A few words from our President, Ray
Ray Cheung is a 3rd year Classicist at Wadham, and was previously the society’s secretary in its founding year.
When I was at school, I was always interested in history and, later on, in Greco-Roman culture in particular; I never questioned why the people in every depiction and every book were white. As I got older, cultural differences became more noticeable to me, and I started to question why Classics, by which I was just as fascinated, from which I derived just as much pleasure, to which I was just as dedicated, was being viewed as the cultural ancestry of just my white classmates. I got used to it. But even now, at one of the largest classics faculties in the world, I look around and I see almost exactly what I saw at school.
Conversely, I have been questioned endlessly by aunties and uncles as to why I would waste my time studying ‘white culture’, when I have a deeply rich culture of my own to explore; though sometimes not recognised, China has an equally ancient history, stretching back as far as the Western classical period. To this, I reply that classics isn’t the study of ‘white culture’, it’s the study of human civilisation. But when I look closely at what we study, there is little doubt as to why my family and community have taken up this opinion. That’s how I know it’s time for change: we have to acknowledge the contributions of non-white people in the field, become aware of the extensive whitewashing that has been carried out, and make it clear that Classics isn’t white!
Ex-President and Founder
Most Classicists of Colour have at some stage (if not countless times) been asked why they are studying the Greeks and Romans instead of a language or civilisation more ‘culturally relevant’. I know that I believed the myth – so heavily ingrained in the ‘western world’s’ fabrication of its own origin story – that the Greeks and Romans were the forefathers of Europe and that by extension Europeans (and white western Europeans in particular) had a greater claim to the history. In this way I could see why people considered Classics the subject of the posh-white-boy and they were so interested in why I, a second generation Jamaican immigrant from a South-East London state comp, would be studying it.
And that is precisely why I started the Christian Cole Society. Classics should not only be accessible to people from all backgrounds, but we should be encouraging the broad range of perspectives vital to enriching the subject. Classics must also be forced to confront its colonial, white supremecist and heavily elitst past.
Diversifying Classics still has a long way to go; I have still only met one academic of colour in the Classics Faculty, and am yet to see more than one other Black classicist in a lecture theatre at a time, but I am hopeful that this will change. Classics may historically have been the domain of old white men (both in subject matter and in scholarship), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a space for a young black woman – quite the contrary, it’s about time we step up and take our seats.