Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy

ancient greek strucktures

Associate Professor Rebecca Kennedy recently published an article in Eidolon, a Classics journal, about how differing views co-opt the Classics to establish authority.

She notes:

“In narratives of American greatness, Classics holds a special place because the ancient Greeks and Romans have served as an imaginary source of an inherited Euro-American civilization. This use of the ancient world can pose problems for many of us who study it.

“In the university and the public square, Classics is frequently engaged in battles to demonstrate its relevance, battles that are complicated by the long and ugly history of Classics as a tool of oppression and exclusion. Sandwiched between people who think dead languages are dead for a reason and those who view Classics as elitist and white (and therefore irrelevant to them), defenders of Classics have frequently chosen to cut a middle, sanitized path to try to be interesting to everyone. This path, however, has led to a shameful lack of diversity among those who study Classics — and, more troubling, tacit support of a narrative about Greece and Rome that appeals to those who are drawn to the ancient world because of the racism and misogyny.

“In this situation, an intense irony develops. White supremacists, hiding behind posters of the (not originally white) Apollo Belvedere and the Discobolus, among others, look to antiquity’s harshness towards women and immigrants as a model for modern democracies, while social justice scholars within the field try to illuminate these same areas in a quest to help the discipline move forward from its colonialist/imperialist past and to become more open to women and nonwhite, non-Euro-American students and scholars. The ancient Greece that both white supremacists and social justice scholars see is far more accurate a picture than what is presented in narratives of the classical world as the “foundation of Western civilization,” though they have different aims in embracing it.”

To read more:

Posted Date 
Friday, May 12, 2017

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