This month Pubs and Publications is honoring the experiences and knowledge of people of color within academia!
Unfortunately, in academic circles and wider social contexts, POC voices are not amplified to the same degree as white perspectives. This systemic erasure holds true for academic papers and journal articles across disciplines. So for this month’s committee post, our members are highlighting their favorite work produced by a person (or people) of color within their respective fields!
Is Classics racist? It is a question that only recently I have come across as a white PhD student, which may be a signal that yes, it is. On the 4th July 2020 more than 300 Princeton faculty and staff signed an open letter (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfPmfeDKBi25_7rUTKkhZ3cyMICQicp05ReVaeBpEdYUCkyIA/viewform) to address the lack of representation for people of color in the Campus, at all levels. I would strongly recommend to read the document, as it not only urged acknowledgement of the problems, but also suggested precise ways to do so. The letter was also signed by Dr. Dan-el Padilla Peralta, researcher of the Roman Republic and Early Empire. He had also delivered a paper in the panel “The Future of Classics” at the SCS-AIA Annual Meeting in San Diego (2019), in which he highlighted how marginalized and under-represented ethnic minorities are in Classics. You can find the whole panel here (SCS Annual Meeting (2019): “The Future of Classics” Unedited Full Panel, for Dr. Padilla Peralta’s paper skip to min. 31:20), together with the panelists’ exchange with Mary Frances Williams. The discussion, also known as “the incident”, highlights how ambiguous the concept of “Classics as the foundation of western civilization” is – and how it hides a “whitewashed” view of it. Furthermore, it must be highlighted how Classics as often been instrumentalized by extreme rights and fascisms, grasping a racialised – and often historically inaccurate – idea of “western”, Classical “civilization.
For my fellow history nerds, I’ll recommend Annette Gordon-Reed’s 2008 work The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. As a Pulitzer Prize winner, I certainly do not need to reinforce the book’s merit, but I will anyway! The Hemingses of Monticello is beautifully written, exceptionally clear, and genuinely groundbreaking as a piece of research. To be clear, everything I have read from Gordon-Reed has been noteworthy, but this piece in particular stands out to me, as both a remarkable rendering of untold stories of enslaved Americans and a rich base of primary research.
For anyone looking for a truly eye-opening read that offers space for a bit of self-reflection, I’ll recommend You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience, an anthology edited by Tarana Burke and Brené Brown. With contributions from Austin Channing Brown, Laverne Cox, Marc Lamont Hill, and a variety of equally talented authors, scholars, activists, advocates, and community leaders, this collection of essays centers on Black shame and healing. Warning: although beautiful on so many levels, these essays will elicit a huge range of feelings and emotional responses, from discomfort, exasperation, and embarrassment to tearfulness, despondence, and a moving sense of enlightenment.
I definitely have to recommend Jaipreet Virdi’s Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History (Chicago University Press, 2020). This is part medical history, part personal memoir about deafness. For my PhD thesis, I read a lot of work about the history of disability, but this book is so unique among this literature. This book builds on and contributes to themes in the literature (medical technologies, importance of the cure in history, etc.) while being completely innovative in style. So many academics write about subjects that are close to their personal experience in so many ways, but often, we’re expected to detach ourselves from our work in an effort to be more “objective.” But in many ways, that’s impossible. We develop our research in large part because these are questions that we can’t rid ourselves of – we need to know the answers. Hearing Happiness is a perfect example of how we might radically blend our experience with our research.
Medical Apartheid is one of the most important books on the history of modern Public Health in the U.S. It challenges one of the basic assumption that underlies the debate on Public Health and medicine – that it is public and hence, for everyone. Harriet A. Washington convincingly shows that American Public Health authorities not only treated people differently based on criteria such as skin colour, but used POC to conduct experiments : one of the most revolting example she gives is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (1932-1972) where syphilitic men were left untreated so the progression of the disease could be studied. After reading Medical Apartheid, it becomes clear why POC view the medical establishment with such deep distrust.
As Severic mentions above, the field of public health is all to close to its racist history. Just this year the Journal of the American Medical Association’s podcast published content in which a white host questioned whether racism even exists in medicine. Proposing that ‘no doctor is racist so how can the field of medicine be racist’ (paraphrased).
This historic and continued blindness to the issues of race and oppression in the medicine and public health, has real lived consequences for people of color. The book that really opened my eyes to this fact was the amazing work ‘Killing the Black Body’ by Dorothy E. Roberts.
In this book, the author explores how Black womens’ bodies have been abused and coerced through forced reproduction, sterilisation, and marginalisation. It was a revelation, which situated my experience with reproductive healthcare and rights within the context of racialised medical practice and policies of the United States. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone interested in Reproductive Justice theory. It really highlights how the dominant cultural narratives around reproductive freedoms and rights (such as access to birth control and abortion) are framed by and for white women through purposefully excluding the needs of women of color.