June 4, 2009

Race, Gender, Sexuality and Respectability at the CSA

This morning, I woke up at 6am to take some time to prepare my presentation for this afternoon. I wanted to make sure I could give my 30 minute presentation in 20 minutes. Amazingly, it worked the first time I practiced it. I celebrated with an instant coffee and a mango. I am weaning myself off of coffee with instant, and will be moving to Earl Grey tea next week.

After breakfast, I set about preparing the girls' bathing suits and beachwear, as they were going to the beach in Portland with my friend and her daughter. It was unfortunate to miss a trip to this most beautiful part of the island. However, there were several interesting panels today, not to mention the one I was participating on that I couldn't very well miss.

I made it to the conference hotel at 8am. The first panel I attended was on anthropology in Jamaica. Fascinating panel. Perhaps most intriguing were the deliberations of a young woman who spoke of the difficulties involved doing fieldwork in a patriarchal society such as Jamaica, when one is young, female, and single. This intervention on gender and fieldwork allowed me to reflect on my own experiences as a female ethnographer.

When I did fieldwork in a small village in Peru, my status as a woman, a mother, and a wife had important implications for the sort of data I was able to collect. As a married woman, I was able to enter male spaces, so long as I was accompanied by my husband. As a mother, I was able to gain the trust of other mothers. The speaker pointed out that her status as a single female made it difficult to gain the trust of Jamaican women, and caused her to fear for her safety in certain situations. Although she focused primarily on gender, I would argue that sexuality and respectability are also important issues. To a certain extent, the respectability that goes along with being a married woman allows entree into arenas not open to single women, at least, not without the loss of sexual respectability – i.e. if you are here alone, you must be sexually loose.

For my current study of deportees, my status as a woman will make it more difficult to gain access to male spaces. As a white female, there are parts of Kingston that it may not be safe for me to go, especially unaccompanied. However, my current study is more interview-based than ethnographic. As such, it will be easier to overcome some of those barriers than if I were trying to do ethnography. For example I can interview deportees in my home, or I can ask a research assistant to accompany me to interviews.

I have not made a final decision with regard to a research assistant. At first, it seemed like a good idea to have a local person accompany me to interviews, where they could help me interpret the local jargon, explain the locale, and ensure my safety. Now, I am not sure whether I will go to deportees' homes to interview them. I may, instead, have them come to my place, or meet them in a public place. This is something I will continue to think about.

The panel I participated on was a great success. I went first, which I always prefer, because then I don't have to think about my paper while the others are presenting. Each of the speakers addressed one aspect of deportation. In my paper, I argued that there is tremendous disparity in the implementation of deportation policies in the US. I won't go into too much detail here, but will give a couple of examples. In 2007, there were about 250,000 undocumented Hondurans, Filipinos, and Chinese in the US. Whereas 25,000 Hondurans were deported, less than 1,000 Filipinos and Chinese were deported – despite practically identical numbers in the population. Even though all undocumented people theoretically face the same consequences – removal from the US, the reality is that most undocumented people are not deported. And, Latin Americans and Caribbeans are much more likely to be deported than Asians or Europeans.

If you look at people deported on criminal grounds, the numbers are similar – relative to their proportion in the population, Latin American and Caribbean legal permanent residents are much more likely to be deported than Asians or Europeans. This adds a layer of complexity to what we already know about racism in the US criminal justice system. The African-American community has been gravely affected by the mass imprisonment of black men in the US. The black and latino immigrant communities have been tremendously affected by the deportation of large numbers of community members.

The panel I was on was a lively one. Even though we went over time, the audience didn't seem to be bothered. Of course, they may have been, and I could have completely missed out on that. After my panel, I had a delicious vegetarian lunch at Earl's Juice House, and then sat out by the pool with a friend for a couple of hours, chatting about Jamaica and deportation.

Although I am beginning to get conferenced out, the good news is that I have made important connections with people at the conference, hopefully with people who will help me get my project underway. This conference continues until tomorrow, so I won't begin to interview deportees until next week at least. I need to get started, though, as I have to interview 30 people before I leave Jamaica on August 6th.

And, I need to go to Rio de Janeiro for a conference on June 10th, which will cut into my time in Jamaica. I will be going without Nando and the kids, so hopefully the kids won't drive Nando completely crazy before I come back. It seems a bit much to be leaving for a week so soon, but everything is set, so I suppose I will be getting on the plane. Hopefully I won't be too conferenced out.


  1. Congratulations on your presentation. It sounds like it definitely went well.

    The presentation about perceived identity and its affects on research situations sounds really good as well.

  2. Thanks, Emily! The paper was really good - lots of food for thought.