Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Classicists

Breaking News from the organization formerly known as the American Philological Association.  No, as a former member, I am not making this up.  The APA, which changed its name to The Society for Classical Studies, twice elected Basil L. Gildersleeve, Confederate veteran and Southern apologist, as president.    One wonders why the people who draw up such statements bother pretending to be classicists.

From the SCS Board of Directors, approved 6/3/20

The Society for Classical Studies condemns the relentless horror of police brutality and murder of black men, women, and children, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Rodney King, to name just a few of the victims. Brutality perpetrated by the police and others stands with mass incarceration and unequal access to healthcare, education, and housing as symptoms of longstanding systemic, structural, and institutional racism in American and European cultures. These are deep problems in society that will not be fixed without radical policy changes at every level of government and across all institutions.

Police brutality and the systemic racism that underlies it are the concerns of the Society for Classical Studies for two main reasons. First, every institution and organization in this country must speak against the continuing violence against people of color. Second, the Society for Classical Studies recognizes and acknowledges the complicity of Classics as a field in constructing and participating in racist and anti-black educational structures and attitudes. SCS itself has not been immune from acts of prejudice and intolerance.

On the one hand, white supremacist and nationalist groups have misappropriated Classics and other pre-modern fields for their own hateful agendas. On the other, within the discipline and profession itself scholars have perpetuated racist attitudes and ideas. These attitudes and ideas include but are not limited to the misleadingly reductive notion of a “Western Civilization” resulting from an allegedly linear transfer of knowledge from Greece to Rome to Western Europe; the whitewashing of ancient Mediterranean culture; the uncritical use of Greece and Rome as ideals that serve as the foundations of the notion of American “exceptionalism”; the inclusion in introductory Latin textbooks of stereotypes such as the “happy slave” that draw on 19th century pro-slavery arguments in the US; and the lack of support for, acknowledgement of, and credit accorded to black scholars in the field of Classics.

The SCS is committed to actions that promote racial justice and equity and to fighting anti-blackness and other forms of prejudice, and the recent events press us to intensify our efforts. We welcome suggestions and requests for action and policymaking.

We stand with the Sportula and the Asian and Asian American Classical Caucus in their endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The board of directors stands in solidarity with and support of all black and non-white members of our community. We also strongly urge white and non-black members to take action by advocating for racial justice and reform of the police and criminal justice system; listening to, ceding space to, and acknowledging, without any fragility, the concerns and anger of black scholars from students to senior faculty; and addressing teaching, research, and public engagement through the lens of anti-racism.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

19 Responses

  1. Harry Colin says:

    Please tell me, Dr. Fleming, that this is a satire drawn from one of the sites that spoof our modern dilemma.

  2. Frank Brownlow says:

    Versions of this statement, which has all the appearance of political boiler-plate, are going to be popping up all over the former academic world. The president of my former college, an Englishwoman with a degree in French who surely knows next to nothing about American life and history, has just issued one.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Alas, no. It was forwarded to me by a member.

  4. Craig Klampe says:

    My alma mater will be observing a moment of silence today. A nice break from their usual active undermining of society, but still of a piece with it. Thanks for not sending me one more of the seemingly countless emails filling my inbox telling me how woke you are. And I mean it. I’m waking up to how few champions and friends of sanity there are. It’s depressing.

  5. Allen Wilson says:

    Looks like those babies never grew up. Like the archaeologist in Alabama who posted instructions for toppling Confederate obelisks.

