This post was submitted by Callie Randall, a high school senior and anthropology student interning with the AAA.
When I was a little girl, I began to realize I was different than a lot of my peers. It was beyond the apparent truth of being the only black kid in gifted or intensified classes and more than feeling like I was the only child that said please and thank you to the lunch ladies. It was something less transparent. My ability to acknowledge the things that made me different set me apart from many others. In the simplest of terms, I was observant. I took in my surroundings everywhere. As I got older, I tried to understand why things were the way they were and why people chose to do certain things or why they chose to not. The world was big and beautiful and mysterious and with wide eyes everything intrigued me. In retrospect, not a whole lot has changed. To me, then and now, there is an abundance of things that make us all different, but also a plethora that make us all the same. So of course, it only makes sense that I crossed paths with anthropology.
I was introduced to anthropology in my senior year of high school when I decided to sign up for International Baccalaureate (IB) Social and Cultural Anthropology. I consider myself a thinker above anything else and believed anthropology was one of the best classes for someone like me because its core revolves around how people think and rationalize everything from human existence to societal and cultural interactions.
My class read three ethnographies over the span of the year, the first being Guest of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock. Set in the 1950s in a small rural Iraqi village, the book addresses the role of women in society, and their cultural history, traditions, core values and interactions with one another and their spouses. The book most importantly showcases the truth about the vantage points and characteristics of amusing, lively, and authentic women, as oppose to the common subservient and docile image many in the western world think them to be.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman covered the cultural transmission of the Hmong people from the mountain regions of China, Thailand, Vietnam and more who immigrated to America due to turmoil caused by the Laotian Civil War. It focuses around a young Hmong girl who suffered from epilepsy, highlighting the culture and language barriers between American medical facilities and the traditional hmong family. As a result, lack of cultural relativism led to an obstruction of her treatment and discrimination.
Lastly, I read In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Philippe Bourgois, which addresses the class stratification, societal expectations, and underground economy such as the drug ring in East Harlem, New York among mostly Puerto Rican Americans. It reveals the disparity, effects of poverty and violence starting from a young age that correlate to why and how many find themselves in the drug dealing business.
All in all, each ethnography reaffirmed my acknowledgement of every action having a reaction, and the importance of getting to the core of things instead of simply studying the effects. The class was fascinating and made me want to learn more and more about anthropology. For that reason, I was privileged enough to apply for and have an internship with the American Anthropological Association for four weeks, teaching me a variety of abilities and knowledge that allowed me to develop skills in technological use, networking, and exploring different anthropology related job opportunities.
For the first week and a half, I worked primarily online, doing a lot of research based work. I then worked on the AAA’s social media base and used Photoshop and AAA photo contest pictures to create inspiring and informative pics for AAA’s social media sites. I also met with all the office workers in the Association during lunches and learned more about everyone’s unique stories and how they wound up with an occupation in anthropology and with the Association. It was especially interesting to hear the many people who said anthropology was not their first choice in studies, yet they somehow found their way to it along the way.
I also took several field trips outside of the office. I met with Marisa Deline, a healthcare researcher working with the Advisory Board in D.C. who gave me insight on anthropology in the healthcare industry. This same angle was reaffirmed through my half day spent with the recipient of the Margaret Mead Award for her ethnography on euthanasia, Dr. Frances Norwood, who is also the Social Science Research Analyst for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. We traveled to her office in Baltimore and got to experience a day in her life and see how anthropology is used to take quantitative research for health care policy and turn it into qualitative. I learned this type of work is crucial and important because it puts into perspective people’s responses, emotions, and vantage points when formulating policies for the public. We also traveled to the National Museum of Natural History to watch a seminar on the Recovering Voices project, specifically concentrated in Papua New Guinea. We were mentored by the curator of globalization Joshua Bell. Lastly, we met with Greyson Harris, the Folklife Festival/Smithsonian Community Engagement Coordinator to discuss the aspects of anthropology involved in the festival and overall planning process.
Through my class and internship, I found a love in learning about how anthropology is applicable to almost anything, and in general, changes the way we think and view our fellow humans. I learned anthropology helps others tell stories about aspects of their lives that hold meanings running deeper than what appears.
Anthropology is something that celebrates observation and understanding. It broadens our perspectives and allows us to find beauty in what is unfamiliar and different. It’s for those who refuse to accept the status quo, those who are willing to see what is beyond the surface, those who are not afraid of what they may find.
Anthropology allows my overly analytical brain to flourish, and the whole journey has made me want to continue to study anthropology in college. However, more than that, it has felt like a place I am safe, understood, and at home. To end with one of my favorite anthropology quotes, as Clifford Geertz once said, “It may be in the cultural particularities of people — in their oddities — that some of the most instructive revelations of what it is to be generically human are to be found.”