Hardeep Dhindsa (KCL) - 2020-21 Students

The Colour of Classics: The Weaponisation of the Classical World in the Formation of White, British Identity

It is no secret that the classical world was not a white one, yet the image that is conjured up in public imagination is one filled with the white protagonists of European mythological paintings. Since its formal inception in the eighteenth century, Classics was used as a weapon of empire and was wielded to promote Britain as the paradigm of the ‘West’. Their obsession with the classical past was widespread, from a parliamentary debate from 1816 that related the Parthenon to Britain’s national character, to the wider comparisons between Greater Rome and Greater Britain. But the colonial consequences of this are often ignored. The existence of a British identity relied on comparison, and the country became what its colonies were not: white, Christian, and ‘Western’. Classics evolved along the same imperial ideologies, the legacy of which is still apparent today. From the negative reception of BBC’s Troy, to Mary Beard’s suggestion that Classics is ‘apolitical’, it is clear that Classics still has a problem with race. This project explores the unstable relationship between British identity, whiteness, and classical relationship to both contribute to the decolonisation of Classics and give a voice to people whose Britishness has been challenged.

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