"Fra-gee-lay. Must be Italian"

 


One of the biggest issues facing the academic discipline that calls itself "Classics" is the fact that so many people who spend their lives studying how languages work and what things mean if written in Greek and Latin are seemingly incredibly incapable of taking the same care when it comes to words and meaning in their own languages and everyday lives. Case in point: there is a difference fundamentally between saying that someone or something supports White supremacist systems and ideologies and saying that someone is a White supremacist. 

I have never been called a White supremacist for choosing to study and teach ancient Greece and Rome. I have been called fragile for not recognizing that White people have had lots of advantages in this world that are not afforded to our Black, Asian, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latino/a, Pacific Islander neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family. I have been guilty of thinking that my first gen, working class background and/or gender was the equivalent and set me at equal disadvantage and then getting huffy when the differences are pointed out. I've worked to be less fragile about it and just put my head down and do the work to try to reduce or eradicate the systems used to oppress and suppress and work to reduce and eliminate the disadvantages in whatever spaces I am in. Sometimes that means actually stepping out of those spaces or even dismantling them. Usually, there is plenty of room in the space so long as we don't whitespread. If I don't do these things, then I, too, am contributing to the system we call White supremacism. 

One can contribute to White supremacism in many ways while not being a White supremacist. This can be done, for example, by pushing the Western Exceptionalism narrative in our classrooms and scholarship. It can be done by pretending that colorblindness is effective in eradicating racism and supporting colorblind policies. We can support White supremacism by accusing our Black colleagues of always being political while pretending that our Whiteness is neutral. We can support White supremacism even if we aren't White or don't think of ourselves as White. None of this necessarily means one is a White supremacist. 

Certainly, choosing to study antiquity doesn't make one a White supremacist. But, one can choose how to teach, write about and study antiquity. And if the way one chooses to do so is in the knowledge that the traditional way of doing so has been used in the past in the service of empire, colonialism, and racial segregation in ways that continue to impact the present (the past, after all, does impact the present -- an argument we all always make for why it is important to study the past), then one is supporting a White supremacist system. But, one can choose again. 

One can choose not to support that system by learning how the system works and what changes they can make to the system through policy and practice to reduce harm and move towards equity and equality and a less racist system.  Some of that might mean recognizing that the Western exceptionalism narrative is just that, a narrative. And that it and the "Greek Miracle" are neither Truth™(in the sense of an accurate reflection of antiquity) nor necessary to loving and encouraging the study of antiquity. Some of that means recognizing that supporting the status quo will be perceived by our colleagues on campus in other disciplines as supporting that history of White supremacism and changing our programs to combat those perceptions.

These stories were part of a White supremacist system and continue to support it. We can choose to give up that particular story. We don't need it. There are more accurate and way more interesting ways to study and teach and write about the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. Choosing to keep those particular narratives means choosing to continue supporting White supremacism. Does that make one a White supremacist? It depends. It certainly can look more like one is choosing White supremacism if they are made aware that what they are doing supports a White supremacist system and then still choose to do it. 

Rejecting that knowledge (that these stories support White supremacism) and deflecting away from it is a form of fragility -- it means not necessarily that one is a White supremacist, but it does certainly mean that one has wrapped their identity so tightly around a notion of the superiority of a very specific academic framing that they begin to break under the idea that maybe it is just a story after all and it doesn't make them better than others to study it. 

The truth is, White supremacism (like its bestie racism) are not about individuals. It isn't about who is and is not a White supremacist. It is about a system that allows for and promotes inequality based on excluding people who aren't categorized as White in the system from justice, fairness, privilege, participation, comfort, care, education, or any other wide range of basic things we pretend are universal human rights. But we have been taught and we are continuing to be taught (aggressively in many states in the US) that racism is a problem of individual behavior and not a system we live in or the actual fabric of our societies. It makes it so much easier to do nothing when we can say "I am not a racist" instead of seeing what is before our eyes everyday: the system is racist and we can and do all contribute to it even if we don't intend to. 

Same with its sibling White supremacism. If we reduce the conversation to "is this individual a White supremacist?" then it deflects away from the very real system in place that our individual actions contribute to that is White supremacism. Does contributing to this mean one is a White supremacist? It means that one is, whether they truly believe in the superiority of a White "race" or not, supporting a system of White supremacism. And we can supports White supremacist systems whether we believe we are racist or not. We can support White supremacist systems whether we are "White" or not. We can support White supremacist systems whether we are harmed by them or not. 

This isn't that difficult to understand. And it certainly shouldn't be difficult to understand by people who make a living by studying language and what it means and how it works. It is mistaking racism as a problem of individuals and not embedded within social, political and economic systems. I can only conclude that often this isn't a mistake, however, but an act of deflection to avoid responsibility for trying to do anything about the very real problems of White supremacism and racism in our world. 

What is an Identity?

As some people know, I am trying to finish a book right now on ancient identity formation and the way modern identities get built from them. There is a lot of scholarship on trying to understand ethnicity and race in both the ancient and modern worlds but not necessarily the interactions between the two. Maybe that is why I have enjoyed reading Greenberg and Hamilakis' Archaeology, Nation and Race book -- it does just this (and has led me to a lot of other work that also does it). I've also been looking forward to finishing someday Berger's The Past as History. There are so many books I need to finish reading.  And so many books I need to finish writing. 

As I was writing a chapter in the book, I also decided to work through some of the confusion that even a story like that of my own family can cause. I am not including it in the chapter, but it was a good clarifying exercise because it reminded me that for every sweep of history concerning "Greeks" and "Romans" and 'White people" etc, there are the microhistories of the people we lump under these larger identities. In recent weeks, at least one person mislabeled me as "mixed race", in part because of the confusion my name causes (one should ALWAYS be cautious of using names to track ethnicity) and because, while I personally am not descended in any meaningful way from anyone Asian, my step family with whom I grew up is. It causes confusion to many. 

The point is, however, that all of us have in our family histories some of these elements of confusion. It may be one of the reasons why some White people cling to that White identity so fiercely--they don't like the confusion, the uncertainty, the multiplicities. They rail agains "multiculturalism" having invested in a monocultural myth. They fear their "replacement" by ethnic and racialized others because White people are mostly descended from people who have committed genocide all over the world. And even if we happen to be from somewhere that didn't, we only have home on this continent because others before our families did and because we were somehow allowed to immigrate and assimilate (eventually) to reap the benefits of that genocide. 

Anyway, these are just some thoughts on identities on a rainy morning after a day of racialized terrorism and violence while I try to work on finishing a book on the sometimes violent ways humans decide who is and isn't similar enough or worthy enough to be included in the category "human".  Here is the material I removed from the book on the confusions of even just my own family's identity over the last 100 or so years:

***   

Here’s an example from my own life: my father’s grandparents (and some of his aunts and uncles then children) immigrated to the United States from the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. They and their children identified as Hungarian-Americans.They were either born in the “Old Country” (as they called it) or were raised in houses where the language and culture were still strong. The first generation were naturalized citizens, the second were a mix of naturalized and natural-born. I am of the fourth generation. The hyphen indicated for my great-grandparents that they held two identities, one cultural and by birth (Hungarian) and one by citizenship (American). For my grandparents, it held similar connotations, but slightly reversed; they were Americans by birth, but Hungarians and Americans by cultural practices. 

