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.
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.