Almost one year since my very first post about Being a POC in Classics, I am back to reflect on what I’ve learned in the last year: about being a POC and a woman in Classics.
Last year’s post was prompted by a poignant blog post that brought attention to the fact that, at an annual conference meeting for the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies, there was a sheer lack of diversity among the scholars in attendance. Although I had borne witness to this phenomenon myself, one hell of a winter storm (#BOMBCYCLONE anyone?) kept me from attending this year’s meeting in Boston.
But even as I find myself sitting in my mom’s living room, plans to participate thwarted like so many others, I still can’t shake the feeling that the scene this year is just as dire as the one last year. Not that I’d ever want to – that disparity is a significant one; one that weighs heavily on the minds of many scholars, though not always for the right reasons.
Last year, I made a point to call out the things we shouldn’t be doing – trying to coerce students of color into joining classics departments so as to ease our own minds about the lack of diversity in our classes – and suggest some things that would actually make a different – like hiring more people of color as professors and archaeologists to serve as actual role models for students to learn from; and having more people of color writing about topics concerning people of color – not just classicists from the white majority, like Sarah Bond and Mary Beard (though I’m sure they’re lovely people).
I have found myself becoming more and more inspired by the female scholars I have had the pleasure of working with in the last year and a half, and I can only imagine how much more inspiring it would be to work with a woman of color who did what I did. But, alas, women of color in classics – and archaeology – are hard to find, unless you know where to look (I honestly don’t).
However, not every female scholar I have come into contact with has been as inspiring as the rest. It’s incredible how the brain can block out a terrible incident, a moment that rubbed you the wrong way, until something much later triggers that memory once again. As I was reading the Preface of Reno Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Our Shared Shelf’s pick for Jan/Feb 2018!), I found myself agreeing with almost every word I read, especially:
I just can’t engage with the bewilderment and the defensiveness as they try to grapple with the fact that not everyone experiences the world in the way that they do. They’ve never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront. Their eyes glaze over in boredom or widen in indignation. Their mouths start twitching as they get defensive. Their throats open up as they try to interrupt, itching to talk over you but not really listen, because they need to let you know that you’ve got it wrong.
Why, oh why, would something like this trigger me? What incident could it have possibly recalled for someone who, apparently, has only ever once experienced a direct, verbal, racist assault in her life (Did I not post about that? It was a pretty traumatic – non-academic-related day…)? Well, let me set the scene: Colleague A gives a presentation on her experience at a school abroad (no to be named) that is known for its institutionalized racism. Someone makes a racist joke, blatantly neglects to learn the names of two girls who are, actually, two different people, but happen to be of the same or similar race, and no one bats an eye. What’s worse is the fact that everyone’s together 24/7 and there’s no way, at all, to get any reprieve from the situation.
As a deeply introverted, socially anxious person of color, you can see where my concerns lie. However, Colleague B did not see it my way. Instead of sympathizing, she shot down my legitimate concerns, saying that it was only one person’s perspective and that it’s probably not always like that and that the experience would be worth it. To her credit, it was only one person’s POV, but who knows how long the atmosphere had been that way? How else would the people there have become so comfortable with saying such things or being so negligent if there weren’t people around them perpetuating the behavior? Who’s to say that it has or will stop?
Speaking with Colleague B was so psychologically damaging that I refused to bring it up with anyone else again afterwards. I had a meeting with a professor about my future plans and, when the program was mentioned, I expressed uncertainty about wanting to attend, but let him ramble on about the merits of the program without speaking about the concerns I had. Why? Why wouldn’t I say anything? Well, because I felt like he, a white male tenured professor, would never understand.
I think that all of this – the surge of racist incidents both towards myself and towards others, the current political climate, and my anxieties – has made things a little clearer than they were a year ago. Back then, I was wide-eyed and hopeful, urging for a change not in the curriculum but in the people teaching that curriculum, the face of classics, but with no plan for the forseeable future.
Now, I find that I was grasping in the dark for something I couldn’t see, couldn’t fully understand. In that first blog post almost a year ago, I quoted statistics about minorities in the Classics, but they are long outdated, and don’t really tell us much of anything. Last year, my blog post gained over 400 notes on Tumblr and here on WordPress, 8 likes. I know that you are out there – I remember reading so many moving responses to the post on Tumblr – and I want this to be the first step for us to come together, to lean on each other, and to find some way to make our voices louder in a discipline that still, to this day, forces us down even when it tries to lift us up.
Please vote if you can! It would be really great to see how many of us are out there, but obviously don’t feel pressured to do so. This is just a random social experiment that I thought of while spending Too Many hours at home (is it time to go back to school yet??).