Identity politics replacing the goal of a color blind society in schools
At the present time, there is a growing campaign in the academy to end the teaching of the classics, the history of Ancient Greece and Rome — because of their alleged “whiteness.” To replace the goals of a color blind society with identity politics.
Andrew Sullivan asks, “How on earth do you reduce the astonishing variety and depth and breadth of texts from the ancient Mediterranean world to a skin color? How do you read Aristotle and conclude that the most salient quality of his genius was that he was white?”
One of the leaders of the campaign against teaching the classics is Dan-el Padilla Peralta, who once found liberation in the classics. A black immigrant from the Dominican Republic, he became a prominent classical scholar and is now a professor at Princeton. As recently as 2016 he wrote:
“For a dark-skinned child of the Dominican Diaspora who spent his formative years in Harlem, it was both captivating and empowering to detect the pulse of Greco-Roman antiquity in hip-hop. In the heat of that collision new worlds were born.”
Now, Peralta wants to eliminate the study of classics as, somehow, a blow for “racial justice.”
He and other critics argue that the study of the classics has led to the invention of “whiteness” and continued domination: “Systemic racism is foundational to those institutions that incubate classics and classics as a field itself.”
Commentator Rich Lowery notes that,
“The rigors of Greek and Latin, the timeless questions raised by Plato and Aristotle, the literary value of some of the most compelling poems, plays and tracts ever written, the insights of early historians Herodotus and Thucydides, the oratory of Pericles and Cicero…all of this is available to anyone of any race, ethnicity or creed. To look at these marvels and see only ‘whiteness’ speaks to a reductive obsession with race that is destructive, self-defeating, and, in the end, profoundly depressing.”
Teaching the classics and the history of Ancient Greece and Rome is also essential to an understanding of American history and the thinking of the Founding Fathers.
The philosophy and literature that shaped the founders’ thinking, and the letters they wrote to one another debating these crucial works——among them the Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives, and the works of Xenophon, Epicurus, Aristotle, Cato and Cicero—-show the influence of the ancient world.
In his book “First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country – November 10, 2020″ Thomas E. Ricks shows in great detail how the Framers of the U.S. Constitution sought to learn why the democracy of ancient Athens and the Roman Republic slowly deteriorated and decayed.
Our framers wanted to learn lessons from this history so that American democracy could avoid a similar fate. James Madison traveled to Philadelphia in 1787 with Athens on his mind. He had spent the year before the Constitutional Convention reading two trunkfulls of books on the history of failed democracies, which Thomas Jefferson sent him from Paris.
Madison was determined to avoid the fate of those “ancient and modern confederacies,” which he believed had succumbed to rule by demagogues and mobs.
It is sad to see the manner in which the goals of the civil rights movement have been distorted by today’s advocates of “critical race theory” who are leading the campaign against teaching the classics.
The goal of the civil rights movement was to create a color-blind society, in which men and women would be judged on the “content of their character” not the “color of their skin.” Clearly, critics of teaching classical history and literature are judging Plato, Aristotle, Pericles and othe others only on the basis of their race. If this is not racism, what is?
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. clearly had a different idea.
The syllabus for a course he was teaching at Morehouse College in 1962 gives us an indication of what he believed an educated black man should know: Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Augustine’s City of God, all the way to Bentham and Mill.
This can be found on-line as can a copy of the exam questions.
Among them: “List and evaluate the radical ideas presented in Plato’s Republic”; “State and evaluate Aristotle’s view of slavery.”
Martin Luther King understood that ideas can transcend space and time, culture and race.
This was also understood by the black leader in the early years of the 20th century, W.E.B. Du Bois who wrote:
“I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. from out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with truth, I dwell above the veil.”
Ironically, while education was once denied to African Americans by white supremacists, it is now being challenged by a racism of a different kind. The literature, art, and achievements of the past are the possession of all of humanity. The current assault on the teaching of classical history should be rejected as the anti-intellectual form of racism that it is.
That is what earlier generations of black leaders such as Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Du Bois would do. They would be sad to see the current variety of “identity politics” which, for many, has replaced their goal of a genuinely color-blind American society.