We, the Black Trowel Collective, stand with our trans members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and community members. We do this out of care and in solidarity, but also backed by a scientific understanding of the past as a space where trans people and all manner of gender and sexual fluidity and variation exist comfortably. Our trans colleagues, students, friends, and family are under continuous scrutiny and attack and we express our solidarity with them against this injustice.
The Black Trowel Collective strives for the shared liberation of all human beings. We stand against those who weaponize their platforms and privilege to attack trans people. It is the position of the Black Trowel Collective that an archaeological understanding of the past is incompatible with transphobia and so-called ‘gender critical’ or trans-exclusionary radical feminism. There is overwhelming evidence from past societies that our current ways of understanding sex and gender are fleeting and contingent. Neither sex nor gender are fixed in aspect or immutable over time and between cultures. As anarchists, we are impelled to mobilize this knowledge into action and we urge the actions that follow.
Call to Action
Archaeologists must center the fluidity of gender in their archaeological practice
Archaeological research supports a multitude of human expressions and ways of being throughout time. Being an archaeologist is incompatible with trans-exclusionary views. Our support for our trans students, colleagues, family and friends is not conditional upon archaeological evidence. It is grounded in our opposition to bigotry, discrimination, and patriarchy. We must make space in our teaching for expansive understandings of gender, refuse to allow harmful and inaccurate binaries into our research agendas, and maintain space for our trans and gender diverse colleagues in professional and personal interactions. We must resist structures (from a tick box on a form, to a site interpretation panel, to pedagogical methodologies) that reinforce transphobic practices.
Archaeologists must make fieldwork, research, education, and workplace contexts safe for trans people
Archaeological fieldwork has often been a space of patriarchal control, assault, and violence. Institutional settings, field schools, research and commercial archaeological contexts need to ensure that trans people are supported and safe. Cameron Wildridge has proposed some basic steps beyond simple “culture” or “attitude” changes to making fieldwork more trans inclusive, including being conscious of legal restrictions on trans people at fieldwork sites, providing sharps boxes and spaces to inject hormonal treatments, and providing gender neutral site facilities such as bathrooms and sleeping quarters. Though these suggestions can be generalized, it is important to listen to trans and gender diverse participants in order to make safe and inclusive environments, as anticipating needs without the input of trans people can lead to further harm. At the same time, listening in itself is not enough. Archaeologists in leadership and supervisory positions need to be proactive without outing trans students and colleagues, or expecting them to out themselves to cis (i.e. non-trans) people, if it does not feel right to do so.
Archaeologists must use their expertise about the past to fight against harm to current people
Appeals to the authority of a mythical, unchanging past form a core component of anti-liberationist arguments. Archaeologists, as experts in written and unwritten histories, must fight those who misrepresent the past to damage present people. It is our duty to interrupt, contradict and correct anyone who dares to rationalise their own bigotry in this way. We do this by ensuring that our scientific accounts do not reproduce transphobic and binary interpretive assumptions. Our past is diverse, multivocal, and queer and we must tell these stories.
For more information about this stance, and the scientific backing of our position, we will add a follow-up statement soon.
What are the Black Trowel Collective Microgrants?
We are a collective of archaeologists (from PhD students to faculty members) committed to the active support of archaeology students from working-class and historically looted communities who are both regularly excluded by traditional scholarship and academic programs, or who require more economic support than those resources cover. We have been inspired by Sportula, which is an initiative supporting Classics students, and we have blatantly copied much of their text. Support them too!
We recognize that academia in its current form is ethnicity, class, ability, and gender-biased and discourages or even effectively forbids minorities and people from working classes from attending programs by enforcing prohibitively high tuition fees, expensive mandatory field schools and ignoring the often harsh reality of these students’ lives outside of the academic bubble. All too often, we and our students have to work double shifts to get the extra money needed to buy a book, attend an excavation project, pay rent or internet bills to have access to online university materials from home, or even just buy a proper meal so that they do not have to attend the next class on an empty stomach! It is our goal to erode these barriers to make them more permeable for the next generation of archaeologists.
So what are you doing about it?
We provide microgrants from $5 to $300 (or £ or €)–no questions asked–to archaeology graduate and undergraduate students who need it. We can also work to find you larger amounts of money and/or connect you with mentorship for non-monetary needs (e.g. if you need an archaeologist from your racial/ethnic group or class background to talk something over with, or if you have an issue impacting your academic career that you don’t feel comfortable letting your department know about, or even if you need access to a certain journal/manuscript, etc).
How do these microgrants work?
Simply apply through our application form and we will do our best to get the requested amount to you as soon as possible. You don’t have to explain yourself–we get that our lives can be complicated and strongly believe that we as financially marginalized people are the best arbiters of what we need and the experts on our own lives. We reject the all too common pattern in academia (and everywhere) that demands historically underrepresented and working-class people “prove” their worthiness in a system that ignores structural inconsistencies in students’ backgrounds or expose/perform their need and trauma for some committee in order to get the money that we require.
Our goal is to start our relationship with our grantees through trust, instead of with an assumption that they are lying (i.e. through proving need). Minority and working-class students are already forced to navigate these types of distrustful relationships with their institutions while their financially comfortable peers are not.
So why is there a field asking me to provide comments?
This is a totally non-mandatory field and you are free to skip it. It will have no impact on your request. It is there to give us an idea of the most pressing needs of students and help us evolve this initiative accordingly. But again, and we can’t stress this enough, you don’t have to explain yourself.
Where does the money come from? How is it managed? Are you a charity?
