CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training

CAP Fellows Reflect on a Society for Historical Archaeology Anti-racism Training
Poster from a panel discussion on archaeology in the time of Black Lives Matter from June 25, 2020. Discussants included Maria Franklin, Justin Dunnavant, Alexandria Jones, Alicia Odewale, and Tsione Wolde-Michael. It was chaired by Ayana Flewellen.
Poster from a panel discussion on archaeology in the time of Black Lives Matter from June 25, 2020.

In this blog post CAP fellows share our reflections on an anti-racism, anti-bias training we took on Friday October 30th . The training was sponsored by the Society for Historical Archaeology and dozens of archaeologists, educators, and heritage professionals participated in the four hour session. We decided to share out thoughts in a single blog post. This and other recent discussions of anti-racism in archaeology have gained traction and institutional support in part because of the confluence of the Black Lives Matter movement, continued instances of police brutality and the murders of Black women and women by police, the COVID-19 pandemic disporotiantly affecting Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, and increasing numbers of Black archaeologists (Franklin et al. 2020).

The training we attended is relevant because it directly asks how can we as induvial work to make organizations anti-racist? How can we take increased pressure and institutional support of anti-racism and produce social social change within and beyond the discipline of archeology. Additional resources are listed at the bottom of this post.

Each fellow authored their own section in their voice, highlighting what stood out or was important to them. While independent, these reflections represent CAP’s ongoing commitment to ensuring our work and organization is equable and inclusive and that we work to make archaeology a better place for everyone.

The Society of Historical Archaeology’s workshop on “Strengthening Anti-racist and Anti-bias Mindsets” represents a cohesive movement within the field of archaeology to push beyond many of the racist and colonizing notions that shaped the establishment of archaeology, and anthropology as a whole, and still do today. With the current sociopolitical climate, it is beyond time to address these issues that are rampant across the field. I believe this workshop created a valuable opportunity to meet with other professionals in the field of archaeology to exchange ideas and concerns about how archaeology currently functions.

There is a lot to sort through, as it is high time we engage students in all communities so that a career path in archaeology is not accessible to only a portion of the population. But this path is not clear cut and a chance to hear the experiences of others in the SHA brought forth important reminders of ways we can focus our efforts here in Campus Archaeology. We need to identify and confront identity fragility, normativity, neutrality, and privilege already present in our organizations and institutions to ensure archaeology is a welcoming and inclusive environment and career for all. We need to provide engagement opportunities that are accessible and affordable in order to create a space where all students can get involved and develop their own passion and goals for the field. If we ensure that our field and our Campus Archaeology program is fostering a system that welcomes all interested persons, we can move away from the perpetuation of racism and exclusivity.

The Anti-Racism training hosted by the Society for Historical Archaeology on November 30th provided an engaging opportunity to consider how archaeological practice and professional spaces can engage with conversations surrounding restorative justice and reckon with elements of pervasive anti-Black racism. I particularly enjoyed discussions surrounding identity normativity, neutrality, and fragility and how these dynamics impact archaeological practice and conduct in professional spaces. This discussion highlighted the need to address the racist structures and frameworks within the discipline of anthropology, in both the content and practice of archaeological work and the dynamics of professional spaces we occupy (classrooms, conferences, cultural resource management [CRM] job sites, etc.).  

Overall, the discussions prompted me to reflect on what CAP could do to ensure equitable access to outreach events and to direct attention to issues of race and discrimination in Michigan State University’s past and present. I think my most important takeaway from the event was the notion that Anti-racist work within archaeology cannot be solved with any straight forward set of steps–it requires sustained and repeated acts of critical self and organizational reflection, as well as planning concrete steps of action that address specific areas of concern. This requires opening avenues for listening to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and their experiences within and outside of the discipline in order to consider how the SHA, and archaeology more broadly, can seek to be actively anti-racist. The document provided as a follow-up to the event will serve as a useful resource to return to throughout my experience in graduate school and beyond.

The SHA webinar on Anti-Racism and Anti-bias held on October 30th was incredibly interesting, informative, and enlightening. It is very easy to say that you will not be racist or biased in your actions or research. However, this workshop highlighted the mass of complexities that go into putting those thoughts into practice. One aspect discussed that I found particularly interesting was the notion of inherent biases in academic conferences. While in my mind, these conferences always appeared as open spaces for free discussion, exchange of ideas, and overall general inclusion. However, it was discussed that even being able to attend these conferences is itself a privilege. They are usually located in large “exciting” cities which are always more costly to eat, drink, and stay in. Additionally, travel costs are usually high. While professors with permanent jobs at research institutions usually have the funds to attend these conferences, graduate students often do not. We usually have to apply for travel funds from a small pool of money within the department and even then, sometimes only minimal costs are able to be covered, meaning that we must make up much of the money for these trips ourselves.

While I always love attending conferences, I now see that even being able to attend one is a privilege I have had over other graduate students, most notably Black, Indigenous, and other students of color. These students deal with inherent structural biases that I have had the privilege of not enduring. This makes it more difficult for them to engage in conferences and networking events which can play a big part in career trajectories and opportunities. The proliferation of digital workshops and webinars in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as this one we attended, is a step towards undoing this unintentional bias. Having more open discussions tackling these issues and just having more opportunities to share our ideas in these digital platforms overall will definitely shape the way academic conferences function in the future. In this way, there will be more equal opportunity for students of color to be in conversations that I now realize were in spaces that could be exclusionary, even if the purpose was for open and unbiased dialogues. However, once we get back to “normal”, it will be up to us to come up with solutions that are not biased against students and researchers of color, even if that bias was unintentional.

The SHA’s anti-racism training we attended on November 30th focused on making our organization anti-racist through individual actions and behaviors. At the beginning the trainers framed the goals of “becoming anti-racist organizations” as ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workspace and in the SHA in general. They recommended that we start by using the tools developed in the training to make small, actionable goals and build off those. The training was also framed by a series of questions: What does it mean to diversity? Why is there pressure now? What are the dangers or challenges in institution-based DEI efforts? Unlike other trainings I have been to, there was a sense of urgency and a commitment from all participants. In answering these questions in the large group in in break out groups one topic that came up was the need for organizations and individuals to step out of their comfort zones when working to be anti-racist. This resonated with me because of how easy it to continue doing things as they have always been done and how uncritically doing that continues structures of inequality and oppression. At CAP we have been reflecting on our youth outreach and which schools we have over-served in the past and which we have underserved. This has been due to access, proximity, connections, and comfort/tradition, not intentional, but it does present a bias in our outreach programing. The training provided added emphasis and tools to reflect on this and to alter out patterns of outreach.

I appreciated that the training ended with a discussion of action items we as participants and members of organizations could commit to. This allowed me to witness and reflect on what we must do to affect change in the discipline of archaeology and in CAP. Sharing and hearing suggestions from other archaeologists gave me a sense of grounding in this, that others were also committed to it and that there were many things to do. While daunting, it also generated lots of hope because people seemed willing to listen and makes these changes.

The recent training through the Society for Historical Archaeology aimed to gather professionals for an engaged discussion on anti-racism and anti-bias in archaeology. The training was largely interactive to encourage open dialogue on the major issue presented throughout the 4-hour seminar. Attendees participated in intermittent breakout groups to present and discuss ideas on how to improve on the major topics and issues in the discipline, fieldwork, academic settings, and conferences. I found the training thought provoking and appreciated the overall sentiment that SHA members are interested in putting anti-racist and anti-biased initiatives into action by creating community-wide conversations. I also found the training urged me to reflect on my own experiences and behaviors in work environments and beyond.

It’s no secret the archaeology is a predominantly white discipline. There have been conversations of how to improve diversity and inclusion in archaeology for some time and the same suggestions are presented every time: “We need to engage more youth” or “maybe we could give out a couple of scholarships for the conference”. While these are valid suggestions and will perhaps make small scale changes over time, the discipline needs to come up with some new suggestions. More importantly, we need to understand why it is critical to increase diversity and inclusion in archaeology to make meaningful headway.

Archaeologists are responsible for unraveling histories secrets and sharing lived experiences with contemporary society. Archaeological investigations by white Americans are conducted across our country and around the world. Each person brings with them their own lived experiences which biases the ways they interpret material culture of past populations. The researcher could combine archaeological and historical evidence to gain perspective of the population. However, they are likely to be blind to some of the potential biases of their interpretations, as well as the implications of their reported findings. For example, in American historical archaeology there is often a story of inequality and mistreatment of BIPOC, which is undoubtedly true for our country. But what if archaeologists also told stories of strength and overcoming adversity in these communities? Participants in the SHA training suggested working with local communities to develop research questions that frame archaeological research within an anti-racist/anti-biased framework. Understanding how our research impacts modern society and allowing communities to partake in uncovering their own history is one way we can encourage greater diversity and inclusion in the discipline which will eventually lead to greater representation of voices, lived experiences, and perspectives to tell the history of past human populations.


  • Franklin, Maria, Justin P. Dunnavant, Ayana Omilade Flewellen, and Alicia Odewale
    2020 The Future Is Now: Archaeology and the Eradication of Anti-Blackness. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 24(4):753-766.



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Constructing an Archaeology of Children: Studying Children and Child Material from the African Past by Flordeliz Bugarin

The Taphonomy of Disaster and the (Re)Formation of New Orleans by Shannon Lee Dawdy

Toward an Antiracist Archaeology by Mia L. Carey

Access Denied: African Americans and Access to End-of-Life Care in Nineteenth-Century Washington, D.C. by Justin Dunnavant

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Critical Race Theory and the Archaeology of the African Diaspora by Terrence Epperson

African Diasporic Choices: Locating the Lived Experiences of Afro-Crucians in the Archaeological and Archival Record by Ayana Omilade Flewellen

A Black Feminist-Inspired Archaeology? by Maria Franklin

“Power to the people:” Sociopolitics and the Archaeology of Black Americans by Maria Franklin

The Rosewood Massacre: An Archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence by Edward González-Tennant

Whiteness Studies: An Archaeology of White Plurality and African American Material Culture by Lewis Jones

Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche

Beyond Strategy and Good Intentions: Archaeology, Race and White Privilege by Carol McDavid

Public Archaeology and Critical Histories: Collaborative Archaeology in Southern Illinois by Annelise Morris

Archaeologies of Race and Urban Poverty: The Politics of Slumming, Engagement, and the Color Line by Paul R. Mullins and Lewis C. Jones

An Archaeology of Struggle: Material Remnants of a Double Consciousness in the American South and Danish Caribbean Communities by Alicia Odewale

Archaeology for the Next Generation by Alicia Odewale, Justin Dunnavant, Ayana Flewellen, and Alexandra Jones

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Slavery behind the Wall: An Archaeology of a Cuban Coffee Plantation by Theresa A. Singleton

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