For my father and myself, we are basically Americans, but with a memory of cultural traditions from our childhoods practiced by our older family members, that we don’t much adhere to and certainly don’t consider our own. We are Americans by birth, cultural habit, and citizenship. Our name (Futo) is the only real marker of Hungarian descent – but even here, our name is often confused for being Asian (Japanese, precisely). Adding to the confusion, my step-mother is Japanese-American; born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American father on a US military base. There is no hyphen in my identity, however. I might make a great goulash or paprikas, but that doesn’t make me Hungarian anymore. And, the fact that we ate more Japanese food growing up and immersed ourselves in Japanese culture more often (and still do), doesn’t make me Japanese either.


Citizenship, culture, and geography have all become American. Only the knowledge that my great-grandparents immigrated from a place other than where I am now remains of the Hungarian. And that memory isn’t enough to grant me the hyphen. Why? because in the world we inhabit today, we could become American and, perhaps more importantly, my family could become White. In tension here are my modern ethnic and racial identities. Culturally, I am American; this is my ethnicity; racially, I am White as “white” is the box I check on US Census forms. My great-grandparents were not White because they were Hungarian; I, however, am White because they were Hungarian. What a difference 100 years makes. Now imagine the difference 2000 years makes.


What made my family’s transition from Hungarian to White happen? Genetically, we didn’t change. Sure, my grandfather married a Croatian woman, but Croatians weren’t White either at that time. What changed were attitudes about what and who counted. What changed was how those with social, political, and economic power defined their opposition and who they needed to co-opt to maintain their power. That is what race is -- race uses ethnicity (mostly) and crafts hierarchies of degrees of difference from the dominant group. Sometimes it even offers access to formerly racialized others if it serves the purposes of maintaining its power.

Reflections on "the West"

 Just last week, I finished a chapter for an edited volume on history and authority that, although good, may never get published. I say this not because the editors rejected it -- they did not. But because I am uncertain it will make it past peer review. I do not think it is a bad article; in fact, parts of it are excellent. But it is "political". I took on one of the most authoritative stories in history -- Western civilization -- and subjected contemporary classics and ancient history writers who promote "the West" and Western exceptionalism to the same type of scrutiny I was trained to apply to ancient texts.  "Western civilization" is a political concept, so any attempt to understand its history and continued power is de facto political as well. As far as those who treat it as a neutral category are concerned, to try to understand it is to violate some sort of academic objectivity, because to truly understand it means to see it as a history of violence and exploitation. For some people, those are good things. If you think they are bad, you are "political."

In doing philological analysis of my colleagues instead of simply citing them as one opinion on an ancient topic, I may have crossed a line. Because no analysis of the Western civilization narrative can avoid the problems of imperialism, colonialism, and genocide that created it. The racism and White supremacism are always there, even when we pretend it isn't. Many of my colleagues want to preserve the language and the category of "West" by pretending it is historically neutral and values-free. It never is. It can't be. And scholars who spend their time arguing about the historically contextual meanings of words should know better.

There are perhaps people who are at this very moment thinking that "the West" is having a moment and is a force for good in the world and so critiquing the history of the label and its meaning is bad. But, if anything, the invasion of Ukraine and the language surrounding it should make clear that this history is very relevant and that we should be concerned  with how we understand "the West" historically. We should be particularly interested in how "West" and "Western" are used to stand in for "civilization" and "civilized".

Like my colleague Neville Morley, who speaks of his own scramble to finish his chapter for the same volume, I too wanted to include a section in my chapter on the current language surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are awash in stories of "the West" standing against the evil tyranny of Russia. Except, of course, it isn't "the West" doing it. It is one of those spaces on the map that "the West" designated back in 1994 as a buffer zone between itself and Russia. There are numerous spots on the map of Eurasia that act as such buffer zones. Greece is one, as Yannis Hamilakis discusses in his new co-authored book Archaeology, Nation, and Race. Ukraine is a buffer zone. And the language used in the press and by pundits and analysts in Russia and Europe/US to discuss the war make clear that Ukraine is not "the West". 

Historically, Ukraine's region has always been both a geographic border region and a civilizational one for those who identify as Europeans. But even in antiquity, when no such identity existed, what is now Ukraine was thought to sit at what was considered the boundary between Europe and Asia since the days of Herodotus and Hippocrates. Both the Hippocratic Airs, Waters, Places and Herodotus set the boundary at the Don River, which is very near to the southwestern border of Russia and the eastern border of Ukraine. The territory in Ukraine that Russia is claiming for themselves and currently attempting to depopulate of Ukrainians is on that eastern border near the Don River (ancient Tanais). 


In antiquity, this area was inhabited, according to various ancient Greek texts, by a combination of various groups of "Scythians" and with Greek colonies.  In the Hippocratic Airs, the residents of the region were oddities in need of a medical explanation. The schematic nature of the environmental theory unpinning the Airs demands that the imagined wet and cold climate of the region create people who are bloated and round and can only look like the Scythians the author and other southern Greeks were familiar with through the application of technologies, specifically, hot irons to burn out the wet and damp from their bodies and turn them into the muscled and lithe horseback warriors they were known to be. 

Herodotus, however, provides a lot more detail and variety to his story of the Scythians. Hartog is still, perhaps, the best read for understanding the hold the nomadic horsemen of the Black Sea region held on southern Greeks, but Herodotus himself gives us the story that informs most of our modern imaginary about Steppe peoples, horse-warriors, nomads, and "primitives" on the prairies. They are the quintessential "Noble Savage".  The map below gives a reasonable interpretation of Herodotus' placement of the different Scythian groups and decades of archaeology have given us a picture of exquisite artisans, warriors, and horseman that doesn't conflict all that much with Herodotus' representation. 


Of course, this isn't the whole story. Everywhere along those coasts are Greeks, going all the way back to the 7th century BCE. And Olbia, of course, isn't too far from where Odessa is now, which is itself on top of a Greek colony. Not on the map above also are the group Herodotus calls the Helleno-Scyths and, of course, the Colchians, who may have been descended in part (again according to Herodotus) from an ancient Egyptian shipwreck, while the Sauromatae were said to have descended from a shipwrecked crew of Amazons. Regardless of how accurate Herodotus' origin stories are, what we do know is that Ukraine today is the result of millenia of rich cultural interactions that have formed into its own modern nation today. It doesn't belong to Russia anymore than Greece belongs to "the West" or Russia (despite their apparent grand imperial plans on the country). Also, despite the sentiments of some folks, Ukraine is Europe. But being in Europe doesn't make them "Western", at least not enough for some people. 

