SANKOFA? by David R Zimmerman


How Racism and Sexism Skewed New York's Epochal Black Research Project
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A contentious history of New York City’s African Burial Ground National Monument.

Zimmerman (Zimmerman’s Complete Guide to Prescription Drugs, 1993, etc.) delves into what he refers to as a “racially based and biased ‘scientific’ investigation” in this “exposé of a major failure.” In 1991, government contractors breaking ground for a new building in Manhattan came across what would become known as the African Burial Ground—including more than 400 sets of slaves’ human remains. Most of the remains were disinterred, despite the protests of some black New Yorkers, who advocated for the site’s historical and cultural significance. Exhumation stopped after members of the U.S. Congress stepped in, and a mayoral committee put plans in place to study the exhumed remains, reinter the skeletons and create a memorial. The plan aimed to “ensure the development of a culturally sensitive, scientifically credible research process under the direction of African-American research scientists,” and black anthropologist Michael L. Blakey was chosen to lead the research. According to Zimmerman, however, Blakey missed deadlines, never published his findings in a peer-reviewed journal, and didn’t finish his final report for 12 years, resulting in a loss of scientific information and costing taxpayers millions of dollars. “Scientists and science are the losers,” the author writes. “All Americans—black and white—have lost.” However, readers may find that some of the book’s claims don’t hold up. The author quotes Blakey as saying that if the all-white Metropolitan Forensic Anthropology Team was in possession of the remains, it would be equivalent to “what it would be for the Jews to have the Nazis study victims of the Holocaust.” It’s an extreme, if understandable, stance, but the book concludes that this “condemnation of all whites, based on real or inferred behavior of some of them, is, of course, racism. Black racism, as it were.” Some readers may disagree with this idea, as many see racism is not just prejudice, but also a structure of power and oppression. Although the story here is intriguing, readers may also take issue with the author’s assertion that the project failed; the site, after all, is now home to a monument and a successful, permanent exhibit on slavery.

A subjective and relatively unconvincing investigation into a project’s supposed failures.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1477568354
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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