< Tea & Anthropology

A Note on Anthropology - Geographical Racism


Isn’t it interesting that we - by which I mean the main steam “white” western world - refer to the peoples of countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Korea, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia, not by their country of origin, but by their continent? Africans, Asians…. we don’t often refer to Europeans, usually we same German or French etc. And thought we are Americans, our use of that seems to exclude the other North and South American countries. Isn’t it an odd quirk of our culture that we relegate others to a vague notation of geography.

Not odd at all it relates to Euro-centric teaching. This is not only a problem within the field of anthropology but within Academia in general. 

When we are taught global history in schools, it starts off with early civilizations around the world but then we see a shift in focus to mostly European civilizations. Anything we learn further about non-western countries usually has some sort of tie to European history. Countries in Africa are not discussed in much detail beyond the era of imperialism. 

Anthropology, while starting out as a largely western-ethnocentric field posing non-western cultures as primitive, mysterious and/or romanticizing them, has come to be a much broader field that aims to study humanity and the world around us on every possible level. This means that any culture, European cultures included, can be studied in depth from an anthropological perspective. 

Still, the past of anthropology lingers and the way we teach about history and culture in our education system influences our future anthropologists and how they describe the world around them. You see anthropology students, especially those of a (western) European background, often come into the field already having these attitudes and a lack of understanding of non-western cultures leading people to discuss non-western countries, peoples, and cultures in a very broad, nondescript, and confused way. 

Is it willful racism? I’m not so sure because people aren’t often aware of it, but the fact that world/global history is taught in a very ethnocentric manner still to this day suggests that racism indeed plays a part in our lack of understanding of non-western European countries, people, and cultures, leading people to refer to whole continents when they are actually talking about a group of people living in a country or territory within that continent. This needs to be addressed on many levels and requires us to look at and revise our curriculum. 

As far as referring to people from the United States and only people in the United States as “American,” this issue is controversial. First of all, US citizens are referred to as Americans. That just so happens to be the descriptor for people belonging to this nation. If we are to refer to everyone living in the Americas as “Americans,” then we are referring to them by continents and not by country. Going by your argument here, to refer to everyone in the Americas as Americans, we are looking at them and their identity in a very vague and broad way. It is for this reason that despite being in the Americas, peoples living outside of the United States may prefer not to call themselves American. (Ex. People from Canada calling themselves Canadians or people from Bolivia calling themselves Bolivian.)

Other times, people reject national identities altogether and/or refer to themselves by their cultural group. This is important to understand when studying people within specific - rather than vague - regions of the world. People within nations are not necessarily a homogeneous people, even in European countries, and the borders we create around countries are not always consistent with geographical or ethnic borders so to speak.  

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany


A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810–1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Last year, the Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer published a selection of fairytales from Von Schönwerth’s collection, calling the book Prinz Roßzwifl. This is local dialect for “scarab beetle”. The scarab, also known as the “dung beetle”, buries its most valuable possession, its eggs, in dung, which it then rolls into a ball using its back legs. Eichenseer sees this as symbolic for fairytales, which she says hold the most valuable treasure known to man: ancient knowledge and wisdom to do with human development, testing our limits and salvation.

Von Schönwerth spent decades asking country folk, labourers and servants about local habits, traditions, customs and history, and putting down on paper what had only been passed on by word of mouth. In 1885, Jacob Grimm said this about him: “Nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear.” Grimm went so far as to tell King Maximilian II of Bavaria that the only person who could replace him in his and his brother’s work was Von Schönwerth.

Von Schönwerth compiled his research into a book called Aus der Oberpfalz – Sitten und Sagen, which came out in three volumes in 1857, 1858 and 1859. The book never gained prominence and faded into obscurity.

While sifting through Von Schönwerth’s work, Eichenseer found 500 fairytales, many of which do not appear in other European fairytale collections. For example, there is the tale of a maiden who escapes a witch by transforming herself into a pond. The witch then lies on her stomach and drinks all the water, swallowing the young girl, who uses a knife to cut her way out of the witch. However, the collection also includes local versions of the tales children all over the world have grown up with including Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin, and which appear in many different versions across Europe.

Von Schönwerth was a historian and recorded what he heard faithfully, making no attempt to put a literary gloss on it, which is where he differs from the Grimm brothers. However, says Eichenseer, this factual recording adds to the charm and authenticity of the material. What delights her most about the tales is that they are unpolished. “There is no romanticising or attempt by Schönwerth to interpret or develop his own style,” she says.

Eichenseer says the fairytales are not for children alone. “Their main purpose was to help young adults on their path to adulthood, showing them that dangers and challenges can be overcome through virtue, prudence and courage.”

In 2008, Eichenseer helped to found the Franz Xaver von Schönwerth Society, an interdisciplinary committee devoted to analysing his work and publicising it. She is keen to see the tales available in English, and a Munich-based English translator, Dan Szabo, has already begun work on stories ranging from a miserly farmer and a money-mill to a turnip princess.

