Thinking Like Lysistrata: Women’s March 2018

On the first anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington that took the United States – and the world – by storm on January 20, 2017 in the wake of the deeply unsettling inauguration of 45, women everywhere came together once again to protest The Man No One (sane) Wanted in Office.

From Stanford to right here in Ann Arbor, women united to remind everyone that our fight is still not over. Our rights, and the rights of so many other marginalized groups, are still in jeopardy, and we must continue to fight for those rights as we weather this storm of a presidency for the next three years.

Although I personally could not attend the Ann Arbor march today (I did make it out to Lansing last year, which was honestly such a feeling of empowerment, being surrounded by so many other empowered women), I kept an eye on social media and felt almost as inspired as I did a year ago when I saw how many women and allies showed up. I particularly enjoyed an image shared by a friend on Instagram, who was depicted holding a sign saying ‘Public CERVIX announcement, this pussy grabs BACK’ in front of a man defiantly holding up a sign saying ‘Make me a sammich!’

It is so appalling to know that, after everything we have been through in the last year, and all of the headlines that have come out of not just the things that our President has said but also current events – like the systematic disenfranchisement of several prominent celebrity men who have sexually assaulted other members of the community – there are still people out there who think this way.

In the midst of seeing these posts throughout the day from the various Women’s Marches all over the country and spending much of the morning hashing out the inherent problems in Classics as a discipline and with classical reception in media in general, I remembered the days in undergrad, where I was exposed to Spike Lee’s masterpiece, Chi-Raq. A modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, what film could have been more appropriate on a day like today?

By the two Goddesses, now can’t you see
All we have to do is idly sit indoors
With smooth roses powdered on our cheeks,
Our bodies burning naked through the folds
Of shining Amorgos‘ silk, and meet the men
With our dear Venus-plats plucked trim and neat.
Their stirring love will rise up furiously,
They’ll beg our arms to open. That’s our time!
We’ll disregard their knocking, beat them off—
And they will soon be rabid for a Peace.
I’m sure of it.

-Lysistrata, Lysistrata 140-154 (trans. Perseus Online)

Released three years ago, Chi-Raq tells the story of a young woman named Lysistrata who, seeing her city plagued by gang violence and wanting to put an end to it, organizes a sex strike in order to bring peace to Chicago. It’s both heart-wrenching and hilarious, poking fun at a serious situation in much the same way that Aristophanes does in his fifth century comedy. It’s a whopping 2 hours long but it doesn’t feel like it – it’ll keep you engaged the whole way through, thanks to stunning cinematography, witty dialogue (in verse!), the periodic appearances by Samuel L. Jackson (he’s a hoot and he doesn’t even talk to anyone other than the audience), and the ingenious adaptation of such a timeless plot line.

But those aren’t the only reasons I love the film. On the one hand, it’s the representation.


If you had never heard of this film before today, would you have ever thought anyone would adapt Aristophanes in such a poignant way? I certainly never did, and yet years after I watched for the first time, a little shocked and a little intrigued, in a dark classroom in the middle of Virginia, singing its praises.

The film might not be set in fifth century Athens, but it still puts people of color in the roles we as classicists are so familiar with. And that’s something. (It is not, for instance, like the ill-fated Gods of Egypt that disappointed so many by casting white men in the lead roles of Egyptian gods. But that’s a totally different issue.)

Whether you’re a classicist or not, I think that so many people would get something out of this film. If you are a classicist, I think you can see why a film like this is so important. Think of all of the other film adaptations of ancient literature you’ve seen – Cleopatra, Troy, 300 – all attempt to stay true to the story for the most part, taking some creative liberties here and there. But what Spike Lee does here is take Aristophanes’ work and effectively transplant it into a new community, with new personalities and new problems.

But is it really new?

My answer would be a firm no.

Instead of perpetuating the white-washed Classics we have all grown so accustomed to (don’t tell me you don’t imagine the characters in your favorite Athenian comedies as white actors parading around in masks), this forces us to recast the characters, to not ignore just how timely the issues that the Athenians were faced with in the fifth century actually are.

The characters in Chi-Raq are fighting for the same things – peace in their city at a time wracked with violence and conflict – using the same tactics – withholding sex, to the utter, albeit comical, dismay of the men – and are faced with the same challenges – not being taken seriously because of their gender. This is the second reason why I love this film so much, and why I think that it is particularly important on today of all days.

