To think I could be translating Katy Perry songs right now… oh well.
The mob lynching Tracy Borres – yes, even myself – is not beyond reproach. If you’re going to preach respeto and pag-unawa, you’ll not do the following:
- Indiscreetly call Tracy a “bitch” on the basis of an indiscretion.
- Drag her parents and her family into the issue.
- Proclaim your respect and understanding of other cultures even if you’ve mocked a Sikh or an Igorot – heck, an Atenean – at one point in your life, and did so without remorse or apology.
Anyway, a friend of mine points out a rather important thing I missed out on the previous post about Ms. Borres’ post: the “immersion” itself. Was Tracy “immersed” enough in her weekend experience with the Aetas to have a reasonably scholarly opinion on the matter expected of any student?
Maybe those anthropology classes will probably make sense now, even if I’m not a practicing social anthropologist.
I would like to take exception to the claim that Tracy was being “racist.” To speak of race is itself racist and unscientific:
- Race is a dated concept that banks on the colonialist, Age of Exploration idea that “whites are better than colored people,” or that one race is genetically predisposed to being inferior to another.
- From a racial perspective, the primary basis of human differences is not cultural practice (like ritual and custom), but skin color. Race disregards cultural practice in favor of genetics.
- Analysis of societies in terms of race do not take into account geography, politics, and history. Theories based on race cannot explain cultural phenomena like migration or diaspora.
The Aeta peoples are not a race, but an ethnic/ethnolinguistic group. Tracy, for all intents and purposes, was being ethnocentric. I know that it may just be a problem of a choice of words… but it is exactly a choice of words that got us all talking and having a problem like this anyway.
Immersions, like the one given to Tracy’s class, are very problematic. It assumes epiphany; that once you get to live with a particular group for one day, you automatically gain a deep understanding of what they do and who they are. It doesn’t work that way.
Bronislaw Malinowski did not have an automatic understanding of the custom of kula exchange in the South Pacific because he felt like going there on a weekend. Nor did E. E. Evans-Pritchard gain an understanding of the Nuer peoples because an extra load of straw broke his camel’s back. It takes an awfully long time before we understand cultures enough to get rid of our biases and, in effect, call ourselves “cultural relativists” or “‘admirers of other cultures.” That knowledge comes with the understanding of limits: that cultures have limits and people can only understand so much of a culture different from theirs.
No self-respecting anthropologist will ever claim to have “no bias;” rather, it is an acknowledgement of the limits of a culture. More than that, it is an acknowledgement of one’s understanding and comprehension of that culture. You can never gain an understanding of a particular culture different from yours just because you’ve been there over the weekend. Immersions, like fieldwork, necessitate a lot of training; you don’t simply sign waivers to go off to some Shangri-La, or society’s version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
I hope this puts into perspective a lot of things about the Tracy Borres issue. If this is a question of racism on her part, she should – and must – answer the allegation. More than that, we should all know, at least from the useless seminar on racism bought to you today by The Marocharim Experiment, what “race” is. Connotations have a LOT to do with denotations. AGAIN: Honeste vivere, alterum no laedare, suum cique triburere.
In the end, I’d like to take this opportunity to openly call out Tracy Borres to explain her side; this issue will not blow over. I believe that for all of us to get an objective opinion and evaluation of this issue, I believe that Tracy needs to:
- Clear her name.
- Explain her side of the story.
- Put up, or shut up. Walang “sigh-sigh,” so to speak.
Like a good romance, this needs to be a case closed. To be honest, I think that if it takes a Malu Fernandez redux to remind us all to write responsibly…
That’s another story.