The Hierarchical Value of the Black Body

by A

“I don’t see color”, a common phrase used in the United States to promote a Colorblind society and essentially one free of racism. “ I have a Black friend”, “I love Beyonce”, “LeBron James is my favorite athlete”, and countless other ways White people frame anti-racist sentiments and feed a colorblind rhetoric. Until stories reach national news, we are do not feel comfortable or even the necessity of discussing race within in a Black and White binary In recent news, the University of Missouri, also known as Mizzou, has made headlines and stirred social media on the topic of racial inequities and assaults on its campus. These issues are not new nor are they unique to this university, but it has brought national attention to issues within the university system and especially on predominantly white populated campuses, which bodies are valued? and how are certain bodies valued over others?

Upon the countless protests, rallies, and demands Black Students and other students of color were putting their safety of the line for the benefit of themselves and future students at the university. The Chancellor, R.Bowen Loftin and President of Mizzou, Tim Wolfe acknowledged racial assaults on campus as unacceptable, they fail to listen to the concerns of students of color. Wolfe issued an apology to the student group that organized the multiple protests and rallies, Concerned Students 1950, saying, “Racism does exist at our university and it is unacceptable…It’s—systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success”[1], Wolfe frames the racial tensions and systematic oppression as students of color creating a problem for themselves rather, taking any responsibility of the system in which they live. Students demanded for the resignation of Wolf, but their protests were not enough and neither was a student on a hunger strike. What came to be the catalyst was the football team. Black football players and some White football players refused to attend practice and play a game against Baylor until Wolfe stepped down. Consequently, he stepped down a few days later.[2] Applying Marxist anthropology to this situation in particular, it is apparent how material factors cause social transformation and how certain bodies,whether Black or White, are privileged over others[3]. Also applying Political economy, Black student athletes bodies are seen as labor and commodities to produce money for the university. The student athletes refusing to participate in the political and economic system the university created forced the president to step down. What athletes did in a fews days was not accomplished as quickly by the students of color because they do not have the same economic benefit Black student athlete bodies produce.

[1] Pearson, Michael. “A Timeline of the University of Missouri Protests –” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

[2] Pearson, Michael. “A Timeline of the University of Missouri Protests –” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

[3] Molnar, Catherine. “Marxism and Political Economy.” Theory + Anthropology [licensed for Non-commercial Use Only] /. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.


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13 Responses to The Hierarchical Value of the Black Body

  1. Cierra Russ says:

    I think it is interesting you bring up this idea of colorblind racism, also known as the “new” racism, which seeks to avoid the actual concept of race and replace an overt racism with a more covert one. Instead of calling a neighborhood white and privileged, it will be referred to as “having a good school system” or that it is a “safe neighborhood.” And the thing is, this racism is just as dangerous and unjust as a more blunt one. To overcome racism, we cannot ignore race and become “blind” to an individual’s skin color and heritage. It comes down to the need to acknowledge race but not see it as something that gives us the right to categorize other people or put ourselves above them because of perceived biological differences. A blind society will never be a just one.

    It is gravely unfortunate that the drive to create some justice on Mizzou’s campus was driven monetarily. However, I am grateful for the football players willing to stand up for what is right, knowing they had the ability and power to truly create change in their given situation.

    • Cierra, I completely agree with you. I think that it is important to be honest that there is still racism here in the US, and to not suger-coat that that really means. I would agree with the idea that this “colorblind racism” may be even more dangerous. I feel like this is a cop-out to actually helping the situation. It’s easy to sit back and say that you are color blind, that you are not racist, and let that just be that instead of fighting against the apparent institutionalized racism that exists within our country. I am not saying that everyone needs to dedicate their lives to solving the issue of racism, but honesty of where out country is at needs to be the first step.

      The power dynamic between the impact that the protesters had compared to the football players is really interesting and I’m glad this post touched on it.

  2. Donia Hanaei says:

    I’m glad that this essay wasn’t just the other extreme of racism by targeting all white people. There are a few points where white people are categorized generally which if it were the other way around and we were working off stereotypes and saying black people are all uneducated or poor for example it would be extremely inappropriate. I liken this to instances when white people are grouped together as all racist or privileged or white trash, etc. But your essay went on to have some very valid points and evidence that not only shows the problem at Mizzou, but also the atmosphere in which it’s boiling over. You did a fantastic job of painting a scene in my head so I was not just thinking “Oh another racist abusing a minority” or another school system covering things up, but I could imagine the protests and the pain and shame from those students of color who realized that their bodies and lives weren’t of importance to such a greedy and money hungry institution, and that athletes and reputation were important.

  3. garrett owen says:

    Like some of the comments before, I agree that acknowledging this form of racism is extremely important. It almost seems like “good schools” is more condescending and creates more of deep seeded racism than just “white neighborhood”. Great use of marxist theory! I thought the political economy lens was really unsettling. Not that it’s not good to use, but you highlight the money and physical labor that seems to run profits for the university. Really enjoyed this one!