It came as a bit of a shock to many people to hear journalists reporting on the invasion using phrases like "relatively civilized" and "they look like us" to discuss the first waves of refugees coming from Ukraine. It was part of their explanation for why these refugees should be accepted into Europe as opposed to all the refugees whom various European states said they were "too full" to take who came from Syria and other war zones to their south (though, of course, Syria is another Russia vs "the West" war, just on someone else's turf). The argument had to be made, though, because Ukraine is only "relatively civilized" because it sits a a buffer between "East" and "West" and isn't "the West." 

The UK is at least honest about this in their refusal to open their borders to refugees. Brexit was mostly aimed at getting eastern Europeans out of the UK, so at least they are consistent. Poland is taking in the most Ukrainian refugees, marking it also as a buffer, just as Greece and Italy were expected by their northern allies to take in and deal with all of the refugees driven out of Syria by war. "The West" builds concentric circles of Westernness around itself. Those concentric circles aren't just Westernness, though. Because "Western" is just a proxy for "civilization" in these discourses. Those circles are also about level of "civilization" -- from civilized to barbarian to savage. Ukraine is in the "relatively civilized" circle, along with much of eastern Europe and as such are deemed inferior locations of resource extraction and exploitation by the still colonizer mentality of western European countries. That hasn't changed in more than a century. 

The fact that Europe and the US are even mobilizing as much effort as they are to help Ukraine is amazing. When Hungary attempted to fight off the Soviets in 1954, they were abandoned, even after continual encouragement by Radio Free Europe and other propaganda mechanisms to resist the Soviets. One member of the British parliament made clear where he stood. He said in response to debate about supporting the revolution something to the effect of "Ever since Arpad and his Magyars entered into the Carpathian basin, they have been nothing but trouble for the rest of Europe." But the point is, those Magyars were not "Europe." They were not "the West". They were a buffer between "the West" and Russia (and in earlier centuries, between Christendom and barbarians) and so were sacrificed. 

NOTE: Viktor Orban is clearly an ally of Putin and is doing only now what he can do without drawing Putin's ire entirely.  Far right governments stick together. But in 1954, the Hungarian revolutionaries were abandoned. Just facts. 

Anyway, the point of this all this is that that story of "the West" is a powerful one that often obscures the realities that it is a story of "civilization" and is part of a narrative about "values" and not geography. It isn't that Ukraine isn't geographically "West" of those who supposedly embody the "East" (Russia off and on for about 300 years now), but that it is in an external concentric circle of civilization that situates it as only "relatively civilized." Their purpose in Europe is to be sacrificed to ensure the safety of their geographically western (and so more "civilized") neighbors. 

If Ukraine manages to push Russia back and survive this war with its country intact, it won't be because "the West" came to its aid (enough). It will be because they fought for their very existence and Russia wasn't as almighty as they present themselves. But the cost will be millions of Ukrainian lives destroyed -- people murdered, bombed, shot; children kidnapped and adopted into Russian families to try to erase their Ukrainianness; hospitals, schools, homes, museums, historic buildings, parks roads, bridges, businesses obliterated; millions displaced perhaps never to be able to return. An actual attempted genocide while we watch. A very "Western" result. 


Note on the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

 Whenever colleagues ask about the material I am working with on the intersection of the "classical" and scientific racism, I talk a lot about how theories like environmental determinism got connected to global capitalism and industrial technologies and then became the basis for rankings of  peoples. Then I like to show them the ways these theories were popularized and became embedded in the fabric of American popular culture. Often, I point to the Chicago 1893 World's Exposition. But, the Louisiana Purchase Expo in St Louis in 1904 (connected to the 1904 Olympic games) was perhaps even more explicit. It too had a "White City" that was contrasted with hundreds of acres of human zoos of non-European peoples, including a 47-acre Filipino "reservation" intended to focus visitors' understanding of the Filipines as an imperial acquisition for exploitation of resources and where only some of the local population could be "saved" by education and assimilation under the "White Man's Burden."  This stuff is pretty explicit, not hidden at all, so it isn't difficult to say with ample evidence that those scientists and politicians and financiers in charge of the fairs were openly White supremacist. It was accepted. 

Anyway, I wanted to share one piece of evidence here because I thought it might be a useful visual for people to understand the infrastructure of American racism and how many of our prejudices were fed by popular entertainments. This is the front cover of volume 5 of the official guides to the Louisiana Expo along with the description. 

Description: "The photograuve herewith is from an excellent specially prepared drawing which very accurately illustrates, as nearly as the science of ethnology is able to do, the characteristic types of mankind in a progressive order of development from primitive or prehistoric man to the highest example of modern civilization. The two central figures are symbolical, representing Intelligence, with the torch of Enlightenment and book of Wisdom, invading the darksome cave in which Ignorance skulks in companionship with bird of evil omen and superstition. It is aspiration lighting the dungeon of savagery and directing the race to better conditions, moral, intellectual, and social."






Translating and Retranslating

 Today I had a conversation with a bright undergrad at University of Pittsburgh who is working on a research project and wanted to know about the translation of a passage from the sourcebook. Here it is, Manilius Astronomica 4.711-730:

For that reason, humankind is arranged by various standards and physical qualities, and peoples are fashioned with their own complexion, indicating through their physical appearance, as if by private treaty with nature, the shared society and similar substance of their people. Germany stands tall, with its towering offspring, all of it blonde, while Gaul is slightly dyed with a redness akin to Germans. Hardier Spain is an assemblage of compact, sturdy limbs. Romulus endows the Romans with the face of Mars and, through the union of Mars and Venus, well-balanced proportion of limbs, while clever Greece announces through its well-tanned people [720] their preference for athletics, especially manly wrestling. Curly hair at the temples reveals the Syrian.

The Ethiopians defile the earth and form a people drenched in shadows, while India bears people less burnt. Egypt, flooded by the Nile, darkens its people more gently because of the well-watered fields nearby and makes their complexions only moderately dark by its mild climate. Apollo, the sun god, dries out the people of Africa with dust in their desert sands, and Mauretania contains its name in the peoples’ faces, [730] the title “mauretania” being one with the color itself.

The part he was asking about is: "The Ethiopians defile the earth and form a people drenched in shadows..." and the question was about the translation of maculare as "defile". Welp, I am here to tell you that the translation is wrong. Given the context, it should be "darkens" or "marks". What we have is a gradation of colors: from the darkest to the lightest shades of black/brown. 

The word maculare has lots of figurative pejorative uses, which I imported into this translation, but I don't think it belongs. Instead, I assumed a prejudice by Manilius that he likely did not have and then put it in a translation, which will be read by lots of people who don't know Latin and will go around thinking that ancient Romans had the same sort of prejudice we do in the modern world. Some will think that justifies their own anti-blackness. Others will then be turned way from Latin authors thinking this is a norm for them, too. 

Anyway, this is just another reason to say no to any new projects and hit the ground running in the next couple of years on a revision and expansion of the Sourcebook. There are numerous things in it that I would no longer do today and we really need to update and fix the errors. 