It is – both the film and the fifth century play – such a strong display of the power of women to bring about change. It also, of course, highlights the problems inherent in our society – the fact that women would have to resort to something as ridiculous as withholding sex in order to get what we want because we wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise. In a similar vein, just short of withholding sex from our male counterparts, the fact that we have to organize and wield signs in the cold for hours to get the men (not people, the men) in power to pay attention to us (not actually change anything, though; just to recognize that we are here and that we do, in fact, care about our lives) is pretty ridiculous, too.

Of course, I know that Lysistrata is a work of fiction. It’s a caricature at best – a play written by a man in a society where he knew pretty well that women would never actually revolt and take over the Acropolis for peace. But so many aspects of that play, whether Aristophanes wanted them to or not, resonate in today’s society.

Whether you apply it to gang violence in Chicago or the sexual misconduct of men in Hollywood or the blatant mistreatment of women all over America by our political system, it’s relevant. So, I implore you all to watch this film, and continue to do the good work that you have been doing. Think like Lysistrata. One of these days – I hope – they’ll finally take us seriously.


MLK Day 2018: Antigone in Ann Arbor

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
“Beyond Vietnam,” Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the snow continued to fall steadily outside on an otherwise deserted campus, dozens of community members gathered in the Classics Library on the University of Michigan campus for this year’s Classics-themed event, which served as only one of many parts of the weeks-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium put on by the university and organized by our Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. However, unlike the event that took place in that very same room almost a year ago, the atmosphere was much more egalitarian, and felt more welcoming than emotionally charged.

This year’s event, in keeping with the spirit of the speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. one year before he was assassinated, quoted above, focused, not on white supremacy (which was very timely last year given several incidents of hate-ridden flyers on and around campus), but instead on issues of patriotism, justice, violence and dissent. And nothing, perhaps, would be better to frame that discussion than in light of Sophocles’ Antigone.

In the spring of 440 BCE, the people of Athens gathered at their annual festival of Dionysus to watch Sophocles’ Antigone – the tragedy of a young woman protesting against the state’s treatment of her dead brother Polyneices.

In a similar way, we had all gathered at our annual MLK Day symposium to hear five students perform several scenes from the play and discuss those salient implications listed above in a town-hall forum. The two-hour event was structured in much the same way as, and perhaps strongly influenced by, ‘Antigone in Ferguson,’ a social justice project organized by the Theater of War, who has, since its inception, put on several ancient Greek plays in different settings to encourage discussion about current political issues. I believe that ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ sparked the most attention – though, to be honest, I had not heard of it until today – because of its obvious connections to the police brutality and the unlawful murder of Mike Brown there in August 2014.

To see a reading of ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ by Theater of War, click here!

Although many people in the audience made the point that our situation and experience of the play was much different from that of the audience in Ferguson, Missouri – the site of so much violence and tension between the police and people of color – I felt that there was still a lot that we could gain from our discussion of the play and its relevance to our greater experiences as citizens in this country.

Several things from the discussion portion of the event struck me as incredibly relevant to our lives, and my life in particular. One of those things was the point raised by one audience member that, in the play, there is a clear tension between what is perceived to be right and what is law. This is demonstrated by the conflict between Antigone herself and her uncle, King Creon, who refuses to allow her to give her brother, Polyneices, the burial he is (according to Antigone) owed by ritual.  What Antigone perceives to be as ‘the right thing to do’ (in terms of familial obligation and religion) is condemned by Creon, on the one hand, because it does not align with what he has set down in law, and on the other hand, because she is of inferior status to him and, so, her opinion does not matter.

This ‘writing off’ of anyone who is inferior (be they gendered, black, or foreign bodies) as unwelcome in society or unworthy of the rights of other, more ‘superior’ individuals, is an especially salient issue, even today. Not only are their voices rarely heard or taken seriously by those in positions of power, but they are often cast aside or disregarded as worthless, or even subhuman. This calls to mind last semester in my Theories of Feminism course, where we talked about the differences in the ways that women of color and white women have been treated throughout history. In short, white women (who’s surprised? anyone?) have been treated slightly less terribly than women of color across the board.

This brings to the fore another issue – Creon’s blatant misogyny. As a Classicist and a feminist, I know and have known for a very long time that the Greeks believed that women were the inferior gender. I mean, it’s pretty obvious when the first thing that anyone ever says about Greek women is that they were ‘secluded’ to the ‘domestic sphere’ (scare quotes because…well…I have opinions). But Antigone (or, perhaps, the translation that was being performed) shocked me at a number of points in the dialogue. There were several times where Creon would say something so unnerving I had to remind myself to keep breathing. But the dialogue illustrated that very stark divide between men and women that I had already known so well.