"Schönwerth’s legacy counts as the most significant collection in the German-speaking world in the 19th century," says Daniel Drascek, a member of the society and a professor in the faculty of language, literature and cultural sciences at the University of Regensburg.

This excites me more than you would believe. Mythology and folklore geek forever

5 Dumb Myths About Prehistoric Times That Everyone Believes

privileged kids go to counseling, poor kids go to jail.
— judge mathis, speaking the truth (via spring1999)



I made a silly little video about what happens when I tell people I study archaeology.

This is actually adorable. “I watched the mummy.”



You should have heard by now from the news and at twitter about what happened in my country… 

This is big and should be televised.



“Oh!  I read this thing about the Pirahã; you’ve probably never heard of it-“




If they’re in Language Revitalization


If they’re in Morphology


We are the generation of nostalgia. We grew up in the age of transition. From hand-written letters to electronic mails. From film to digital. We were fascinated by new things, neglecting the way we spend our afternoons. Cupcakes and tea. Play-Doh and Polly Pockets. Young and naive. Technology completely changed the way we waited and we grew up too fast. The simple things in life seems more meaningful now. We grew up in the age of transition and have become the generation of nostalgia.

This is the best/truest thing I’ve read in so long (via thesleepingfawn)

But this explains the 90s kids

(via thebbcisslowlykillingme)

Ah, feels good…now that I’m out of school for the summer I can actually focus on posting academic stuff. I know that sounds silly but I was really swamped this semester. 

Design Features of Language

If you’re in linguistics or anthropology or linguistic anthropology, chances are you’ve happened upon Charles Hockett’s Design Features of Language at some point, or will happen upon them at some point. They’re kind of useful to know! Problem is, it can be difficult tracking down the original articles where he discusses these design features which can be very problematic when trying to cite and source for a paper.

As I worked on my senior thesis on “The Capacity for H. Neanderthalensis to Acquire and Utilize Language” I did happen to find one copy of it not hidden behind a pay wall (it’s free). It’s an article called The Origin of Speech by Charles Hockett (1960) [click the link to view] The quality could be better as parts of it are faded/hard to read, but it does provide some great visuals like this:

The book, Language files: materials for an introduction to language and linguistics by Bergmann, Anouschka, Kathleen Currie Hall, and Sharon Miriam Ross (10th Ed. - 2007) also introduces Hockett’s design features but does not go as in depth as this article. As a side note, this book is still very good to have especially for beginner linguists. 

This particular article is great in explaining the differences and similarities between human and nonhuman communication, as well as the general complexities of human language. Of course, much research has been added since 1960 in the field of linguistics and linguistic anthropology. However, it is important to be aware of the previous research done and what contributions have been made already so you’re not making wild and uninformed assertions about human language and non-human communication. I figured I would share this article because it can be difficult to find (outside of databases that require subscriptions), and because it’s very useful. 



Anybody ever buy bedding from Anthropology??
the reviews are either really good and worth the money,  or really bad and complaining about seams tearing easily.

No, I find it very difficult to purchase bedding from social sciences. 

I would also advise against trying the Australopithecines and other hominids because they’re all fucking dead. 



When Does Plastic Surgery Become Racial Transformation?


This extensive Buzzfeed article investigates the troubling story of Leo Jiang, a man who has spent years and tens of thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgeries designed to mask his “ethnic” Chinese features. While the phenomenon of plastic surgery is an increasingly common one, Jiang’s deliberate attempts at “de-racialization” and obvious psychological issues confound the conversation on beauty, race, and the choice to go under the knife.

Jiang explains his reasoning for undergoing such extensive facial reconstruction, and his childhood trauma being teased as a Chinese “other” growing up in the UK:

“I believed that my ugliness was in part due to my ethnic features. My father thinks I’m ridiculous for building a complex system of beliefs based on that shallow stimulus. He says, ‘You’ve gone and done this, so you must be very proud of it, but initially it was some stupid kids opening their mouths to you.’”

But Jiang’s attempts to “Westernize” his own features cannot speak for the decisions of many South Korean men and women to opt for the colloquially-termed “double eyelid surgery,” which some have called an overt reflection of the East’s fetishization of Western beauty standards. Such a reading may be a simplistic imposition of our own Western understanding of race and beauty into a very different societal context. NYU’s Sharon Lee explains:

“Race does not enter the consciousness [in Asia] in the same way it does here. It’s easy to pathologize a whole country of people. This notion that Korean women want to become white becomes a really easy answer. That’s not to say that race isn’t important, but when we stop there we’re overlooking much larger structural and historical phenomenons. No Korean woman says, ‘I want to look white.’”

Jiang’s provocative journey and its implications for the larger conversation on cosmetic surgery’s increased ubiquity is explored further here.

This poster’s comment on the Buzzfeed article sums up everything I want to say on the issue, forever:

Victoria Le - Brown University:

What a repugnant article, soaking in unquestioned bias, condescension, and racial privilege.

