Clearing the Air: Racial Preferences in Classics Studies Revisited

David Randall

We wrote earlier this month about a race controversy that erupted at the joint meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) in San Diego this January. We encouraged the Classics Studies association to post the video of the panel “The Future of the Classics” as soon as possible, so that the public might view and judge the event directly. They have done so. In addition, Mary Frances Williams, who was banned from further participation in the SCS conference, has now had a chance to tell her side of the story.

The Society for Classical Studies does not emerge well from this fuller view of their panel. One or the other of the panelists rejected:

  1. The essential value of Classics as a discipline;
  2. The need to continue teaching Latin and Greek as core components of the discipline;
  3. Our continuing participation in Western Civilization; and
  4. The idea that the content and value of knowledge is independent of who produces it.

Several panelists called for the Classics profession to adopt bigotry on principle, by limiting the number of publications and footnotes allowed to white men. They justified this via the noxious jargon of critical race theory.

Meanwhile, Dr. Williams was punished for objecting to the panelists’ arguments. She was interrupted as she spoke, and then, under some stress, misspoke to Peralta.

In the hope of making my position clearer—that race should not be a determining factor when it comes to assessing the value of scholarship—I said to Padilla, “You may have got your job because you’re black, but I’d prefer to think you got your job because of merit.” Admittedly, I was under stress and did not express myself as clearly as I might have done, but what I was trying to convey is that the principle he was advocating clearly didn’t apply to hiring decisions—and nor should it—because he had got his job on merit, not because he’s black. Indeed, if I thought the opposite, and I imagined there was a chance of him saying, “You’re right, I was only hired because I’m black,” that would have contradicted the point I was trying to make, which is that it would have been wrong to hire him based only on his race, just as it would be wrong for an academic journal to publish an article based on the race of its author.

Williams should have apologized for misspeaking and Peralta should have accepted her apology. That should have been the end of the matter. Instead, Williams has not only been banished from the SCS conference but also been fired from her job as assistant editor of the Association of Ancient Historian’s Newsletter.

Meanwhile, Peralta’s response to Williams was that “here’s what I have to say about the vision of classics that you’ve outlined: If that is in fact a vision that affirms you in your white supremacy, I want nothing to do with it. I hope the field dies, that you’ve outlined [sic], dies, and that it dies as swiftly as possible!”

If the Society of Classical Studies, and the discipline of Classics as a whole, continues to honor the likes of Peralta, and punish the likes of Williams, Classics undoubtedly will die swiftly. Worst of all this death will be more suicide than murder.

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