And, as one of my former Greek professors explained later in the discussion portion of the event, Creon’s misogyny only served as one of the many characteristics (including his disregard of what is ‘right’ in favor of the law and his disdain for the opinions of inferior citizens) which made him an authoritarian character.

It was perhaps all too clear of whom Creon reminded everyone – and this was further illustrated by a small revision to the translation, from ‘fake truths’ to ‘fake news’ – but as far as any of us were concerned, his name did not need to be spoken.  I think, though, that he represents both 45 and his followers, that is, those who subscribe to his brand of authoritarian leadership.

It can even apply to those who wield almost no power at all – the guy who crashed our MLK day event last year, the entire alt-right, the slightly racist girl in your Wednesday class – these people, although not in actual positions of power like King Creon, believe themselves to be superior to others; disregard the opinions of those who they believe to be inferior to them; and are often misogynistic. They thwart the actions of people of color by ignoring them and invalidating their struggles by harping on what they perceive to be ‘law’ – be it the actual law of the land (as in the case of those proclaiming that ‘blue lives matter’ or ‘all lives matter’ in opposition to BLM) or an idea they hold to be wholly true (as white supremacists do).

Those who refuse to behave in the ways that they believe to be right, like Antigone, are condemned to verbal abuse, physical violence, and even death. But unlike the 5th century BCE play, it seems that there is no reprieve, no visible ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – Creon, after losing everything near and dear to himself, finally realizes that he was wrong.

Of course, as it is a tragedy, there isn’t much hope for Antigone, either. She is ultimately given the choice to sit in a tomb and rot or kill herself, and she chooses the latter, knowing that her fate is sealed. I try to believe every single day that our fates, here in the present, are not as determined. Unlike Antigone, we have more opportunities to challenge those people and laws that wrong us.

Also unlike Antigone, we have strength in numbers. We have the ability to organize in public spaces, to make noise, to wave signs and to (sometimes) get the people in power to think, if not totally change their minds. At the beginning of the event, we were read a scene in which Antigone and Ismene (her sister) argue about the merits of burying their brother’s body and it is clear that, while Antiogone has made her mind up and is set on giving her brother a proper burial, Ismene is much more reluctant, more interested in preserving her ‘proper’ place in society and listening to what the men tell her to do. Later on in the play, when Antigone is condemned by her uncle to death, Ismene tries to stand by her, but Antigone tells her that it is too late and that she must face this alone.

Something that was brought up in the discussion was what are we to make of the way in which Ismene changes her mind? One audience member brought up the fact that she, and her earlier conversation with Antigone, represents a similar internal struggle that we all face when we are called to action in the present day. Another audience member spoke of feeling ‘intimidated’ by the protests that sometimes are organized on campus by other students – intimidated, perhaps, by the feeling of social obligation in conflict with personal obligation to one’s own schedule, work, background, etc. I know many friends who have voiced this conflict in the past, wanting to participate in these big events but being afraid of what might happen if they are arrested.

I feel that, in light of this reading of Antigone, and Ismene in particular, these feelings are validated. It’s okay to not know what to do – like in any other public setting, we, as individuals, should cater to our own needs. There are many ways to participate, to get involved, to make a difference. Do so in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

This is a way that I feel most comfortable voicing my opinions about race and inequality in my field – in writing, on the internet, only slightly exposed. Just a few days ago, I saw a call for papers for next year’s Archaeological Institute of America/ Society for Classical Studies joint meeting entitled “Who ‘owns’ classics? Who is the field of classics for? Defining the field/ diversifying the field.” At first glance, I knew I was interested. But at the same time I knew I was not interested in giving a talk myself. I know that I’m not ready, so I continue to do what I feel the most comfortable doing.

In some ways, it feels good to know that I am still making (albeit tiny) difference in some people’s lives. Although I have no idea how many people have viewed the post, I do know that 38 people have completed the survey on minorities in Classics!! That’s way more than I had ever hoped would contribute their input, and I certainly hope that more of you (especially in graduate school…come on guys…where are you?) will cast your votes and/or reach out to me and share your stories in the future!

Some final thoughts about today’s MLK day event – I will admit that, at first, I had no idea what to expect from it. I had originally only planned on going to find out what it was all about, but even then was on the fence. But after going and experiencing it, I think that it was a brilliant idea and that it went very well – so many people contributed really great insights and I’m proud to say that I am a part of this community at the University of Michigan. I look forward to the coming years!


Surviving as a POC in Classics

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.