  4. Anna Bockhaus says:

    Very well done! I like how you analyzed the importance put on certain bodies through this movement taking place at Mizzou. It goes to show how the university and American culture, in general, assign more importance to certain people, based on skin color, socioeconomic status, and in this case, the position they hold at the university as a football player. I remember when the protests against these racially motivated assaults first started, there wasn’t much news coverage at all. It wasn’t until the football players stepped in and refused to play, that major national news coverage took a bigger interest. The goal and importance of the protests were the same, but now the importance of the participants involved, according to society, were greatly increased. Great essay!

  5. I really enjoyed your essay! It was very interesting that you analyzed racism and the recent events at University of Missouri through the lens of political economy. I completely agree that the main reason Wolfe stepped down was because he knew the university would take a significant economic hit if the football team refused to play. It goes to show how important money is; “money talks.” It would also be thought-provoking to bring up structural violence in this discussion. This is certainly an example of how patterns of collective social action create differences of power, wealth, and privilege within the same political and economic system.

  6. Gillian Davenport says:

    This essay was very well written, and managed to create a logical narrative about a very emotional topic. I think this is a very relevant anthropological topic, and would be interested to see a feminist anthropologists perspective towards this issue, and the devaluing and sexualization of the female black body within US society and on university campuses. I would also like to know how CU Boulder fits into this spectrum of injustice.

  7. Colman Garthwaite says:

    Very interesting article. I had not heard anything about this yet and I am glad that you were able to right about it. Your article was very well written and I found it interesting how well you were able to relate the articles topic to the human body. I liked how you looked at this through a political economy standpoint as well. Its pretty unsettling that really the only reason the president stepped down was only because of economic reasons. One would hope that he would be thrown out purly for the things he said.

  8. Samantha Pollak says:

    First off, I do not think anybody says they love Beyoncé to appease black people or to appear to be colorblind. Beyoncé is God and everybody loves God. Second off, work on your grammar. Thirdly, this is an important and topical essay to write because it’s devastating how racial issues still have not been solved in twenty-first century planet Earth. I think everyone should talk about it as much as possible. Luckily, our education is showing us truths, but on the downside, our university is not really exercising racial equality or integration. Of course most modern humans that we interact with in the liberal town of Boulder are going to be completely for equality, but racism is still institutionalized and prevalent in other states and even cities in Colorado. I would have liked to hear more incorporation of the theories into your essay in order to relate it to our course material.

  9. mia says:

    This was my favorite essay. The discourse surrounding how we value or devalue race is so important right now/ The statement, ” I only see colorblind.” oozes ignorance because like your essay argues our current economic, political, and social institutions are structured in a way so that it makes it possible for people at the top of the system to be able to see in through those colorblind (or better said rose colored) glasses, completely ignoring the discrimination at the bottom of the hierarchy. Unless of course you (as a discriminated person of color) provide some sort of inherit value for the big man, like as you mention specifically in this essay, the black athlete. It was interesting how you compared the black athlete to a commodity, /it is a sad fact, but also true. There was was a young black man on campus who STARVED himself under these pretenses and the administration did not do anything about it. Then the football team quits one game and almost immediately the president steps down. It’s pretty fucked up.

  10. Kaitlin May says:

    First of all I think that this is a brave and pertinent topic. These are incidents and social movements that are currently making a lot of people uncomfortable for a lot of different reasons. I think that one of the major driving purposes behind higher education and especially anthropology is to expose what makes people uncomfortable so it can be understood, possibly changed, and learned from. The way that human beings are valued, be it culturally or economically, has been a point of contention since the rise of civilization. I thought that your uses of Marxist and Political Economic theory to analyze the issue were spot on! The Black athletes were definitely being viewed as a commodity or as producers of capital to the university system. Thus even though they were subjugated as economic entities, their monetary status gave them a position of privilege and power when standing up to the university and threatening to damage the reputation and earnings of their athletic industry. However, you spent a lot of your essay explaining the situation and not that much talking about anthropological theory. Although context here was very important, I personally think you could have expanded your argument to use another theory besides the ones rooted in economics. Your argument is already very strong but you could have made it more diverse and include more perspectives on what is already a multifaceted issue. Even though I enjoyed a lot of things about this essay I have to say I am a bit confused why it looks like it hasn’t been proofread. I think it might be even more compelling with completely correct grammar and punctuation. Overall though, I really enjoyed this essay and think you should continue to question life so that we all might always be learning.

  11. Cheyenne Smith says:

    This essay was very well written. I enjoyed how you brought a topic to light that not a lot of universities think about. It seems many schools are living in their own paradox preaching one thing but systematically living out another. Applying Marxist anthropology within this essay was also a very relevant tool. Very few people realize how our materialistic possessions shape our identity and our culture and is very relevant to contemporary racism. I would like to hear more about how this theory ties into the overall topic. Well done!

  12. Chase Loisel says:

    One thing interesting about the examples of comments intended to display the lack of racism is that they by themselves create a dichotomy between white and black people in a sense that it notes the differentiation between their races as though it matters or is even relevant that they are of a different race in the first place. Comments like these rely on subconscious thoughts and societal values creating a difference between races when biologically the color of one’s skin or race is essentially irrelevant although these phenotypic differences result in racism and other prejudices heavily influencing the lives of people of color simply because of societal values.

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