  6. Vince Cornell says:

    I sympathize more and more with the normal, decent Germans living during Hitler’s rise to power and the normal French folks unfortunate enough to live during the Revolution. What is one to do when the rest of the entire country is going stark-raving mad? Logic and reason are completely useless against the enemy. Facts carry no weight. And it’s all-pervasive. I received an e-mail from a clothes maker about how they’re taking things seriously and going to support Black Lives Matter. Now I can’t buy clothing from them anymore. In a discombobulated scree on YouTube, a chef whose recipe’s I’ve used with some success (Kenji Lopez-Alt) proposed a “charity” stream with other chefs where he’ll match donations up to $5,000 to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. I normally couldn’t care less what someone like him thinks (I certainly don’t go out of my way to look it up – I just want a recipe from time to time – at least until the Fleming Foundation cook book gets released), but now I’ve sworn off giving the man the time of day, let alone supporting him in any way, shape, or form. I did attempt to post links to news stories with questions, such as “What do you think about David Dorn – does his life matter, too? Or the apartment complex set on fire in Richmond by rioters, who then proceeded to block the fire engine from responding – do the lives of the kids in that building matter?” – but it’s to no avail. My comments just get deleted without any response.
    If God so chose to strike down all news outlets and tv news shows and social media companies, I’d buy the biggest candles I could find and light one at every parish in our Diocese. Has it ever been the case that so few have been able to do so much harm to so many without ever once getting off their rear ends in the comfort of their own homes (thanks to Wuhan Flu)? Harriet Beecher Stowe, patron sinner of detestable rabble-rousers, send down your curse upon their heads!

  7. Josh Doggrell says:

    The questions I keep asking myself about people who keep spewing this nonsense are: Have they fallen so far into delusion that they actually believe this? Or do they still really know better and just put this drivel out there because it’s the “cool” way to think nowadays and it also shields them from what they think is the very worst thing that can befall white people in the 21st Century — the dreaded horror of being called “RAYSISS”?

  8. Robert Reavis says:

    I don’t want to be redundant but since “T’is all in pieces” anyhow here is another important message from another dear leader.

    Reminder: Rorate Caeli Purgatorial Society
    Archbishop Gregory bashes Knights of Columbus, President

    Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, DC, has essentially been missing for about three months. March 8 was the last Sunday of public Masses in the Archdiocese of Washington, with a ban announced by Gregory on March 12. The government of Washington, DC, has limited church congregations to a whopping ten people — even in the first COVID-19 phase of reopening. Considering all of the other large public gatherings in Washington, an outrage. Not a public word from Wilton Gregory.

    No public Masses are being offered in the nation’s capital — not even at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in North America. The DC government limit of ten people applies to that church, which seats thousands. Not a public word from Wilton Gregory.

    Today, though, Wilton Gregory woke up and spoke up. Not on public Masses, or confessions, or any sacraments. He chose to make his most public statement of the year to condemn the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. president for a visit to the John Paul II shrine in DC for an event on international religious freedom.”

  9. Becky Calcutt says:

    According to, in 2017 there were more than twice as many whites as blacks shot to death by police. In 2018 there were almost twice as many whites as blacks shot to death by police. To date in 2020, whites lead blacks by 35% in being shot to death by police.

    Is this a classicists statement, or no?

  10. William Wilson says:

    The Classics department here at U.Va. has dropped Basil Gildersleeve’s name from:
    the department,
    the departmental library
    a fellowship (if it can get past some legalities)
    an endowed chair (ditto)

  11. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    The head of our county libraries issued “A Statement on Racism” yesterday. As a card holder and recipient of his email I provided some feedback on the library’s website. I told him his statement was nonsense virtue signaling. I suggested that he address an actual issue instead of a fake one. I checked the box to request a response. Have not received one so far.

  12. Vince Cornell says:

    @William Wilson – on the bright side, I’m sure Basil Gildersleeve would want to have nothing to do with the current Classics department at U.Va. Or with any of the current departments at U.Va. It seems to me that one of the worst fates one can have is to have something named after one’s self. In the long run, it’s bound to be a tremendous disappointment. At least St. Ignatius had the good sense to not name the Jesuits directly after himself.