Minorities in Classics Poll

Minorities in Classics Poll Results

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??).

Racism in Classics: A Teach-In at UofM

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Monday January 16, 2017, in honor of the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday, the Classical Studies department at the University of Michigan hosted a teach-in (or teach-out) entitled Racist Appropriations of the Classical World: Past and Present. In spite of some minor technical difficulties, the lack of seating to accommodate everyone (thanks to the AWESOME turnout), and a rather unfortunate member of the audience who seemed to be attempting to challenge everything the teach-in was trying to combat against (which I’m still fuming about internally, but won’t get into here), I’d say that the event was a success and sincerely hope that it will continue to be built upon in the future.

The teach-in was composed of four ten-minute presentations by professors from the university, David Potter, professor of Classical Studies; Heidi Morse, lecturer in the department of Afroamerican and African Studies, Classical Studies, and English Language and Literature; Ben Fortson, professor of Classical Studies; and Despina Margomenou, lecturer in Modern Greek, followed by a general discussion at the end. Overall, the research that was presented, the questions raised, and the discussions which followed were fruitful and informative.

Potter discussed early scholarship on racism and the end of the Roman empire, especially that of Otto Seeck, who apparently has been considered an ‘authoritative work’ in spite of his view that there was a direct link between the fall of the empire and the ‘invasion’ of a different race (i.e. an ‘extermination of the best’ by a ‘genetically worse’ population). Morse addressed fundamental issues with an organization called ‘Identity Evropa’ which claims a European identity and believes that whites are more superior than non-whites, perpetuating this belief through the appropriation of classical art, individuals, and ideas, both online and on flyers. Flyers associated with this organization appeared on the university’s campus this past fall, in addition to other flyers perpetuating white supremacy. Fortson examined the historical background of the term ‘Aryan’, from its Sanskrit origins, meaning ‘honorable’ or ‘noble’, to its appropriation by Indo-Europeans, becoming synonymous with ‘bringers of civilization’, imploring scholars, especially those in historical linguistics and classical philology, to denounce the misuse of findings to perpetuate prejudices. Finally, Margomenou, though explicitly stating that her talk was “not a story of how Greeks became racists,” presented an interesting history of how race has been conceptualized (and how that conception has changed) by modern Greeks in relation to their past, touching on their association between ‘stark white’ and classical Greece, the Gods in Color exhibition in Munich which sparked controversy about the vibrant colors used on models of sculpture, and the appropriation of media-created themes such as those in the 2006 movie ‘300’ by the neonazi group Golden Dawn.

However, while these talks and the discussion they inspired were interesting, I still felt somewhat uncertain about the implications of incorporating more discussions of race, racism, and the classics into future courses. Particularly problematic for me was the discussion, towards the end of the event, which revolved around the next steps for education relating to race/racism/classical reception in Classical Studies.

In my last post I touched briefly on what I thought the real problem with representation in Classical Studies was – to me, it isn’t about the courses we teach, but rather the people who teach them. Of course, I do not have a solution to this that is readily employable, and I do not think that there is an easy solution to the problem – you cannot just go up to PoC and force them to become Classics majors. It simply isn’t that easy. But the general consensus in the room today was that it might be.

One suggestion that was made was to offer subjects that are generally subject based – like sport and war – since they would be more accessible and applicable to all types of people. While the sentiment is sound on a number of levels, I have seen this backfire first hand, on numerous occasions. In particular, while these ‘general courses’ may attract lots of people who are not Classical Studies majors, and maybe even a few PoC, courses that are general often attract not people who are genuinely interested in Classics (though a small percentage of them are) but people who don’t really want to be there. These courses, at least at liberal arts colleges and universities, are often fulfilling a requirement – at my undergrad a course on Ancient Greek Athletics counted for an arts general education requirement and a course on Ancient Warfare counted for History major requirements – and attract people who are only marginally interested (i.e. athletes) or who would’ve taken anything else if something more relevant to their studies had been offered.

So, the way I see it, presenting general topics that are only marginally interesting to a wider audience will only attract more people who are only marginally interested, much less PoC (if that’s the ‘ultimate goal’). However, I don’t want to make it seem like I was against everything suggested in the discussion – in fact, I did like the suggestions to do away with this idea of ‘Classical Studies’ and to move to a more geographic qualifier like ‘Mediterranean Studies’, since it is true that what we who identify as part of a Classical Studies department don’t always study Greek or Roman things. Moreover, this change would be inherently more inclusive of Egypt in all of its eras, not just the Graeco-Roman period. Perhaps more inclusion of Egypt and the wider Mediterranean in this way would, in fact, attract more PoC who are interested in learning about ancient PoC – however, I do not personally know if the ratio of whites to non-whites is actually lower in, for example, Egyptian or Middle Eastern studies.