A True Story about Student Loans

There are a lot of people who talk about student loans who actually know nothing about them -- even people who work for the Dept of Education that oversees them. They know nothing about them because they don't live with them and the arcane processes that the government and private servicers and lenders have developed to keep people who took those loans out in perpetual debt. I thought I would shed some light on what it is like to live with student loan debt for decades even though you should have qualified for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program years ago. Something like only 1% of people with student loan debt have had their loans forgiven. That number should appall you. The whole system should appall you. 

***

Let's  start with my situation going into college so readers understand how and why student loans happen to begin with, especially in a pre-2008 crisis world:

I was a first generation college student living in a house where the rule was 18 and out. We were not provided any funds to college if we chose to go that route nor were we allowed to live at home. That meant that regardless of what the FAFSA report which I was required to fill out said about "parental contribution", there simply was none. And, given my father's income at the time, there was no financial aid for me that wasn't a loan. 

So, it was 1993 and I worked about 30-40 hours a week at Red Lobster and took out student loans to pay for college and all of my living expenses. The two things my father paid for were my car insurance and health insurance. My mother sent me $300/month to help with rent and such. I lived in San Diego, which even then was too expensive for a teen trying to go to college and live on their own at the same time. I went to UCSD, where tuition cost $1800 per year when I started and cost $4200 per year when I finished. Then there were books, other fees, parking and transportation, rent, food, utilities, etc. I was at UCSD from 1993 to 1997 and accumulated $18k in student loans through the direct federal subsidized and unsubsidized loan programs. Then, I went to graduate school.

I was in graduate school for an MA and a PhD at Ohio State from 1997-2003. I finished fast by Humanities standards. My first year was unfunded and out of state tuition was $18,000/year. I took out direct federal student loans and worked at another Red Lobster. I was put on funding my 2nd year. Our funding package covered tuition and paid us $10,000 per year. We were paid for 9 months and expected to save to cover our unfunded summers, unless you were one of the lucky 3 people who got summer funding (always senior students and frequently the same 3-5 students). With that 10k per year (which rose to 14k by my 5th year), we were to cover all our expenses that weren't tuition. We were not supposed to work more than 10/hrs per week in an outside job per the conditions of our TA position.  I finished graduate school with a combined undergrad/grad debt of $110,000.

Now, because I had no support for undergrad, that means I came to grad school not only with student loans but also with other debt. Because my first year was unfunded, I also took on more debt. I had to pay for all of my own expenses from the time I graduated from high school. That means that I started accumulating debt from the moment I started college. And I never stopped. Because debt always creates more debt. And because I do not have any inherited wealth and had no family support, as a first gen student, I started off in debt and will likely continue in debt until I die and if the loans are not paid off then, they will try to extract it from my spouse or child. I went to only state schools and either didn't have a car or drove variously a stripped down toyota truck or a ford festiva because neither San Diego not Columbus have ever had very robust public transportation options. I lived at times with as many as 4 other people to try to keep expenses low. But school and living costs only increased as the years went on.

When I got my first job out of grad school, it paid $42,000/year to live in Washington DC. I had $110,000 in student loan debt. And DC was expensive. My then servicer suggested I consolidate my loans to help keep the payments down and then used an extended payment plan for high debt. There were no income contingent payment plans in 2003, so this was the best thing to do. Otherwise, $800/month of my $3000/month income would have gone to student loans and I would not have been able to pay anything else really. Not in DC.  Instead I paid $500. My rent was $2000. 

But, here is the part that is important: when my student loans were consolidated, they were moved to a new type of loan and in the computer system, it looks like my Direct Federal Student Loans taken out from 1993-2003 were paid off. Because that is how consolidation works -- the company that takes on the loan, buys it from the lender. So, my 10 years of different loans now looked like 1 single loan taken out in 2003. 

In 2007, the government initiated the PSLF program.  I was a professor and so my employment qualified me. But they only counted any employment that started after 2007 and no loan payment before 2007 would count. So, basically, in 2007, the clock started. In 2009, I applied for the income based repayment plan that also started around 2007. It cut my monthly payments in half. But, my servicer's website advised that we apply for the program only when we became eligible for forgiveness, i.e. after 10 years. The website also did not explain that even if you took out Direct Federal Student Loans, once you consolidated those loans, they no longer qualified for the program

Fast forward to 2014. I decided on the advice of friends, to send in the app for the PSLF program just to see where I stand and get a payoff number. Technically, it was 7 years from when the program started and I had been making payments of qualifying level that whole time. BUT! And here is the big BUT. When I applied, I was told that my loans did not qualify because ONLY Direct Federal Student Loans qualified. And it was only at this time that they explained to me that my Direct Federal Student Loans had not been consolidate AS Direct Federal Student Loans, but as one of the servicer's private loan types.  

It was, of course, to the servicer's benefit, not mine, to have my loans consolidated that way and it was the loan industry that lobbied hard to limit the loan forgiveness program to only Direct Federal Loans. That meant that all the loans they had consolidated away from that program to their own programs would NOT qualify. And, even though thousands of us had originally taken out Direct loans, our debt could not be discharged under the new program even when we had both qualifying employment and had been paying them regularly and without default or forbearance for over a decade already. 

So, in 2014, I initiated a reconsolidation of my loans to return them to the Direct Federal Student Loan program so that I could qualify for the PSLF program. But every reconsolidation wipes out the previous payments. I had, at this point, never missed a payment since 2003 and had even been in the qualifying payment types and in a qualifying job since the beginning of PSFL, but the clock started ALL OVER in 2015 when my loans were move BACK into the Direct Federal Loan program. If you go into my loans right now, it says that the loans were initiated in 2015 and I now only have 78 qualifying payment. I still owe $50,780 in 2021 and still have until 2025 until I qualify for PSLF (if we still have the program and the then administration actually follows through). 

So, to recap, I took out my original loans from the direct federal program between 1993-2003. I have not missed a single payment over that time and have paid off $60,000 of the loans plus about $30,000 in interest. Because, of course, when your loan payments string out over 20 years, even at 3% interest, that is tens of thousand of dollars. My own child will be starting college in 2024 and I have almost no accumulated savings to cover those costs. Because how can you save when you have spent 20 years paying 25% of your monthly income to student loans?  My own child's college choices will be limited because I have student loan debt. And I have student loan debt because I had no parental support to go to college. 

***

This is how generational debt is perpetuated. This is why social mobility in America is a lie. The entire student loan structure is about getting people into debt with promises of a better life and then keeping them in debt to transfer any wealth we may accumulate in that "better life" to the banks and other already wealthy classes. And then when the debt reaches crisis proportions for masses of people, they turn it around and say "oh, but you don't deserve loan forgiveness because you were irresponsible." No, my friends. I and people like me have been very responsible and have been diligently working to pay for everything. The system is just designed to make that as difficult as possible. We deserve to have our loans forgiven because we have more than already paid them off!  The system has been changed over and over again, however, to make it so that never happens. Or only happens after lenders have milked as much EXTRA from us as they can get away with. 

