Ok, I’m going to do it. I’m going to talk about race. Deep breath… head above the parapet… here goes…
I’m not comfortable talking about race and Classics, because I’m a white classicist and I don’t feel that I have the right. I’m happy to talk about the barriers that working class people encounter in entering the discipline, because I am working class and I have some insight into that. I can talk about the problem of being female and working in a male-dominated area, because I’ve been through that too. I can talk about the challenges of juggling family and an academic career, and I’m even happy talking about disability and neurodiversity. All of these things fall within my own experience, and while I don’t think that my experiences stand for everybody’s, I don’t find it difficult to start a conversation about them.
But race and racism in Classics? That’s different.
This is the moment where I’m probably supposed to wave around my anti-racist credentials. And in fact I did. I wrote a really good paragraph about my involvement with local BAME community groups and the students I have from around the world. It would have looked great on a CV.
But that’s not the point here. The point is that Classics as a discipline has a clear and obvious problem with diversity, whatever we say about our feelings on racism.
Take a look at my list of Comfort Classics interviews, for instance. I’m proud of the diverse range of voices in the series. I post interviews with people from all kinds of different backgrounds and professions, and with very different levels of experience within Classics. But it has turned out to be a VERY white list.
(You might well argue that I should be taking deliberate action to address the whiteness of my Comfort Classics back catalogue, by chasing more Black classicists to do my interviews. In an ideal world you’d be right; and someday I hope I’ll be able to do that. But at this point I suspect that the very few Black classicists I know are taking on a disproportionate amount of responsibility for managing change, so I’m not going to pester anybody right now!)
I’ve always thought that Classics as a subject area was well placed to challenge racism, simply because the ancient world’s diversity encourages us to take a close look at our own categorisations of difference. But while the subject area might offer potential, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that there is very little diversity in the professional world of Classics – and now is undoubtedly the time to highlight that fact, as many people are currently doing.
So what can we do about the situation?
Well, what I intend to do is read and learn, and share what I read. So in my links, this week and last week, and as long as the material is out there, I’m including a special section for links about diversity and Classics, linking to material written by people who do have insights, and who have experienced challenges for themselves. I hope that you’ll follow some of the links and read the material. It’s little enough, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a place to start.
Some people (shout-out to Andrew Fox here) have been receiving a lot of online abuse for suggesting something similar on their blogs. I like to think that my readers are better than that; I can’t imagine receiving threats for posting links and encouraging people to read them. But I suppose I’ll soon find out!
Wow – that turned into a serious post! Quick… think of something frivolous! Ermmm… stamps! Cool Roman stamps. We love a good Roman stamp. Hooray for the Royal Mail!
Finally I’d like to say a big thank-you to my Comfort Classics guests this week – because it’s been a week in which a lot of people have needed happy thoughts. Greg Gilles provided lovely pictures of Pompeian frescoes, and now I have new ideas for what to paint on the walls of my empty loft room! Flint Dibble offered a zooarchaeologist’s perspective: his threads on Twitter are really great reading for anyone interested in archaeology. Steve Jenkin, who runs the extraordinary Classics Library community, gave us a View – and I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s one I’ve never seen in person, so I’m adding it to my When We Get Back To Normal list! Georgy Kantor talked about Tacitus, which naturally made me happy, being a Tacitus groupie myself. And today Maddy Perridge from Kallos Gallery talked about the vase of Achilles and Penthesilea – so now I’m feeling homesick for the British Museum again!
Oh, and I wrote a Thing for The Open University about Comfort Classics: you can read it here.
This week’s links from around the Classical Internet
Islamic texts online – The Guardian
Roman forts and roads revealed – BBC
New Roman Britain stamps –ITV
Amazing details of a Roman city – The Guardian
‘Revolutionary’ radar technology – Forbes
Unveiling the Torlonia marbles – Wanted in Rome
Comment and opinion
Time Travel Diaries review – Pop Classics
Publius Decimus Mus – Roman Times
The mysterious history of Thebes – The Spectator
The last words of Milman Parry – The Oxonian Review
Polyphemus – Roman Times
ACE Studentships for teachers – ACE
Classics, race, diversity and statues
Remembering to forget – Pompeian Connections
A tale of two Creons – Corona Borealis
Classics and diversity – Andrew C. Fox
Towards a more inclusive Classics – University of Reading
Racial Diversity in academia [video] – Digital Hammurabi
Racism in Classics – The Queer Classicist
Romans and statues – A Don’s Life
Aristotle must fall? – Sphinx
Unteaching white supremacy – Eidolon
The Sportula: links and grants – Medium
Podcasts, video and other media
Socrates in Love: Armand D’Angour – York Festival of Ideas
Spartacus, with The Partial Historians – Ancient History Fangirl
Dionysus in Greek art – Runshaw Classics
3 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Discomfort and Diversity”
I really don’t thik you should beat yourself up.
So, not only stick my head above the parapet, here I am standing on it. I have checked all the groups I belong to on FB – for instance, on the 2017/18 A863 which I set up there were 78 members and, although not everyone included a profile picture, I could not identify a non-white member. So I looked at this year’s A340 and, they seemed to be very inclusive about adding members, of the 238. there were just over double figures of non-white and of those I could only see one who was studying Classical Studies. The other groups all showed the same proportions.
Whilst entirely non-scientific, there seems to be a huge preponderance of students (of all ages) who are white and studying Classics as far as the OU is concerned. Why that should be I don’t know bearing in mind the OU is incredibly inclusive and I cannot think of any barriers. Does this mean that non-white people are not interested for whatever reason? It also points to why you might be struggling to find contributors.
Maybe it is because of the mainstream ‘face’ of classics, ie TV, includes: Michael Scott, Dan Snow, Bettany Hughes, Mary Beard etc.
On the positive side, you are right of course, that studying the ancient world increases awareness of racial issues (not to mention the journey including AA100 and the Benin Bronzes) so, it is heartening that so many of us will be aware of these issues.
Thank you for the links, I have seen a couple but am looking forward to accessing the rest.
That’s interesting, Colin, and broadly in line with my own experience as a tutor. I don’t know what the barriers are, and that’s why I hold my hands up to having no insights. I wish I did! That’s why I’m glad to see so many articles and blogposts being written right now – because clearly there are barriers that we need to understand better.
It’s a good point about the public face of Classics, too.
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I’d plump for socioeconomic disparity of educational access to Classics. Make age-appropriate components of Classical Studies compulsory for every year group throughout each key stage of the state school core curriculum (like that’d ever happen! 😡) and you’d soon, I suspect (I’d certainly fervently hope🤞), see the ‘face(s)’ of Classics start to become more diverse and inclusive – and in many respects, too; not just ethnically/racially (however such terms are supposed to be meaningfully defined). Just think what such a wide ranging array of varied personal perspectives could bring to enriching and extending the study of Classics; and, above all, to ramping up its relevance. If only, eh…? 🤔🤞😊