“You don't look American”

Race and whiteness in the ethnographic and disciplinary encounter


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According to some recent analyses, the ethnographic encounter takes place between a complicit, colonialist, white discipline and “natives” who are colonized and implicitly nonwhite. But by insisting that anthropology is an inherently white discipline, such binary frameworks ultimately recenter Westernness and whiteness, reinforcing the centrality of Western and white anthropology. In doing so, they conflate phenotypic and structural whiteness, flatten out how anthropological whiteness compels nonwhite bodies to adopt a white habitus, and obfuscate the shifting, unstable role played by phenotype in this process. For anthropologists of color, even those born and trained in the West, the whiteness of anthropology is variable, context-dependent, and unevenly distributed. This is illustrated with vignettes from ethnographic work in Peru, a country where racialization has typically been framed in terms of a white-indigenous binary, and as operating like class rather than determined through descent or phenotype. [race, whiteness, ethnography, Asian American, Peru, Andes]