Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fascinating Chapter on Critical Race and Classics

In a nutshell: I'm reading a fabulous essay on critical race theory in classical studies by Shelley P. Haley of Hamilton College, and you should read it, too.

In 2009, Fortress Press published Prejudice and Christian Beginnings: Investigating Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Early Christian Studies, a collection of essays edited by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Laura Nasralla. Chapter 1 is a wonderful essay entitled "Be Not Afraid of the Dark: Critical Race Theory and Classical Studies," by Shelley P. Haley of Hamilton College.

Haley confronts the same issue with critical race theory and classics that I confront in my use of queer theory and classics. Namely, widespread resistance to the idea that the theoretical perspective is relevant to the object of study, and the suspicion, bordering on accusation, that scholarship done in this vein is "anachronistic" or in some other way invalid or inappropriate.

Haley dispenses with this charge concisely and effectively in the brief abstract that begins the chapter:
The justification for using a theory focused on modern phenomena like “race” and “racism” to analyze ancient Greek and Roman society is that modern interpreters of those ancient societies have internalized the modern values, structures, and behaviors that are the object of critical race theory.
After an overview of critical race theory, Haley proceeds to discuss definitions of race and color in the ancient Mediterranean world and to a reconsideration of race in an understanding the Vergil's Dido before proceeding to a consideration of race and gender in Pseudo-Vergil’s Moretum. Haley concludes that "the Romans were acute observers of color, gender, and class difference" and that "critical race theory can help to unlayer the intersectionality of the constructs [of race, class, and gender] of ancient Roman society."

The simple summary above does not begin to do justice to the nuance and insight of Haley's reading of individual ancient texts, or her analysis of how modern social and cultural constructs of race, class, and gender have shaped the scholarly response to these texts, particularly to the representation of race, gender, and cultural difference in these texts.

I'm not sure the full text PDF I found of Dr. Haley's chapter is really intended for public consumption, or if it is only accidentally downloadable from the Fortress Press servers. Therefore, I am not going to include a direct link to the chapter here. But it's quite easy to find if you search for the title and author of the essay. Oh, and of course, you can also borrow the book from your local public or campus library, or purchase the book on Amazon or directly from the press.

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