No, this is a mutual aid initiative from people who are committed to solidarity. We work on a donation basis from other people who also believe in solidarity. Keep this in mind when you consider your request, but also don’t be shy to ask for what you need! If you need an extra $100 to attend an excavation, $40 to apply for a workshop or to buy a textbook, $20 to cover this month’s train/bus tickets to get to the university, $300 to keep from being evicted, or $40 for child care to get through a final paper, there is no wrong ask. Again, this is not restricted to only US-residents.
The funds are managed by all of us in the microgrant working group so that we have horizontal accountability to each other. This resolves the issue of individuals in control of funds abusing that position. We will publish quarterly posts here and through Patreon about donations that have come in and have been distributed.
Who do you help?
Any archaeology student (graduate or undergraduate) who needs it! Students of color and students without parental/family support or who lack access to other forms of financial aid by virtue of being undocumented etc. to the front! Right now we are also prioritizing archaeology students from regions, particularly India, Turkey, and Brazil, that are being extremely hard hit because of imperialist and capitalist health patent practices by some of the wealthiest countries in the world, Black bioarchaeology students in the wake of the horrific revelations of academic and cultural violence perpetrated by anthropologists on MOVE children who were murdered in a state terrorist attack, and trans archaeology students in the wake of continued systemic and cultural violence they are dealing with in places like the UK and the US.
How often can students come back for funds?
We trust that you know best how to manage your finances. In order to better share amongst those who need help, we can’t act as a monthly income source for students, but if you apply for funds and need help a few months later, please apply again, and then again when you need us next. We want to help get you through your program. We believe that you deserve to be here and that financial hardships should not drive you out.
How are grants prioritized?
We distribute first-come, first-serve, unless there is an urgent request that is communicated to us (i.e. eviction notice, book fines leading to ejection from your program). Currently, we are centering requests from Black students, so if you feel comfortable sharing that information with us, please do in the comment form.
Do I have to pay it back?
Resoundingly no. But once you are financially stable, if you are able to commit to some form of mutual aid and share with the archaeology students who are still struggling, whether it’s $5 a year or $50 dollars a month, it would be greatly appreciated.
Why are you doing this?
As we said, we believe in undercutting the academic walls built to exclude minorities and working-class students. As anarchists, we put solidarity and mutual aid to the fore.
Who can I contact if I have more questions, or want to get involved?
Feel free to leave us a note through the contact page, or contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
How can I help?
Solidarity takes many forms. If you can, donate through Patreon, or PayPal (email@example.com). If not, share this initiative with others, students in need, or people who can contribute in other ways. If you have ideas of how we can have a more meaningful impact let us know!
Isn’t this like Sportula?
Yes! In fact, they were our inspiration. Like our comrades over at Sportula and Sportula Europe, we’re concerned with how economic barriers lead to a less inclusive academic field. We discussed our mutual aid project with them and are working as comrades to build a more inclusive study of the past.
Why the Black Trowel Collective?
The Black Trowel Collective was formed in 2016 by a group of archaeologists following a workshop on anarchism within archaeology. See more, including a manifesto, on our Blog page.
Who are you?
The Black Trowel Collective is a multiethnic collective of archaeologists from around the world. Not all members are comfortable with disclosing their membership, as they are under authoritarian regimes or have other considerations in play. The Microgrants subgroup draws from the larger Black Trowel Collective.
How can I join the Black Trowel Collective?
Thank you for your interest! As a collective we have found anarchism to be both personally and politically meaningful. Our members are diverse in their understanding and implementation of anarchism within their lives. That said, we are…anarchists.
While different threads of anarchism exist, a common element uniting us is a distrust of hierarchy and vertical/institutionalized power. We seek to dismantle these in various ways that bring our theoretical positions in alignment with our everyday lives (e.g., community organizing, direct action). Anarchists are generally unloved by people with power, have been threatened at all levels of government and are portrayed as naive, overly violent and/or simply chaotic for the sake of chaos. Indeed, many of us have suffered professionally by being openly anarchist. The most “open” members of our collective have relatively secure positions or have been “out” as anarchists for so long that they no longer know how to be otherwise!
There are collective members that are precarious, and we are doing our best to protect their participation in our collective and maintain a space of trust and care within the collective. Sadly we cannot offer complete reassurances that your identity will not be ascertained at some point. In short, joining an anarchist collective may negatively impact aspects of your life and/or career in ways that are not immediately clear.
To this end, we ask you to ask yourself…are you an anarchist? If the answer is an obvious and emphatic YES (“I’ve been organizing for years, you gatekeeping assholes!” “I have a Kropotkin and Parsons tattoo over my heart!”), please do get in touch. We have an onboarding process that will match you up with a buddy and we can go from there.
We understand that there are many people who are anarcho-adjacent–those who have been deeply involved in social justice actions or labor organizing but may not necessarily be fully immersed in the literature and philosophy of anarchism. We welcome you and your desire to learn and participate. For those of you who may be unsure if anarchism is for you or if you even want to be in a collective, you may want to investigate your options. Many local groups, in the end, may have more personal meaning and direct impact. Have you checked out your local Food Not Bombs? They’re an anarchist mutual aid group with established success within communities. Have you read about anarchism and anarchism within archaeology? We are very happy to help out the anarcho-curious with our Manifesto and our anarchist archaeology bibliography. There are lots of online anarchist resources like CrimethInc and the Anarchist Library for those who want to help out with mutual aid, but aren’t sure about anarchism
We say all of this not wanting to define a standard of what an anarchist should be. Rather, we want to make sure that everyone knows what they are getting into. Given the assumptions and backlash many of our members have faced by being anarchists, we are very concerned about maintaining privacy/secrecy and fostering a supportive and safe environment for all of our members. If you decide to join the Black Trowel Collective, we expect that you respect current members’ desire for privacy/secrecy while also participating behind the scenes when we need help organizing.