Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture (review)
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Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture. By Lee D. Baker. Durham: Duke University Press. 2010.

Professor Lee D. Baker's frequently and widely cited first book, From Savage to Negro (California, 1998), deftly depicted the connections between the history of anthropology and the broad political and intellectual watersheds in the United States' history of race and race relations during the years between 1896 and 1954. This long-awaited second book, consisting of a panoramic introduction and four mega-essays, that constitute the work under review here, is another example of Baker's erudition and exemplary scholarship. Chocked by his arduous investigation into virtually every major, relevant archive, diaries, collected representative publications, and other important sources, Baker's work adds immeasurably to our historical and present understandings of the diverse political implications of the concepts of race and culture. In addition, this work depicts the distorted perceptions of, and often callous and brutal treatment of African Americans and Native Americans from the late nineteenth century through most of the twentieth century.

At the outset, Baker states that his intention is—to use his words—"demonstrate how and why anthropological concepts, particularly race and culture, have been lovingly adopted by some and disgracefully rejected by others; in each case it is often in the service of a specific political agenda" (20). As a consequence, the major subjects of his essays—though primarily middle-class reformers—are a motley group. They include such persons as Alice M. Bacon, James Mooney, Jr., Frederic W. Putnam, Daniel G. Brinton, and Franz Boas. These persons ranged from accommodationist racist to liberals. None were radical racists like the Southern politicians Benjamin R. Tillman and James K. Vardaman. Some of them (Bacon and Mooney) used culture "to promote racial uplift among African Americans and to contest it among American Indians" (30). Other persons (such as Brinton) used anthropology as a booster [End Page 163] of white supremacy. While some (Boas) used anthropology as a "detractor" of the white supremacy ideology. In essence, Baker has successful "highlighted not only the limits and contradiction but also the possibilities and potential that anthropology as a practice, discourse, theory, and discipline can represent in the complex world where culture, race, and justice matter in people's everyday lives" (31).

Written with an ironic sense of humor, Baker succeeds in ferreting out little known material and enhances and broadens our understanding of the history of anthropology as well as the discipline's relationship to past and present political currents.

Vernon J. Williams Jr.
Indiana University Bloomington
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