Announcing Resources for Teachers on Pharos

by Curtis Dozier, Director of Pharos

The murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 brought national attention to the Movement for Black Lives and its demand for justice for Black people in the United States. However, as most people of color already knew, Floyd’s murder was no isolated incident: 164 Black people were killed by police in the United States in the first eight months of 2020 alone. And police brutality without accountability is only one example of our white supremacist social order, which also perpetuates, for example, racial disparities in wealth and life-expectancy.

In a society so riven with anti-Black policies and structures, everyone has an obligation to resist. This obligation extends to our work as teachers of Classics. Writing in reaction to Floyd’s murder, Pria Jackson wrote in Eidolon that “White Classicists MUST resist and do the work. Every. Single. Day. To unlearn white supremacy in themselves, to unwrite the white supremacist narratives they discover, and to unteach the white supremacist ideologies they will invariably discover in students who approach Classics as a white history.” Her essay is a must-read for its articulation of the complicity of Classics and white supremacy, for its insistence on the fact that “white supremacy is already in your classroom,” and its diagnosis of the refusal of many white Classicists to acknowledge both.

We at Pharos were honored to be included in “the rapidly expanding list of digital resources” that Jackson provided. Our documentations of white supremacist appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity are, we hope, useful for those who want to follow her call to “Ask [ourselves]: ‘How was/is the topic I study used by white supremacy?'” And indeed, we have often heard from teachers who use our articles in their classes for exactly this, to raise awareness about how white supremacists find much that is congenial to their politics in the Classical world, to complicate the widespread belief that the “influence” of Greco-Roman antiquity is an exclusively beneficial one, and as one component in an accounting of the complicity of the field of Classics in white supremacy. They report that students are shocked, dismayed, and often energized by these appropriations, and that this material is very effective at prompting critical assessments of the mixed legacy of Classical Antiquity. It has always been gratifying to learn that others have found our work useful.

White Classicists MUST resist and do the work. Every. Single. Day.   — Pria Jackson

Today we are attempting to make it even easier for teachers to incorporate white supremacist appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity into their courses by publishing two collections of appropriations organized by theme. The first is intended for use in courses on ancient Greek civilization, and compiles discussions of various aspects of Classical Athens and Sparta from prominent online platforms for hate. The second is intended for use in courses on ancient sexuality and gender and compiles examples of misogynist appropriations of antiquity. These selections by no means exhaust the ways that hate groups invoke antiquity in support of their politics but are intended to represent many of the major arguments found in connection to each topic.

For each article our pages provide:

  • a brief summary of its argument
  • a few quotes previewing the hateful content of the article
  • a brief introduction to the site on which it appears,
  • a list of keywords indicating the major types of hatred articulated in the article as well as the key topics from antiquity it engages.
  • a link to a PDF of the original text and images of the article that have been extracted from the site on which it appeared.

These PDF versions are provided as an alternative to having students visit and browse white supremacist sites, where some will be susceptible to trauma and others to radicalization. We can provide teachers with links to archived versions of the original posts upon request at pharosclassics@vassar.edu.

Recognizing that the critical presentation of white supremacist material requires care and expertise on the part of teachers, we have paired this compilation of appropriations with a page collecting advice on the best practices for teaching about white supremacy and suggesting a series of questions around which instructors may wish to organize their discussions.

Pria Jackson wrote, “a white person (an academic in particular) can find themselves subjected to the overwhelming feelings of embarrassment at not knowing how to talk about race and power and oppression and elitism, much less how to go about unteaching it in others. But you can’t just leave an infection like this be. You can’t just wait and hope it will pass or the field will somehow naturally grow out of it. The Classics community must get up, go out, and get some fucking antibiotics.” The pages Pharos has published today only constitute one part of the work I, and all of us must do. But I hope this one part will make it easier for more of us to begin that work.

If you find this resource useful or would like to offer advice for improvement I would love to hear from you on social media (@pharosclassics) or by email. And if there are other topics about which a similar collection of links would be useful — The fall of the Roman Empire, the Homeric Epics, Plato’s Republic, the Latin authors included in the AP Latin syllabus, or major figures from Greek Mythology are some that come to mind as being frequently taught  — please let me know.

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