Black scientists denounce racism at Penn Museum

The following excerpts are from an April 28 statement regarding the unethical, possession and callous racist use of the remains of the children of MOVE who died in the 1985 state bombing of their home in Philadelphia:

The Association of Black Anthropologists, the Society of Black Archaeologists and the Black in Bioanthropology Collective are painfully aware of the barbaric history of anthropology, especially when it comes to populations of peoples of African descent. 

We know that our discipline has been mobilized to rationalize eugenics and white supremacy and to justify slavery and colonialism. . . . Ethnographic museums, like Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (which houses the collection of the notorious racist Samuel Morton), have supported the academic rationale for the institutionalization of racism in anthropology textbooks, courses and curricula. ( . . . .

It is because of this history of racism in anthropology, and because of the missions of ABA, SBA and BiBA to counter it, that we as organizations condemn in the strongest possible language the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Coursera, along with Professors Alan Mann and Janet Monge, for their horrific treatment of the remains of Tree and Delisha Africa, and for the unfathomable heartlessness and disrespect shown towards the Africa family.

We are outraged by the stunning ethical indifference shown by all parties involved . . . but also by the fact that these entities effectively monetized the remains of Black children murdered in a state terrorist attack — a fact made all the more painful given the heightened public awareness of brutal murders of Black children and youth by the police over the past few years. 

This revelation represents a painful reminder of anthropology’s history with the Black dead — of which the Penn Museum, as the physical manifestation of Morton’s legacy, provides a potent symbol. Even as UPenn earlier this year has tried to grapple with the legacy of Morton, we are faced with yet another affront to Black life and dignity. 

Black anthropologists should not be alone in expressing this outrage and bearing this heavy ethical burden. All anthropologists should be enraged. All anthropologists need to condemn this barbaric and savage act by its own practitioners. And white anthropologists, in particular, should not only hold themselves accountable to the ways that they continue to uphold normalized forms of anti-Blackness and harm through their research and theorizing, but should also actively work to undo the centuries of violence and trauma done to nonwhite communities.

We realize that Penn and Princeton are not the only universities trafficking in the human remains of nonwhite peoples. And while both the Penn Museum and Princeton Anthropology have issued statements of contrition, we believe that they must do more. The Association of Black Anthropologists, Society of Black Archaeologists and the Black in Bioanthropology Collective therefore demand: 

First, that the Penn Museum self-report this egregious Institutional Review Board violation. [An IRB is a formally designated group that monitors biomedical research involving human subjects for abuse.]

Second, that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) work in haste to help facilitate the repatriation of the remains of the Africa family children, as well as other remains held in the many anthropology museums and departments throughout the country. These include, but are not limited to, the numerous remains of peoples of African descent. 

Finally, toward this end we also call for a national audit of all human remains in museum and university collections. We believe it is imperative that this information become public record, allowing descended communities to reclaim sovereignty of the remains of their ancestors. 

We also support the demands of Mike Africa Jr. — a MOVE family member who was six years old at the time when the Philadelphia police dropped the bomb on MOVE — currently circulated in this online petition:

For the full statement and demands of the groups visit:

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