White statues, medieval paintings of white Europeans in Roman garb, portraying the gods and famous men, modern “documentaries” with white Hannibals, golden haired women, and the absence of Africa, except in passing: is this what Latin is? Is this what is left of the Classics?
If this first statement/question angered you: good. If it made you question our resources: good. If it made you want to fire off an email or comment to me sparking debate: good. I’m glad. I had trouble writing it, and yet, as a student of Latin in my teenage and young adult years, rarely did I question it.
As a teacher, the diversity in my classroom and discussions with modern teachers opened my eyes. One of the ways modern language teachers reach out to the diversity in their rooms is to point out that France isn’t the only country speaking French. There are many countries in Africa; there is Haiti; who can forget New Orleans, that all speak French. Spanish isn’t solely spoken in Mexico or Spain. South America is filled with many countries, filled with people of hundreds, no thousands, of origins. So… what about Latin?
Over my next few posts, I want to discuss this. I want to talk about the reasons why we should question our canon; why we should use a variety of artwork (classical or not); why we should question our resources. I want to talk about the effect these changes have on my students and I want to talk about the effect these changes have had on me.
So, I’d like to pose these questions to you:
- What do you notice about the diversity in your room?
- How often do you (intentionally or not)…
– only use statues of figures?
– only use historical or medieval art? (and to what extent do these paintings show only white Europeans)?
– show the gods/goddesses as white?
– mention the ethnicity of figures who are not native to Rome? (Hannibal, Dido, etc.)
- What effect do you think it has on students if they do not see anyone in Roman history who looks like them, especially considering:
– how often Rome is spoken highly of?
– how long the Roman empire lasted?
– the influence Roman culture/history/language has had on us today?
- How often do you show movies/shows/documentaries that only include white actors?
You can comment on them or not, but I think this is a starting place for these discussions. They may make us uncomfortable, but change comes from a place of discomfort, especially in such important work.