While it was very nice of you to even include opinions from the defenders of these procedures, it’s clear that you’re completely uninterested in weighing the merits of their arguments or even extending to them real compassion or more than the vaguest and most pitying curiosity for their rationale.

You quote Jiang saying that “Whatever I do, I can’t become white,” yet you still feel comfortable diagnosing him with the need to “pass” and to “become this new [implied: whiter] person.” I’m not saying that racial insecurity has nothing to do with certain Asians’ decision to tuck their eyelids or reshape their noses, but you seem unwilling to entertain any other possibilities. Like here: “Protestations of doctors like Cheung aside, the procedure’s history belies its original intended purpose.” A) That sentence is stupid. No crap the procedure’s history belies its original purpose - its original purpose is its history. B) People do things for all sorts of reasons that can have nothing to do with their original intended purposes: get tattoos, keep kosher, wear blue jeans.

And it’s one thing to have a firm opinion about an issue, another to let your biases interfere with your sense of journalism. You describe the risks of blepharoplasty and jaw-narrowing surgery without explicitly acknowledging that non-racialized cosmetic procedures pose the same risks.

It’s especially sad because there’s so much about this issue you could have discussed in greater depth: the generational gap between proponents and opponents of surgical enhancement, the effect of globalization on various cultures, the changing cultural landscape of major Asian cities, how class influences people’s decisions about their bodies and appearance, how traditional Western and Eastern ideals of beauty intersect to create the kinds of body modification you see in Asian countries, etc.

Instead we get:

“Bei was undergoing jaw narrowing surgery - a slightly, but only slightly, nuanced version of taking an angle grinder to your lower jawbone” - I love that sneering “only slightly,” as if something like a facelift (remove and reattach your face!) isn’t a similarly intense procedure. Or as if grinding down the jawbone isn’t also done as a part of non-cosmetic surgery.

“I ask if [Jiang’s] lost the perspective that this is a medical procedure, and things can go wrong. Again, it doesn’t seem to properly sink in” - Again, I love the condescension.

“She was white and had dyed-blonde hair - her own, decidedly less invasive attempt at physical reinvention” - When white people change their appearance, it’s fine and not at all symptomatic of a deeper racial sickness.

“After we part, he’ll walk to a private dance class for which he’s paying $80 an hour…. A few weeks later he’ll wake at 5 a.m. for voice and drama lessons to learn how to act confidently in social situations” - How bizarre and snidely insinuating. It’s true that there is a specifically Asian market for lessons in confidence, but you might as well mention how Western stereotypes and pressure to conform feed that market.

where two pretty parents are surrounded by ugly kids” - Yes, “pretty” and “ugly.” Not the more journalistic “who have undergone cosmetic surgery” or “who have not undergone cosmetic surgery.” I get that the ad itself is invoking a social bias, but could you try not to use language that perpetuates the kinds of attitudes that drive people to seek out cosmetic surgery in the first place?

“It’s all a way to muddle the real emotion behind the actions - 16 years ago some dumb people made some dumb comments and it’s still dominating his life” - Spoken like someone who’s never been the victim of persistent and culturally encompassing racial prejudice (yes, yes, you’re only agreeing with Jiang’s father, but you have even less of a basis to infer anything about Jiang’s psychology).

I’m Asian. I haven’t had any of these procedures done, but my mom has (an eyelid tuck), and as far as I can tell, she’s happy with her surgery and content with herself in general. If there was a racial component to her decision, she never mentioned it.

But racial prejudice is more than just a few isolated incidents. It’s not just that a kid in school can call you a chink or a gook or make squinty eyes to mock you. It’s that there are almost no Asian actors or actresses in Western-made film or TV; it’s that the Asian (more likely half-Asian) performers who do appear tend to conform to Western beauty standards; it’s that stereotypes about Asian impotence and submissiveness are tied to height, penis size, and jaw strength; it’s that eye makeup is designed for Western features; it’s that you can get passed over for jobs or relationships because of your appearance; it’s that people look at the before and after pictures for these surgeries and think the “after” picture is the beautiful one.

When will we finally get sick of hearing white people like the author of this article ridicule racial pathologies among people of color - pathologies which white people helped to create, or at least benefit from without question? If you really cared about Asian self-esteem, you’d worry more about what Western culture is doing to help or hurt Asians, instead of just blaming the victim.

That comment. 

You don’t give a shit about us. You really don’t. You pretend to feel sorry for us. And then you turn your back and casually affirm yourself as the more ~beautiful~ one, among backhanded comments about preserving our natural beauty. 

You don’t really give a shit about dismantling harmful beauty structures. You don’t give a shit about our sufferings or the shit that you did to us. You don’t give a shit about our skin, our eyes, our jaw, our cheekbones, our hair and our bodies. 

You just want to feel good. 


Angry bird saying WTF.