An Open Letter to Our Community in Response to Police Brutality Against African-Americans and a Call to Antiracist Action

As a society of scholars committed to the study of human variation and diversity, the AABA stands firmly with the people, organizations, and institutions protesting the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade (among many, many others).  Alongside the disproportionate deaths from COVID-19 occurring in Black, brown, and Indigenous communities, these fatalities stem from the systemic racism embedded in U.S. society and institutions. We are committed to using our work to dismantle the systems that have brought us to this painful place today.   

Our knowledge of human biology, variation, and history shows that race does not have roots in biology but in policies and practices of colonialism and oppression. This fact must be broadcast widely, loudly, and frequently until it is common knowledge.  

AABA also recognizes that the discipline of biological (physical) anthropology played a central role in establishing these racist and discriminatory systems. Some of the founding and prominent leaders of physical anthropology used their research to justify policies that led to the inequity, oppression, and violence that continues to occur against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in the United States today.  One of our missions as an organization, which is important to restate here, is to counter the impact of harmful work done by our professional predecessors and to call out scientific racism today. 

To the public: 

The AABA welcomes engagement with outside organizations. We are uniquely positioned to provide the scholarly, scientific, and history-of-science context of racism. Many of our members have both the knowledge and the communication skills needed to effectively write Op-Eds, develop workshops on human variation and racism, and to engage in other forms of speaking truth to power. Please contact members of our Executive Committee or the Committee on Diversity if we can assist you with your mission.

To our members: 

We should not only be the disseminators of information about human variation and its disjunction with race/racism. As the academic discipline that provided a seemingly biological justification for colonialism, slavery, and continued oppression, it is on our shoulders to lead the way to a better future. This is a call-to-action at organizational, institutional, and personal levels.  In order to have any credibility and effect change, we need to have accountability and action within our own profession. 

Below we offer specific, actionable ways to start moving forward together.  We ask our members to advocate for change in their own institutions to revise the policies and procedures that perpetuate discrimination. Decolonize your teaching. Center marginalized voices in your classrooms, at meetings, and as editors, reviewers, and administrators.   And most of all, listen to your colleagues and students who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; give them space to speak, to act, to exercise their judgment. They have had to edit themselves for too long. 

Please, do not forget to take care of yourselves and each other.  Check in on your colleagues.  Avail yourself of the resources below and at if you are experiencing trauma.  Reach out to AABA board members or Committee on Diversity members with ideas and concerns.  Stayed tuned for opportunities to build from the outrage of recent days.  And commit to our part in a better future.

June 2020

Ways to Engage in Action

Immediately you can:

Commit to sustained efforts to:

Become a Real Ally

Let your Black friends and colleagues know that you are there to support them.

As this article headline reminds us: Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not. And they do have ideas on What you can do ‘now’: A black veterans perspective on George Floyd.

BUT, Do Not Make This About You.  Consider these things to say and not to say.

Educate yourself

An excellent place to start is with the workbook Me and White Supremacy

Learn from Campaign Zero what you can do to end police violence

Establish Accountability and Practice a Growth Mindset

Hold your friends, family, colleagues and yourself accountable

It is important to challenge the racism and injustice that you encounter. Here is a guide to antiracism resources for white people and here’s an article on how to be a white ally

Practice a growth mindset

To be clear, recognizing our privilege is not easy work. It threatens our idea of ourself as a good person. The truth is we are all flawed at some times and in some instances. Working on being ‘goodish’ will get you much further. Practical steps toward this can be found in this book by Dolly Chugh or this workbook by Layla Saad.

Contact Those in Power

To demand justice for George Floyd:

To demand change from your local representatives, you can find them here.

Donations for Change

There are many ways to support the cause monetarily and many places to learn about efforts for sustained change in institutional systems.

You can donate to help bail out protestors:

Support first hand reporting:

Events in support of George Floyd and Minnesota communities:

Support organizations advocating for justice reform and racial justice

Bring Your Scholarship to the Public

Op-eds provide powerful perspectives from scholars.

Don’t know where to start writing your own? Training programs include the Op-Ed Project. Here’s a recent example of a multi-disciplinary op-ed including biological anthropologists.

Consider a blog or a Ted talk

Here are examples of Ted Talks from a primatologist and forensic anthropologist that challenge biased assumptions and give voice to underrepresented communities.

Think deeply and critically about your NSF broader impacts programs, who they serve and how they will become sustainable

The AAPA COD NSF Broader Impacts session provides an overview of how to think about developing your broader impacts programs.

The AAPA Science Policy statement provides a mission statement around these.

Decolonize and Recenter Your Teaching and Research

Resources on decolonizing your classroom and curriculum:

This is an incredible tool (the writer calls it his “decolonization manifesto”) used by many Centers for Teaching Excellence:

These also provide very accessible ideas and perspective:

Resources on decolonizing your research

Peer reviewed studies to guide you on research design include: