Victor Davis Hanson, call your office

It seems that the plan is to reduce University course selection to just one subject:
Victim Group Studies.

How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting

Mary Frances Williams is a courageous person.  Reading about her experience tells us much about the modern Academy. Here is a long quote about the heart of the matter, but I recommend reading the whole thing to understand why Williams felt any need to make these common sense points.

I only wanted to make four very brief points, but I felt compelled to state at the beginning that we could not abandon the ancient languages because then we would have nothing left of our field—of all the egregiously shocking things I had just heard, that seemed to be the one that most cried out to be challenged. I then attempted to say the following:

1) It is important to stand up for Classics as a discipline, and promote it as the political, literary, historical, philosophical, rhetorical, and artistic foundation of Western Civilization, and the basis of European history, tradition, culture, and religion. It gave us the concepts of liberty, equality, and democracy, which we should teach and promote. We should not apologize for our field;

2) It is important to go back to teaching undergraduates about the great classical authors—Cicero, the Athenian dramatists, Homer, Demosthenes, the Greek and Roman historians, Plato, and Aristotle—in English translation in introductory courses;

3) One way of promoting Classics is to offer more survey courses that cover many subject areas (epic, tragedy, comedy, rhetoric, philosophy, history, political theory, and art history), or to concentrate on one area such as in Freshmen seminars, or through western civilization classes;

4) It should help with securing funding from administrators to argue that such survey courses are highly cost-effective: a student could learn a tremendous amount even if such a survey were the only Classics course taken. On the other hand, a seminar that concentrated on the close reading of a few texts would prove beneficial for all students.

Unfortunately, I was interrupted in the middle of my first point by Sarah Bond, who forcefully insisted: “We are not Western Civilization!”

What can one say to that? I didn’t respond; but as I then attempted to move on and make my second point, I was interrupted by her and others, and not permitted to finish what I had hoped would be four very brief statements. A member of the audience with no connection to the panel, Michael Gagarin (University of Texas Emeritus) rose, came over to me, and told me I wasn’t allowed to speak.

I had never been at an academic conference where a member of an audience had the power to forbid another audience member from speaking. I continued: “We don’t teach Homer. We don’t teach Cicero… Why don’t we teach Thucydides and Herodotus?… So I’m saying: Cicero has value. Homer has value. Demosthenes has value, because it will teach you about defending Democracy.” (Sarah Bond pointed out that these writers were “all men” and seemed to think she’d scored a devastating point at my expense.)

I then went on to say that I believe the journals publish articles on the basis of merit, not because of the race or ethnicity of the authors. Padilla then challenged me since I was clearly disagreeing with his argument, namely, that only black people and Hispanics should be able to publish in academic journals.

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 was attacked for her ideas in a supposedly academic discussion, and told to shut up. There’s lots of offensiveness to go around.

She quotes her offending phrase.  We can assume, since it is not flattering, that it is accurate; and can see why it could cause offense. But, as we’ll also see, Professor Peralta thinks he should have been hired simply because of his melanin content. A white person is not allowed to infelicitously agree with that, though.

And Williams is right, it would have contradicted her argument.  So, I think she didn’t mean it the way she said it.

From the comments: “There is nothing political in learning how to conjugate a Latin verb, for example.”  That’s actually the point Williams was trying to make.  But, there something political in it now.

In fact, that’s the whole point: Latin speakers were patriarchal, white, colonialists. Further, conjugation is simply a way to ‘otherize’ minorities by suggesting rigorous study is required for Classics students.

See, critical-theory intersectionality is easy. If you can write plainly.

For a Masters degree in the single University study SJWs are promoting, however, you have to be able to translate this (which is about STEM syllabi, though that’s irrelevant):

“…the curricular inclusion of Indigenous perspectives is differentially problematic if we cannot also attend to the taken-for-granted and naturalized epistemological, ontological, and axiological commitments and enactments of what we are including perspectives into.”

Finally, let’s let Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta, confirm that he hopes his perception of what Mary Frances Williams meant is true. Italics in original.  I think we can reasonably ask if he might have been more offended if Williams had said, “You didn’t get your job because you’re black.”

Seeing as no one in that room or in the conference corridors afterwards rallied to the defense of blackness as a cornerstone of my merit, I will now have to repeat an argument that will be familiar to critical race scholars of higher education but that is barely legible to the denizens of #classicssowhite. I should have been hired because I was black: because my Afro-Latinity is the rock-solid foundation upon which the edifice of what I have accomplished and everything I hope to accomplish rests; because my black body’s vulnerability challenges and chastizes the universalizing pretensions of color-blind classics; because my black being-in-the-world makes it possible for me to ask new and different questions within the field, to inhabit new and different approaches to answering them, and to forge alliances with other scholars past and present whose black being-in-the-world has cleared the way for my leap into the breach.

“Into the breach” is cultural appropriation.

“Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

8 thoughts on “Victor Davis Hanson, call your office”

  1. “I should have been hired because I was black” And the diatribe that followed is the most anti-meritocratic, disgusting thing I have read in a long time.

    The concept that somehow ones race is the paramount factor in determining academic rigour is as vile now as it was 150 years ago.

    Perhaps the esteemed Prof. Peralta would also advocate for segregated spaces and journals?

    1. “Perhaps the esteemed Prof. Peralta would also advocate for segregated spaces and journals?”

      I’m sure he would. Black only graduation ceremonies and safe-spaces are standard features of US campuses.

      1. “White” being someone of any melanin content who holds thoughts not approved by Professor Peralta. I’m sure William Sanders Scarborough would be excluded from publication.

  2. Academic capons scratching and pulling hair. When this academic bubble bursts, many will find themselves adrift in the cold hard world of reality.

  3. The real irony is the Ancients had almost no concept of race, at least not in the way these “scholars” insist on studying them.

    1. Yes, it’s not about any particular set of people. The idea is to conflate practices from 2000 years ago with US slave ownership. There is a point there, but automatically applying that point to every white person today is racism.