If we stopped owing money, then how would rich companies and people stay rich? How would they ensure that any wealth that might accumulate to the lower and middle classes would trickle up to them? Because THAT is the legacy of trickle down economics -- almost all the money has transferred upwards and student loan debt has been one of the tools in the capitalist toolkit to ensure it keeps doing so. 

PS. If you want to know why only 78 of my 80 payments qualify? When I was transferring from the income based repayment plan back to the standard plan, the loan servicer took out two withdrawals in the same month. So, according to the system, their servicing error looks instead like I made an extra payment which means that both of those payments they took out do not qualify as "qualifying payments". Their banking error, my penalty. 

EDIT TO ADD THE HAPPY ENDING TO THIS STORY: 

One month after writing this blog post, I received the email telling me that under the temporary expansion of what count as eligible payments, my loans have been forgiven. 

SECOND EDIT:   I got a refund for 9 overpayments on my loan (at $809.74 each). Had there not been a payment moratorium during COVID, I would have gotten all of those payments back as well. Because I ended up overpaying by years for the program. But they are now working to make things right for us.

CANCEL STUDENT DEBT! ALL OF IT. 


Talking about Race and Ethnicity in Greco-Roman Antiquity

A couple of years ago, I gave a talk that was the seed of a book I am now in the process of finishing up discussing whether or not we can talk about the ideas of race and ethnicity outside of modern contexts. I posted the talk on the blog here and it seems to continue to be of interest to readers. There, I posited rethinking how we deploy those terms given that it has been the practice of those working in the discipline called "Classics" especially to just use them interchangeably, under the misconception that the terms are really just marking the same concepts. The result has been as one might expect -- from about the 1960 until 2010-ish, we only had scholarship on antiquity that talked about "ethnicity" and now, we are getting a lot of scholarship that is talking about ethnicity in Greco-Roman antiquity, but is calling it "race." We are also getting more studies that are talking about Blackness, Black people, or Africans in the ancient Mediterranean, as "race in antiquity". Very few scholars of antiquity are actually studying "race" as it is understood by sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers and legal scholars of race, some of which falls under the penumbra of Critical Race Theory™(OH NOES!).

My own work in this area has changed a lot over the last decade as I have engaged more and more deeply with both the theories and the histories of race and ethnicity in the modern world AND identity formation in Greco-Roman antiquity. Where I once followed the party line of using ethnicity and treating "race" as only a modern phenomenon, I now recognize that my mistake rested in thinking that "race" was actually a biological thing (even if I recognized it was an imaginary one) and so could only manifest in modernity. Simultaneously, in recognizing that "race" is really something quite different than its modern biological manifestation, I have also recognized that we can't simply use the words race and ethnicity interchangeably because they signify different relationships to identity. In other words, I have had to get serious about the research because these ideas are complex and just using the terms as we do in everyday life or as they are found in our Greek and Latin lexicons can be worse than not using them at all. 

The result of all of this research is that in order to write my current book (Ancient Identities/Modern Politics: Race and Ethnicity in Greco-Roman Antiquity, for Johns Hopkins University Press), I have had to develop a working vocabulary and clearly articulated definitions so as not to muddle the already muddied waters where race and antiquity and its modern receptions are involved.  As I have been giving talks around and about on the material from the book, I have found it is helpful for audiences to know how I am using these terms. Some of it I've already highlighted in my work on metics (a version of which is posted here), some of it will appear in a forthcoming article in Classical Outlook on teaching race and ethnicity in the Latin classroom, and some of it will appear in a forthcoming Classical Review review of he new Cambridge Greek Lexicon. But, I thought maybe it might be helpful to others to see these working definitions all together in one place. So, here they are.

***

Race: a technology or doctrine of population management that institutionalizes ethnic prejudice, oppression, and inequality based on imaginary and changeable signifiers for human difference, signifiers that manifest differently in different times and places (i.e. it is historically contingent and fluid). Race is, in many instances, a biologized type of class system. 

Biorace: One form of “race”; a fiction that certain visible physical characteristics and blood/biological descent among people are signs of moral and intellectual abilities and that people can be classified along the lines of these biological differences for explaining social, political, and economic inequalities. Common forms of biorace are skin color designations (somatic race) and genetic identities.

Ethnicity: a group identity shaped according to changing needs and contexts that most frequently reflects a form of self-grouping or identification of others based on a belief in shared characteristics that may include cultural practices, geography, and/or a notion of imagined shared descent or kinship. 

Racism: an ideology; the practice of a double standard that naturalizes the idea that human differences signify superiority or inferiority. These double standards enable and reinforce prejudice and justify oppression. 

Racecraft: "the practical, day to day actions that reproduce the imaginary, pervasive belief in natural distinctions between the groups." (Fields and Fields (2013) 18-19.

Race-making: the process by which communities define their in and out groups and develop justifications for and enforcement mechanism for maintaining these distinctions. Race-making institutionalizes ethnic and/or class prejudices along "natural" criteria.


White supremacism
: a specific racial ideology based on the assumption of superiority of a “White” race over other groups or of a “White” norm or neutral position from which everyone else diverges. It is not an extreme form of individual racism, but a structure; one can have White supremacism without overt racism. White supremacism describes a conceptual system (often concealed) that centers and supports a group called “White” against those excluded from the category. The category itself is historically contingent.

Race science: the actual categories and typologies still used in physical anthropology and population genetics. The science of categorizing people through biological or genetic expressions (phenotype). A form of racecraft for maintaining biorace as a way of categorizing peoples.

Scientific racism: racist ideas that dress themselves up in “science” to justify their claims, like the idea the IQ is linked to skin color or the idea that violence is correlated to bioracial categories.

Western: A term generally used to refer to Western and Central European countries and some of their colonial offspring (like the United States, Australia and New Zealand). Israel is also included frequently under the category, while Russia and eastern Europe frequently are not.

Western exceptionalism: The idea that countries included in the category of “western” have a distinctive destiny or historical trajectory that marks them as special and superior to those outside the group. Such “exceptionalism” is said to be rooted in specific values embraced by the west as foundational to their identity. "Western Civilization" is one packaging of western exceptionalism most frequently understood within a "clash of civilizations" model.

Classics: a specific packaging of the ancient Mediterranean world as an explicitly Greco-Roman world that developed beginning in the middle of the 18th century and became embedded within academic contexts. “Classics” came to be primarily identified with the ancient Greek and Latin languages in universities. “Classics” is not the content of antiquity, but a specific way of studying it and viewing it.


Some works informing these definitions and/or which are otherwise enlightening:

Appiah, A. 2019. The Lies That Bind. Liverlight. 

Bell, D. 2020 Dreamworlds of Race: Empire and the Utopian Destiny of Anglo-America (Princeton University Press).

Birney, E., Inouye, M., Raff, J., Rutherford, A. and Scally, A., 2021. “The language of race, ethnicity, and ancestry in human genetic research.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2106.10041.

Bonnett, A., 2016. “Whiteness and the West.” In New geographies of race and racism. (Routledge) 31-42.

