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Urbanization in the Middle Niger of Mali  

Roderick McIntosh

When the tell site of Jenne-jeno was brought to light in the vast floodplain of the southern Middle Niger of Mali, archaeologists had to question certain expectations about just what constitutes an ancient city. The city was certainly too early (3rd century bce rather than the expected late first millennium ce) and Jenne-jeno did not conform to the standard city form (a mosaic of satellites rather than the expected agglomeration). But it was the persistent lack of evidence of a centralized ruler, social strata of elites, and of the hierarchical decision-making mechanisms of the state that set this urban landscape so at odds with then prevalent urban theory. The seventy apparently contemporaneous hamlets and specialists’ occupation mounds surrounding Jenne-jeno form the Jenne-jeno Urban Complex. It is a classic example of African originality in evolving urban landscapes. In place of the top-down, often despotic state control as the organizing principle of the city, here there is a classic city without citadel—and thus heterarchy (authority and power relations arrayed horizontally) instead of a social and political hierarchy at the heart of the city can be posited. The search for the pre-Jenne-jeno antecedents has taken a newer generation of archaeologists to look at “pre-urban” landscapes in other, now-dry parts of the Middle Niger deep in the northern. Sahel and Sahara. Back to the second millennium bce, the single site can be found to be the exception; clustering had roots deep in time.


Language and White Supremacy  

Jennifer Roth-Gordon

White supremacy is a racial order that relies on a presumed “natural” superiority of whiteness and assigns to all groups racialized as non-white biological or cultural characteristics of inferiority. Despite decades of scientific studies refuting these claims, beliefs in racial difference continue to rely on ideas of innate or genetic differences between groups. Scholars now widely agree that race is a social, cultural, and political distinction that was and continues to be forged through relations of transatlantic slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. A focus on white supremacy does not limit scholars to the study of white supremacists, that is, those individuals and groups that outwardly espouse a racial order that privileges whiteness and white people and frequently endorse physical violence to maintain this order. Under white supremacy, societies privilege whiteness even in the absence of explicit laws and sometimes while promoting ideologies of racial inclusion and equality. Contexts of white supremacy feature the consolidation of white power and wealth at the expense of people of color—an arrangement that is maintained through racial capitalism, settler colonialism, anti-blackness, imperial conquest, Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism, and xenophobic or anti-immigrant sentiment. Widespread awareness of linguistic difference can be mobilized to support these pillars of white supremacy through a range of official language policies and overt acts of linguistic suppression, as well as more covert or subtle language practices and ideologies. While the term “white supremacy” has gained broader circulation in the 21st century, these topics have been studied by linguistic anthropologists and sociolinguists for decades under the more familiar headings of “race and language,” “racism and language,” and “raciolinguistics.” This scholarship examines how racial domination is consolidated, maintained, and justified through attention paid to language, but also the ways that marginalized speakers take up a broad range of linguistic practices to challenge assumptions about the superiority of whiteness and emphasize non-white racial pride, community ties, and cultural and linguistic heritage and traditions. Racial and linguistic hierarchies work together to falsely connect whiteness and the use of “standard” (officially sanctioned) language with rationality, intelligence, education, wealth, and higher status. Under these racial logics, speakers of languages associated with non-whiteness are readily linked to danger, criminality, a lack of intelligence or ability, primitivism, and foreignness. Together these ideologies naturalize connections between languages or specific linguistic practices and types of people, producing the conditions under which racialized speakers experience discrimination, marginalization, exclusion, oppression, and violence. At the same time, speakers challenge these power dynamics through linguistic practices that range from codeswitching, bilingualism and multilingualism, and language revitalization efforts, to verbal traditions both old and new, including social media genres. Though racial hierarchy continues to be bolstered by a linguistic hierarchy that assigns higher value to English as well as other European or colonial languages, linguistic variation persists, as speakers proudly embrace linguistic practices that defy the push to assimilate or submit to language loss. Beliefs in the superiority of whiteness have global resonance, but local specificities are important, and a majority of research has thus far been conducted within the context of the United States. Scholars who study language, racial inequality, and oppression continue to weigh in on public policies and debates in an attempt to raise awareness on these issues and advocate for racial and social justice.