At a time when race relations and diversity are key issues pervading all aspects of society, it is important for us archaeologists, Classicists, and historians to ask if and how we might contribute to this ongoing dialogue. Is there a place for Classics and archaeology in the very contemporary issue of cultural representation? Is not history, by and large, written by the victorious white man? And Classics, of all fields, seems to conjure up images of a sea of whiteness…white marble, white statues, white leaders subjugating foreign “barbarians”… Far from a true representation of the diversity of the ancient world, however, these false assumptions have been propagated over hundreds of years of racism, colonialism, and just plain ignorance.
But how can modern historians counter this deeply entrenched legacy?
Enter the always-brilliant Sarah Bond. Addressing these issues in a new Forbes piece entitled, “Whitewashing Ancient Statues: Whiteness, Racism and Color in the Ancient World,” Bond addresses the problems of our monochromatic field, from the perpetuation of a white protagonist in historical narratives to the lack of diversity amongst Classical academics, the missing polychromy in museum displays to the predominance of “white people and white statues” in historically-set video games. She urges scholars to create accurate representations of the past, whether they be in the minds of students by emphasizing in the classroom the diversity of the ancient world, or in visual media rendering depictions of the past. Those of us confined to the Ivory Tower of academia too often dismiss the power of pop culture, but the images of a constructed past, disseminated through television, film, movies, comic books, videos games, just to name a few, are important avenues for public engagement with history and the ancient world.
We certainly have a long way to go on all these fronts (might I remind you of Ridley Scott’s 2014 debacle, Exodus: Gods and Kings??), but Bond reminds us that it is possible to address these issues and “illustrate the diversity of the Mediterranean, its people and its history. And, perhaps, in this truer representation, we can come to better understand ourselves.”
*With full acknowledgement that I write this as a white female. I do not speak for anyone, only advocate for the inclusion of all voices and stories.
Image: Mummy Portrait of a Bearded Man, Romano-Egyptian, about 150 – 170 C, Encaustic on wood. Getty Open Content Program.