Panel to discuss potential for post-racial society

by Katie McConnell | 1/26/14 6:45pm

This afternoon’s “A World Beyond Race” panel, featuring author and Native American studies scholar Roger Echo-Hawk and Dartmouth faculty members, will attempt to promote a new dialogue on race in society, specifically one without race.

Echo-Hawk, author of “The Magic Children: Racial Identity at the End of the Age of Race” and “NAGPRA and the Future of Racial Sovereignties,” argues in his work that a post-racial world is possible.

In an interview, Echo-Hawk said that much of his work explores how the treatment of race has changed over time and how it may continue to change in the future. While academia has discredited race as a useful descriptor, it remains a significant part of our society, he said.

“Race in America today, and in the world at large, has been shaped by traditional views that have undergone some change,” Echo-Hawk said. “The narratives that we have about race have not accommodated that change.”

He argues that divisions based on race are unproductive, as “race distorts the nature of humankind.”

Anthropology professor Alan Covey, who organized the panel, said Echo-Hawk’s contribution to campus discussion will be relevant to his class this term, “Who Owns the Past.” The course covers issues pertinent to histories and race through an anthropological lens, specifically interested in “the intersection of museums, descendant communities, archaeologists, collectors and art historians,” Covey said.

Echo-Hawk will visit the class while he is on campus.

Objects can be extremely important to understanding and telling stories, including “histories, origins or constituting who belongs to different groups,” Covey said. “Race infuses these stories,” he said.

Museums and other institutions in the 19th and early 20th centuries collected many Native American objects, a move that partly reflected the “idea that Euro-Americans are of a different biological stock than Native Americans,” Covey said. At the College, African, Native American and Melanesian objects were previously collected primarily for their ethnographical value, as opposed to aesthetic and cultural value, like other works of art.

Anthropology professor Deborah Nichols said prejudice in past and current U.S. law makes race significant to many communities today. It was not until the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the NAGPRA referenced in Echo-Hawk’s book, that objects and remains taken from Native American graves were required to be returned.

Yet only Native Americans with sufficient blood quantum are allowed to make claims for repatriation, a requirement that perpetuates a “racialized and biologized notion of who a Native person is,” Nichols said.

The Hood Museum of Art returned five items between 1994 and 2003 to comply with the act.

Echo-Hawk said he hopes that the panel will prompt attendees to think critically about their assumptions concerning race.

“The panel will hopefully give some serious consideration to the way that race works in the world today and what the future holds for all of our social institutions that revolve around race,” he said.

The panel will begin with a statement from Echo-Hawk, then transition to comments by faculty, including history and Native American Studies professor Colin Calloway, Native American studies professor Angela Parker, Covey and Nichols. The panel will end with an audience question-and-answer session.