Bonilla-Silva, E. 2018. Racism without Racists. 5th edition. Rowan and Littlefield. 

Fields, K. and B. Fields 2012 Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. Verso.

Ifekwunigwe, J., J. Wagner, J-H. Yu, T. Harrell, M. Bamshad,and C. Royal. 2017. "A Qualitative Analysis of How Anthropologists Interpret the Race Construct" American Anthropologist 119: 422-434.

Mullings, L., J.B. Torres, A. Fuentes, C. Gravlee, D. Roberts, and Z. Thayer. 2021. "The Biology of Racism" American Antrhopologist 123: 671-680.

Sheth, F. Towards a Political Philosophy of Race. SUNY Press.







Aspasia of Miletus

Bust of Aspasia. We have a  few copies likely made
from an original placed on the Acropolis as a dedication.

Every time I see someone post, publish, podcast, or 
whatever about Aspasia of Miletus, I have a moment of false hope that they will be doing so based on scholarship on Aspasia published in the last few decades and not based on fantasies of her as some high-class Grande Horizontale. Aspasia the hetaira is a long-standing trope that resists evidence to the contrary even though such a trope was disputed even as far back as the 1920s and in some cases, even in the 19th century. It is based on the application of a multivalent term hetaira to a woman whose prevalence in our male-dominated sources from ancient Athens makes her stand out (even though the terms was not applied to her in ancient sources). I was going to write something up for the great site Bad Ancient on this, but I've already written on it a lot, so, I am placing here a summary of the problem, links to further readings, and an excerpt from my book. 

Part of the insistence on "Aspasia the hetaira" is rooted in a misunderstanding of that term itself. Hetaira, as the new Cambridge Greek Lexicon gets right, has a wide range of meanings from the address one woman uses for another who happens to be her friend (Sappho speaks of Hera and Artemis as "girlfriends" in this sense) to a woman who is in a sexual relationship with a man, but is not married to them (what we in the modern world might also call a "girlfriend"). Some of these "girlfriends" may have received payments in gifts or support from the men they were with. In a specific mental landscape, this gets translated as "whore". 

Another part of this insistence is because we have accepted as real a trope of the wife/whore as the primary structuring device for women in pretty much every society. And, we have come to assume that Aspasia was not Perikles' wife, so she must have been a "whore".  And yet, this notion is rooted in an assumption that the Citizenship Law of 451 BCE banned marriage between citizen men and non-citizen women. Scholarly consensus, however, is coalescing around evidence that marriage was not, in fact, banned, until the 380s BCE. And yet, even with this assumption of a 451 BCE marriage ban, many scholars acknowledge that Aspasia was more likely a pallake (also spelled pallakis) in relation to Perikles instead of his "girlfriend" (hetaira). 

But what is a pallake? It is most often translated a "concubine", but it really only has something resembling that meaning in a handful of references in Herodotus to women of the Persian King's court. Or, it gets conflated with the use of the term to refer to temple attendants (who themselves get yoked to a disputed concept of the "temple prostitute") or it gets conflated with enslaved women who worked as personal servants in Athenian households, women who are threatened by their enslavers, we are told, with being sent to brothels. Any enslaved woman could be sent to work in a brothel, whether she was the pallake of an owner or a farm hand or wetnurse. More importantly, however, is that the term pallake is also used in Athenian law to refer to a domestic partner who is free and eligible to bear legitimate children to their partner. If Aspasia was not a wife, she was, as Madeline Henry argued in the 1990s, this sort of pallake. 

And yet, Aspasia is accused in numerous comic fragments of either being a sex worker or a madam. And Plutarch took this seriously. Except that we know for a fact that the easiest way to attack a politician in Athens was always through their mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. It's hard to take the anti-Athenian writer Ephorus or the comic poets Cratinus and Aristophanes at face value when they call Perikles' non-citizen wife a madam, when the attack would have been a normal part of political discourse AND expected within anti-immigrant, misogynist comic norms. 

We also, of course, have to contend with the Socratic tradition that positions Aspasia as a teacher of rhetoric, likely of young women, but also of young men (see discussion in ch 5 of Immigrant Women). 

Anyway, point is, Aspasia was most likely NOT any form of sex worker or madam, but there are a lot of people invested in this specific version of her and resist any evidence to the contrary. I collated all the evidence in my 2014 book Immigrant Women in Athens and discussed the disputed concept of the hetaira again in my 2015 article on two women named Elpinike (sister of Kimon) and Koisyra (mother of Megakles). You can read the whole section on Aspasia in the book (it's chapter 3; ch 1 is an overview of the laws, ch 2 on tragic representations of foreign women, ch 4-5 moves to the 4th c and oratory and further inscriptional evidence for non-citizen women's lives but includes a section on Aspasia as teacher of rhetoric)). Please feel free to read both the book and the article for further contextualization and evidence for why I and other scholars dispute that Aspasia was a madam or hetaira (in the sense of a sex worker) and what is at stake in continuing to promote that version of her. 

Below, I am reproducing an excerpt from that study that attempts to reconstruct a more likely version of her life based on a broad range of evidence that includes inscriptions that may refer to her male family members and within the context of how immigrants, especially from Miletus, integrated into Athens in the 5th century BCE. Please consider referring to it next time you see some new encyclopedia entry or textbook that tells you Aspasia was a hetaira because her name means "sweetie" or some bullpuckey like that (citizen women in Athens often had names that meant "honey", "sweetie", etc). Aspasia was a wealthy metic (resident non-citizen) woman in Athens with connections to wealthy citizen families. That context matters. 

***

If Aspasia's tomb remained, 
it probably looked a lot
like this.

Reconstruction: When Aspasia arrived in Athens sometime around 450 BCE, she did not come as a poor immigrant looking for work in the bustling imperial city that was Athens at that time or as a trained courtesan. Rather, she came to Athens from the politically unstable Miletos  as the sister-in-law of the fabulously wealthy and well-known Athenian Alkibiades the elder, just returned from his ostracism. When Alkibiades left Athens in 460 BCE and arrived in Miletos, where he seems to have spent his exile, his marriage to a daughter of the wealthy Milesian Axiochus was nothing outside of the norm for an aristocratic Athenian man. His two children from this union, Axiochus and Aspasios, while metroxenoi, were still reckoned as Athenian citizens because they were born before 451 BCE.  When Alkibiades returned to Athens, however, with his Milesian wife and her younger sister Aspasia, the laws had changed thanks to Perikles.  What had been possible for Aspasia’s sister, producing citizen children, was no longer a possibility for the young Aspasia. 

