|Born again: Anthropologist Dr. Irma McClaurin infuses pursuit of global truths about inequality with personal experience|
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Should there be righteous research? Absolutely. The late John Gwaltney, a Black anthropologist, went back and studied his own community. His study is called Drylongso. That’s why I became an anthropologist, because I too have been the object of study. I grew up poor and we lived in public housing, so I know firsthand what it means to have people look down on you and see you as a subject to study. However, I have also come to understand that you cannot change governments, county, city, or anything unless you can present them with some hard facts. So the question is how do you know that the research is ethical, that it involves the community, and that the researcher has taken every precaution to make sure that people fully understand their involvement .
The community benefits agreement (CBA) being worked on by NRRC hasn’t been presented to the University, so there is nothing that can be said, until there is a formal presentation. Is it the appropriate tool? CBAs were designed usually in response to a developer coming in, where they may be taking property away, trying to acquire large tracks of land, or they’re trying to do zoning changes; and, in exchange for the community lending its support to get these city zoning regulations changed, the developers agree to do certain things.
I know of no University-community partnership in which a CBA has been signed. So I can’t speculate on how the University will respond. I think the model of an Advisory Council for UROC is worth consideration; it would be a way to make sure that the community voice is always heard. It would ensure a formal process for complaints and praise. I can’t see the UROC operating in a sustainable way unless it has processes that will allow it to incorporate viewpoints of the community into its day-to-day planning, and a community advisory council is one way to have this happen.
How do you make good on agreements of the past? We could talk about reparations; we could talk about what the University ought to have done right in the past—and we can get stuck in drudging up the past, and forgetting to speak to the present and the future. I can only speak to where things at the University are right now under the current leadership. And we have amazing support from President Bruininks, Senior Vice President Robert Jones, and the rest of upper administration. I hear what you’re saying, if this presidential leadership changes, how do we make sure that those things that are in place don’t get eroded or disappear? If the community is building its own strength-- for example, parents need to know that they can be advocates for their children, but they also need to know how to do that. Can we help train them or facilitate them being able to go to their child’s school and say, “No?” or “I want more information?” Are they aware that they may actually have a right to ask for alternate testing? When children are tested and the school says, this is the way it is, you have a right to say, “I’d like a second opinion.” So to begin to get this information out to the community, UROC, using the expertise of faculty and their community partners, can do things like hypothetically publishing a document that explains parents’ rights. They can exercise their rights and say, “No, I don’t want my child to be part of that research.” On the other hand, they may find that research can help explain certain things.
The reality is that we live in a world ruled by science. Science is about research and data collection. To opt out of a world governed by science would be like the person who prefers the kerosene lamp when everybody else is using electricity; it may work for a while, but at some point that person is at a distinct disadvantage. Not conducting research will not make issues go away. But if you can do research that can answer the questions you are asking, such as: “is there tracking of our children; are too many of our children assigned to special education; what are the basis or criteria being use to make these kinds of determinations?” Research can be a powerful tool to aid parents in challenging what they may view as an unfair or unjust educational system, or any system.
So I think our challenge is to get the community to see that the research that will be housed in UROC will answer the questions that they (the community) want answered; it will be participatory/collaborative research that is not driven by the University’s agenda, but really is driven by community concerns. This is what I am communicating to University scholars and programs that come to me and say, “We’d like to do some research in North Minneapolis.” My response is, “Well is this something the community wants? How do you know? Is this an issue that came out of the community meetings? Do you have partners that have said that this is important?” What I am hoping to establish by raising this questions is the beginning of a collaborative and transparent process.
Part of the reason that I accepted this position is because I do have roots in Minneapolis. My sister has lived here for more than thirty years, so I’ve been back and forth to Minneapolis over three decades. Also, my niece played for the Minnesota Gophers; she was the 6’7” player called “Tinkerbelle.” My nephew graduated from the U, and so I have deep roots here. My mother visits regularly, so for me it’s a gift to be able to be close to my mom and my sister and her family, and to have this job.
I am a firm believer in not making promises that I cannot keep, so this I promise you: I will always be direct, I will do the best I can to be responsive to the needs and to the concerns that are put to me by whatever constituents in the community come to my attention. I will try to create processes that will allow for your [the community’s] voices to be heard and to make sure that your ideas and concerns get on the table and on the agenda. I am also a firm believer that just talking about something to death is not a solution, that there has to be action, and so I will commit myself to taking action.
I wrote a New Year resolution – I must have been prescient – about Barack Obama that has to do with the fact that there has been a lot of discussion in the media about his identity. He’s been very clear. He says he’s Black. He’s never done the Tiger Woods, ‘I’m multi-this and bi-this’ and so it’s been a discussion that I think is to misdirect us. Black people come to me and say okay, “So you think America is ready for him? Do you really think that he has what it takes?” That’s not the point. The point is that he has a right to run. He has a right to be considered a viable candidate. Part of what I asked in the essay is why we are so willing to accept Bill Clinton as the first Black president? Does anyone remember that it was under Clinton that some of the most draconian welfare reforms were put into place? Has anyone gone back and read his record? We must not be diverted by the fact that he could play the saxophone or that he went to Black churches, we must look at his record. Women and children in this country suffered in terms of welfare reform under him.
Now, does Hillary have experience? She’s a US Senator. But Barrack Obama was an Illinois State Representative and he is the third African American in one hundred and fourteen years to be a US Senator. One hundred and fourteen years and all we have had are two Black Senators. So what is Hilary Clinton’s claim to fame? She was married to the president. But she was not the president. So we have to be very clear that we are evaluating people, and not getting sidetracked between the old way of doing things, in the vein of Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton, versus Obama and a new way of doing things. What we have right now at this moment is history being made: a woman and an African American man are two front runners for President of the United States of America. What we have here is an opportunity, no matter how you cast your vote.
I am not going to stand here and tell you that the University is without fault. I have heard the history. And it is not a history unique to this University. I have worked at large and small educational institutions across this county that were disconnected from the communities surrounding them. Now we can focus on the wrong doings of the past or we can move forward. This moment represents an opportunity. The University has gone on record saying it now has an urban agenda. And you [the community] have absolutely every right to hold this institution accountable to that vision. You have every right to hold all of us accountable, and to have your voices heard.