black members comprised just 0.9% of respondents (Antón et al. 2017).”

From the moment we all met, we shared our experiences of what it felt like to be isolated, lonely, unsupported, misunderstood, and to navigate some of the institutional barriers and microaggressions that often are a part of what is confronted when Black-identifying people are pursuing degrees in fields where there are very few of us, often by design. I am three college degrees deep and have never been taught by a Black biological anthropologist. I was more than halfway through my Master’s degree before I ever met one. Like many of my peers in this group, we’d go online and search for each other. I’m grateful for the support, guidance, friendship, excellence, values, and commiseration of the individuals in this group. The painful realities of academic and professional life before we connected are indelibly etched on my memory much like how life finds a way to embed our experiences within our bones.

These types of organizations can have a profound, positive impact on individuals who are often forging new and exciting paths for previously excluded and/ or underrepresented communities. Some of those results include increased academic and career success rates, better mentorship, stronger support, improved institutional policies, and our field as a whole gets energized with richer and more diverse talents and perspectives. We also have fun and make friends where we once felt lonely. It’s powerful stuff!

I wanted to find a way to show some love to this group, and highlight a few of the members and their anthropological research. It was also important to recognize their work in this field as trailblazing and inspirational to all of us, especially our future generation of Black scholars in biological anthropology. For Black History Month, to celebrate World Anthropology Day and to sprinkle a little love throughout February, I created and shared a digital portrait a week of members of the Black in Biological Anthropology Collective. I chose the four individuals who were the ones to reach out to me to become a part of this idea to expand and develop efforts that were started by Black Ph.D. students at City University of New York, New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP).

I encourage all who read this to visit the Black in Biological Anthropology Collective, follow our social media, follow, share and support our members, and engage with the community! This week is BiBA week. There is still time to join in our social media fun and get to know the work and interests of this incredible group.