It is true that there needs to be more exposure to racism in Classics, and I think that this was a well executed starting point for it. I am very happy to have seen such a huge turnout, even if it did include a self-proclaimed white supremacist, and I learned a whole lot about things I wouldn’t have thought to consider before today. Again, I hope that this sort of thing will continue in future years (though hopefully with less instances of racism in our country… though with the current state of our government, who even knows), and perhaps more students and/or PoC might share their own experiences with and perspectives of the scholarship.

If any other school has done anything cool like this please let me know!

Being a PoC in Classics: Some Thoughts

Ever since reading another blog post written by someone who had attended the Archaeological Institute of America/Society for Classical Studies joint annual meeting in Toronto, Canada, and realized that there needs to be more representation in Classics (see: Classical Studies’ glass ceiling is white), I’ve been thinking a little bit more about being a person of color in Classics than usual.

Here’s my situation – I have been an avid fan of Classics since I sat down in the computer lab on my registration day the summer before my freshman year of college, almost five years ago. Then, of course, I didn’t think anything of the color of my skin in relation to my colleagues. However, the disparity was and has always been there: in most Classics-related classes I have taken since then, I have been one of maybe two PoCs (with the other one only being marginally interested in Classics or just taking the course to get a general education credit out of the way, cue eye roll), and those classes have always been taught by white men and women. The disconnect became more glaring when I went on my first excavation, at the Athenian Agora in Athens, Greece, a two month experience where I got to engage in Classical Archaeology first hand and which reinforced my absolute love for the field. Sure, I had noticed that there were less than a handful of PoCs on the excavation, including myself, but it was not until I started writing statements of purpose for graduate school, some two years later, that it really hit me.

The ratio of whites to non-whites in Classics is abysmal. But I don’t think that’s really anyone’s fault. The field was built up by rich white men who wanted to collect ‘cool old stuff’ (that’s a technical term) and show it off to their friends to make themselves appear more affluent and impressive.

A lot of people, including the person who wrote the above mentioned article, believe that the problem is the lack of discussions of representation and race in the classroom. But I don’t really think so. I don’t think that seeing PoC represented in ancient art, or reading about them in ancient literature, or discussing the differences between modern and ancient slavery are unimportant approaches to the issue of race, but I do think that it can be incredibly discouraging to not see many people who look like you working in your field.

This quote from a Ted Talk by Dena Simmons on imposter syndrome spoke volumes to me:

I have eternal imposter syndrome. Either I’ve been invited because I’m a token, which really isn’t about me, but rather, about a box someone needed to check off. Or, I am exceptional, which means I’ve had to leave the people I love behind. It’s the price that I and so many others pay for learning while black.

In fact, it made me realize the real reason why I was doing all of this – sure, I’m pretty deep into my field (I’m getting my PhD, aren’t I?) so I don’t feel the burning need or desire to be force-fed seminars on representation in the ancient world since I know it all well enough. However, my ultimate goal is to become a professor and conduct my own research, and I think that those things are important for students of color who are marginally interested in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences majors because I think that if they could only see people who look like them doing what they love, then maybe they would be inspired to pursue their interests as well. I know I would have.

I get it. Parents are often protective of their children, wanting the best for them or better-for-them-than-they-had and push them into jobs that will get them somewhere, like law or medicine. My own mother, when I was thinking about where to go for high school, since where I grew up had magnet schools, really wanted me to pursue an engineering magnet (I suspect because she’s an engineer herself). I think I’ve had an aversion to science since I came out of the womb, so I made a beeline for the arts magnet and never looked back.

I am grateful to have a mother who has supported me so much from day one, even when I have stumbled over myself trying to explain what I could possibly do with a Classics major (A Lot!).

I am very lucky to have not had to go through a terrible time in my youth or my college years, to not have been discriminated against, to have been supported every step of the way by my professors, and to have been accepted into my dream graduate program. But I know that not everyone has been so lucky, and that not everyone is so secure in their interests that they feel confident enough to truly pursue them.

I can only hope that more people will be inspired to do so, especially in Classics and in Classical Archaeology, whether it be on their own or be from seeing someone who looks like them doing what they want to do and being where they want to be.

Maybe then the ratio of whites to non-whites at annual meetings won’t be so striking.