Thus, when Aspasia arrived in Athens, she came allied by marriage to one of the most powerful families in the city, but would perhaps not be able to contract such a dynastic marriage for herself if only because her children could not be citizens. Still, she was not without citizen friends and family in the city and her immediate social circle was from the cream of Athenian society. The possibilities for finding a good marriage were not out of bounds for her. It is even possible that when Kleinias, the son of the elder Alkibiades from an earlier marriage, died at Koroneia in 447/446 BCE and Perikles became guardian of the younger Alkibiades (III), that Perikles also became the kurios of the still young Aspasia. Around this time, Aspasia and Perikles began a long-term relationship that was recognized as a marriage that lasted until Pericles’ death in 429 BCE. They had one child born sometime before 441 BCE who was enfranchised in 430 BCE. Their relationship, because of Perikles’ prominence and because of the law he himself proposed (and which made his child by Aspasia initially a non-citizen), became the subject of much gossip on the comic stage for certain, and likely, in the agora and the assembly.

Upon Perikles’ death in 429/8 BCE, it is unclear what happened to Aspasia and her son Perikles Jr., although it is possible that the latter became the ward of Alkibiades, now aged around 23, or his own uncle Axiochus, Aspasia’s nephew. Aspasia, Alkibiades’ aunt now aged around 40, would have either become the dependent of Axiochus or of Alkibiades himself until her son came of age. The tradition that Aspasia was remarried to Lysikles, by whom she supposedly had a child named Poristes, is neither secure or necessary.  Many of the comic slanders against Aspasia come from the years after Perikles’ death and may be associated with the careers of her nephew and son. Her relationship to Lysikles could have been one of teacher and student because many of the philosophical texts (Plato, Xenophon and Aeschines) treat Aspasia as something akin to a Sophist. It is quite possible that Aspasia and Lysikles were not married at all and never had a child, but by learning rhetoric from her, he was able to bamboozle others as the comic figure Strepseides attempts to do in Aristophanes’ Clouds, thus bearing the metaphorical child, Poristes, a polite way of calling someone a thief.  Aspasia also could have offered basic education to young women, thus the reference to her ‘girls’ in Aristophanes’ Acharnians, the pornĂª whose kidnapping he jokes led to the Megarian decree. We might view both as comic slanders against Aspasia as Sophist, dressed erotically in the guise of madam or prostitute.

This reconstruction of Aspasia’s journey to Athens and her life is based primarily on the epigraphical and historical evidence linking her Milesian family to the Athenian family of Alcibiades (II). Whether it is completely accurate or not does not matter, although I think it a more accurate picture of Aspasia’s life than what is traditionally posited. What matters most, however, is its plausibility and what that means for understanding the possibilities for metic women found frequenting citizen social circles in mid-fifth century BCE in Athens and the impact laws like the Citizenship Law might have had on them. Aspasia has long been reckoned among scholars, especially among scholars studying women’s history, as a courtesan and madam mostly because she was associated socially with Athenian citizen men and scholars have long rejected any notion that a respectable citizen woman could socialize with men in this way. 

Aspasia was also considered by her contemporaries as educated and intellectual. The combination of her foreign birth, education and eroticization has led to the inevitable conclusion that she must have been a courtesan because within the dynamics that have become established in the study of Athenian women, the only possible way to understand the famous foreign women of wealth we encounter in the historical record is as such. But it is unclear if such prostitutes really did exist in Aspasia’s lifetime. And the history reconstructed for Aspasia by Bicknell suggests a very different path for metic women of wealth in Athens, especially for those with ties to citizens. While the Citizenship Law did eliminate temporarily and technically the possibility that a metic woman’s child could be a citizen, it did not eliminate relationships for those with connections to the Athenian elites nor did it reduce these women to indigence with no options but to prostitute themselves (or others) to survive. What we see at work both in the invectives against Aspasia and in the scholarly tradition is the ideology of the metic woman, especially reflected in the representation of Phaedra. Aspasia, living in Athens on the cusp of a change in Athenian self-definition, bears the scars of the ideological warfare waged after 451 BCE on metic women under the guise of protecting the citizen body. 


Reconstruction quoted from Immigrant Women in Athens (Routledge, 2014) Copyright Rebecca Futo Kennedy. 





I am Not a Humanist

I've read a few things in the last week or so that have me thinking, specifically while I do some painting and woodwork in the house and my mind is free to wander. What I've been thinking about is how power structures get naturalized and how we (in the general sense) fight or argue to keep those structures in place without recognizing (willfully or in blissful ignorance) that these things are not in nature or of nature but naturalized as such. One of these things is the divisional structures of universities which slot us into humanities, physical sciences, arts, and social sciences. These are not "natural" divisions, but clearly an organizing structure that is meant to manage people, not necessarily knowledge. It's about how we allocate value and resources, not about how we think, interact with the world, or experience life. To be a humanist, social scientist, arts practitioner or physical scientist isn't a thing inherent in our work or based on where we reside in university structures (the same could be said of our disciplinary or departmental positions). It is not, in other words, an identity. To call ourselves by these structures is to invest ourselves in the naturalization of a specific way of organizing the world that is inseparable from politics. It is to defend a specific socio-political order that is not natural but has been naturalized. In other words, there is a reason I resist calling myself a classicist and why I do not call myself a humanist. 

We can see this type of people management process in the name of defending a naturalized socio-political order in education (or, as the University of Toronto now calls it "people strategy") in things like the list the Wisconsin Republican party wishes to see banned from public schools (up through universities). The list is a "what's what" of stuff that questions power developed over the last few decades often within social science and humanities programs at universities as part of critical engagement with the world we inhabit. Some of this stuff has by now been coopted into the university and corporate machines that reproduce the status quo, so seeing it on a banned list is funny (like "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" or "Diversity Training"). The total list, which can be found here, is absurd--my favorite is banning the word "intersection"; what do we call the place where streets connect?  


The current bans are all centered on race and gender -- the very things that many of my colleagues in "classics" still consider "fringe" or "ancillary" to the study of antiquity despite decades of research and teaching on these topics and despite the fact that half the human population in antiquity was ALSO women and despite the fact that race (though not biorace as it manifests in the modern world) also existed in antiquity. The humanities, for the better, I think, has been invested in understanding and engaging these aspects of the human experience for many years now. In doing so, however, it has decentered (oops! that's one of the words on the bad list!) more traditional focus on what is inarguably elite men and their primary concerns and perspective of the world. This is why humanities is being attacked and shrunk within the university. To ignore this is to ignore context. To ignore context is to argue and defend a humanities divorced from humans. A humanities that isn't simply a device for maintaining a Christian education under the guise of "universal morality" is a threat to the status quo. 

Reasons that "humanities" and "classics" in their current form are being dismantled are manifold. It has been the trajectory of those of us who are generally placed within the humanities divisions of our colleges to increasingly push against disciplinarity and to seek intellectual engagement with our colleagues in other "divisions". We don't see why these "divisions" need to actually divide us so thoroughly. Disciplinarity and divisional structures, of course, are meant to divide us. But neither knowledge nor the humans who seek it can reside strictly within the oubliettes we have crafted for ourselves. We want to see the sky in all its vastness. We want to be free. But that means undermining the very people management system that provides us with structure in our lives. For this reason, we must be destroyed.