  13. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I shouldn’t be the one to remind friends and readers that as early as 1980, when people asked me if civilization was in peril, I answered uniformly, “It died before I was born.” These people are not consciously malevolent–they are not conscious at all and barely human. Human, did I say? Most mammals instinctively take care of their own. Only domesticated animals bred for slaughter and the denizens of zoos copulate at random and have little interest in self-preservation. Several times this week I have seen small birds drive off a blue jay, who was eating a peanut I’d supplied, in a tree. Even dumb sparrows protect their nests. Back when I was a student, the threat to classics came from people doing lit crit. By the late 1960’s, lit crit opened there door to Marxists and feminists. These silly people, bent on destroying the profession that they are supposed to be devoted to, were raised by two earlier generations of destroyers. Pedants were still tolerated, of course, in the 60’s and 70’s, but when I was ridden out of classics by the Harpies in 1986, a few Marxists actually defended my right to breathe. Exposing the nearly perfect ignorance of the leaders of women’s studies in classics (in my infamous article “Des Dames du Temps Jadis” in Classical Journal, I had pointed out the ignorance even of Greek grammar!) was not a proposition to be tested. Some pathetic drab named Marilyn Skinner wrote a “refutation” in which she did not attempt to refute a single point. The only question was which side were you on. A few years later, I did a paper at an APA meeting in New Orleans and attended the usual cocktail party. I asked Prof Kopff who were the angry women staring at me like Maenads about to dismember Orpheus. He laughed. They were some of my victims. Gee, it’s nice to make a difference in someone’s life. Years later, when I was invited to give a lecture on the choral lyric of Greek tragedy at the University of Illinois, one of the Maenads, Froma I. Zeitlin, was there, and she behaved with perfect politeness. I was astonished. On the other hand, the argument I developed on choral lyric in my dissertation and a number of pedantic articles, got me into much more trouble, because it overturned an orthodoxy that had reigned for two centuries. You simply cannot believe how little it takes to be unpersoned in any discipline. I once wrote a piece debunking the recent fashion to deny attribution of the Prometheus to Aeschylus. Since the author of that thesis had tenure at Stanford and was the student of influential professors, my commissioned article was rejected over the head of the positive evaluation given by a great scholar who had directed the dissertation I was debunking! Later, when a great Italian scholar put his students to work on my thesis, he and the students would ask why I abandoned classical studies.

  14. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    On FB someone (Robert Albert) who had studied Greek, ridiculed the style of the SCS statement with its repeated on the one hand/on the other, which he cleverly compared with the common Greek construction of men/de. I answered thusly:

    Note the syntactical psychology. Usually, when we are talking about an issue up for debate and use this construction, we say something like “On the one hand, opponents of Confederate monuments say they are embodiments of racism, while, on the other hand, defenders argue they are tributes to men who loved their country. Here the people on the one-hand are racist bigots, while those on the other are classicists who have wittingly “constructed” the myth of Western Civilization. Wait a minute, these two hands are really fingers on the same hand. Where does that put the signers of the statement? Oh, somewhere off playing the Impartial Spectator and enjoying William Godwin’s angelic perspective, perfect, serene, objective, not at all partisan because perfectly right.

  15. Rex Scott says:

    You sir are a maverick and this is classic gobbledygook.

  16. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Rex maketh the obscure joke. Yesterday, we were talking about a poor child who was given the first named Maverick. I pointed out the name came from cattle left unbranded by the patriarch of the Maverick clan, whose grandson Maury contributed the expression “gobb.ledygook” to the American language

  17. Robert Reavis says:

    Dear Rex,
    Tom Fleming a maverick ? Pot, kettle, black!
    “Unbranded” would be a good name for the radio /podcasts you two do together.

  18. Rex Scott says:

    Mr. Reavis, this kettle is black, a good time to be so. Lol! Thank you for your comments and insights hope to see you at the Summer school. We will discuss this further over a pint.

  19. Vince Cornell says:

    @Rex Scott – a good time to be so indeed. That one got me good!