To be free floating entities at a university without majors, minors, departments, disciplines, divisions, or (perhaps most importantly) budgets and endowments to rest our sense of value and purpose upon, is scary. And, of course, it disadvantages those who have built their existence upon all of these divisions and who thrive within the system because they are built for the system. To want to move and think and be outside of this often comfortable and comforting (even while alienating and oppressive) regime requires rethinking how and what we value. It requires a whole slew of things on the banned words list: deconstruction, critical self awareness, critical self reflection, decentering, interrupting. It means staring the systems of power in the face, recognizing them for what they are, and understanding that continuing to inhabit them without resistance can only be intentional --there is no unconscious or unintentional bias in a true human centered education. Because we cannot truly study humanity and not know that our structures result in exclusions, oppressions, and bias. If we choose to defend or reproduce these structures without resisting them and working to change them, we are choosing exclusions, oppressions, and bias. I am not a humanist, if humanist means continuing to do things the way they have always been done. 

And so we find ourselves in a strange situation where those of us who find disciplinarity and divisionalism restrictive and nothing more than mechanisms for maintaining a naturalized status quo where elite male and Christian perspectives and valuations are centered as normative (damn! I cannot stop with these bad words) are participating in our own dismantling as an academic discipline at the hands of a human management system that only wants that which reproduces and supports itself. Those who embrace traditional disciplinarity and the values that support and help reproduce the current system defend the value of disciplines and the humanities through something that cannot, in fact, be taught through reading books --morality. 

Humanities by itself cannot teach morality or ethics -- we need to be one with our colleagues across disciplines and divisions --physical sciences, arts, social sciences, and humanities working together and through each other. Though it is unclear if even the most robustly well-rounded university education can create "discerning moral agents" (to quote my university's mission statement). Despite focusing our studies and teaching and valuing humanity more broadly, openly, and realistically than those invested in universalism and traditional structures and hierarchies, we are considered the "real" threat to the traditional "humanities" that themselves can only be kept within the modern university so long as it functions to enforce an unreal idea that there is a universal human experience or morality that is reflected in the current order of things. This is to naturalize the unnatural. 

I don't want to nor can I in good conscience be doing a job the goal of which is to reinforce the naturalization of the status quo. As far as I am concerned, if being a humanist means imparting or discovering "universal truths" in texts instead of engaging in a critical inquiry of the relationships between those texts and both their original and continuing contexts, then I don't want to be a humanist. In fact, this sort of humanism is, to me, anti-human, just as any science that purports to be purely objective and divorced from contexts is. There is no universal truth that should not be interrogated, no morality that is embedded in nature that should be accepted without question, no status quo that must be defended in the name of any artificial disciplinary or administrative people management system. To defend these things as inherently necessary or valuable means that one is either comfortable with the system, resigned to it, or benefits from it.  

And this is by design only a small portion of the human population. Any "classics", any "history", any "philosophy", and "biology", and "physics", any "political science" that depends upon traditional hierarchies, distributions of knowledge and resources, intellectual categories, proprietary methodologies, or claims to morality or ethics is a dead end and an agent of entrenched power. No thank you. 

Work, Not Work -- It's All the Same

 Some days I don't work. 

As a result, nothing of the dozen projects I need to finish (or start) get done.


Other days, I work.

 But the result is that none of the dozen projects I need to finish (or start) get done. 


Work, don't work. It all ends the same.


I've been trying to figure out why nothing seems to get done no matter how much or how little I work and I have no answers. I do know that my brain is a mess -- I can barely string more than a few sentences of a thought together before it starts to break down. I try repeatedly to summon up something of the ideas I've been pondering for years to put them to page and all I get are fragments.

I am surrounded by the fragments of my projects -- piles of unread or half read scholarship and primary sources, partially written chapters and other documents, partially translated texts, unfinished windows in the kitchen, unfinished ceilings, unstained stairs I ripped the carpet off 3 years ago, half painted walls in the entry of the house, a light fixture unboxed but sitting in pieces. I hardly even notice that one anymore. 

Part of the issue lies, of course, with the ADHD and the difficulties of keeping myself on task --except when I hyperfocus, though what I hyperfocus on is not really within my control. My list of active symptoms is long:

  • missing details and becoming distracted easily

  • trouble focusing on the task at hand

  • becoming bored quickly

  • becoming confused easily or daydreaming frequently

  • seeming not to listen when spoken to directly

  • ​​having difficulty following through on tasks or assignments

  • losing or forgetting things or events

  • fidgeting or squirming

  • talking nonstop

  • saying inappropriate things without thinking

  • being impatient or rude

  • interrupting or butting into other peoples’ conversations

  • having difficulty waiting your turn


Not all of these impact my writing and work, but most of them do. I look at the list and I wonder how I ever got anything done (or how I have any friends). But hyperfocus properly aimed is truly an amazing thing.

Another reason is just mental exhaustion. Between the overwork of doing both my professor position and museum director position for 5 years and the intense uptick in requests for my time by...everyone and the strangeness that is COVID life, I am just spent. Sometimes I don't sleep well and when I don't sleep well, I can't think well. Somedays I sleep like a champion, but my energy is wasted away in I don't even know what, but it usually involves driving my child to some tournament or sports event or something. Maybe it is announcing the high school field hockey games? Or helping install new floors at the fencing club. My time is rarely my own.

Another reason may be futility. Of the 5 things I have finished since 2019, only 2 of those are even close to seeing the light of day currently. Both of those come out in separate volumes in December-ish. The other 3, 2 of which are to my mind the best scholarship I have written to date and 1 of which (my piece on race and metics) is one of the most important things I have ever written, are languishing with editors. One of them I have not received even comments from the editors on in the 18 months since I submitted it. Another has been revised and reviewed by the press, but is waiting on work on the intro and some of the other chapters. The third I never received feedback from the editor, but it went out to review also like 18 months ago and I have not heard anything since. It's like the best stuff I have ever written has gone into the wind never to be seen or heard from again.

It really does make it hard to put words to page when there seems to be no hope anyone will ever read the words you've written.

Its likely a combination of all of these things that makes working and not working all the same in the end. No matter how much I work, I get nowhere, nothing gets done, or it gets done and goes into a void.

The other issue may be that there is so much work that I have no way to devote myself singularly to any thing and so the fragmenting of my brain continues even in times of supposed concentration and I can't write about poverty because thoughts about colonialist fashion trends keep intruding, all while ancient Greek sources on women and centuries of ideas of race and ethnicity swirl around in my mind like a hurricane.

To try to focus on each project, I go back and read things past Rebecca has written on the topic. It helps for a few minutes, but then I either realize that these things are themselves not yet published and seem like they never will be (but I can't duplicate them or, I guess, even quote them or cite them as they languish with the various editors). I also wonder how past Rebecca ever wrote anything so concise, effective, or...finished.

I haven't even been able to finish writing a blog post in months. I've started three. Only this one -- which involves no real work other than typing my fragmented and fractured thoughts -- is close to completion.

So, work, don't work. At this stage, my results are the same. Most days, I wonder why I even try.