Posted in History

2020: Justifying Classics and Fighting Imposter Syndrome

How do you justify the want to continue to study a practice so full of colonialist ideals, especially in today’s political climate? How do you justify constantly linking things back to Classics when it’s the practice and study of such subjects that have caused and fueled so many of the issues we’re facing right now? Because that’s the problem with observing the events currently taking place in countries that have spent the last several centuries styling themselves on idealistic misconceptions of ancient cultures they barely understand – you can’t help but view them through the lens that they’re trying to replicate; with the ongoing and prevalent discourse regarding the colonial ties intrinsically linked with the study of Classics, Anthropology, Archaeology and other similar subjects though, that in itself can be just as problematic. 

The issues we’re facing within these disciplines aren’t new to me. They have always been something I have been painfully aware of, but until now it’s been of very little influence. I would argue what I believed in, no matter how far from the accepted norm it was. It sounds flippant, but hear me out. Throughout my education I have always been very lucky in my history teachers, every single one of them made the point of highlighting the issues we face within the field, more so the further through my education I got. My teachers have always pushed back on archaic notions of gender, race, disability. My teachers have always fought against the colonialist ideals so deeply embedded within the subjects they teach. I have been very lucky. The idea of the repatriation of artifacts like the Elgin Marbles and Benin Bronzes has never been questioned, we should never have taken them in the first place and we should give them back. Odysseus? Arguably one of the worst of the Greek heroes. Zeus? Serial rapist. The British Empire? Generally awful. We were always encouraged to push academic boundaries, to fight for what we believe in and if my teachers and tutors over the years are to be believed, when I write, people want to keep reading. I was well aware of the backlash I would face breaking into the world of academics and it never phased me, it didn’t matter; I would do it, I would keep fighting and I would help make things better no matter what the cost.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as planned. Abusive relationship + two full time jobs + full time degree = mental break down. Would not advise. 

If things had gone as planned, I’d probably be looking at PHD programmes right now, I would have some kind of footing in the academic world, no matter how tenuous that might be, and I’d be well into researching whatever aspect of Spartan history I had finally settled on specialising in. But instead, I have my tiny, somewhat sporadic though much beloved little blog with my solid seven subscribers, my awesome twitter followers and absolutely no idea what to do. 

I’m a 25 year old, English, straight passing, abled passing white girl from the home-counties who received a brilliant education, albeit at some not-quite-so-brilliant schools and was offered places at two of the top ten universities in the country, one to study Classics and Ancient History, the other for Archaeology. I recognise my privilege, but for the first time in my life I’ve found myself with no idea what I can do with it to help and it’s honestly terrifying. As much as I can keep doing what I’ve always done, I don’t have the education to back it up: I may have received those uni offers but I didn’t accept them and when I did finally sit my first year, I did so with the Open University and didn’t finish my degree. I don’t have a tenuous footing in the world of academics because I’m not part of the world of academics. I’m here with my little blog fighting my way into a field I have no right being in, where even those with academic experience and publications are struggling to find footing, and all at a time where most of the world’s vitriol and hatred is someway or another linked to the discipline in question. 

No matter what though, I’m going to write, I’m going to continue trying to break down the elitist and racists pedestals Classics seems to find itself situated upon because I’m stubborn as all hell and no one’s going to stop me, but why the hell should anyone listen? I can talk the talk, I can hold my own in a conversation, I can certainly sound like I know what I’m talking about, but no matter how much of my time I spend dedicating my life to this, I’m not an academic. I have nothing more than a handful of AS and A Levels behind me – who’s going to take me seriously when I’m surrounded by so many amazing and talented students, academics and independent scholars within the #ClassicsTwitter community?

I know it’s the imposter syndrome talking. I have found an amazing group of people within #ClassicsTwitter – they have been nothing but kind, welcoming and supportive and I honestly can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done. I think I was even officially inducted into the rolls on @Sentantiq’s ten year anniversary tweet last week, but seeing my handle there amongst people who I have watched and idolised for years was… strange. What the hell am I actually doing here? Are people actually paying attention to what I’m writing? Am I actually being noticed by these academics? Are they actually interested in what I have to say? But most of all, do they see me as this hopeless wannabe who really has no clue what she’s doing, or do they actually see potential? Because if they see potential, I have my foothold, no matter how tenuous. If they see potential, you never know, I might actually make something of this; I might actually be able to do good in the discipline; help make the changes that so desperately need to be made. If they see potential, if I have that tenuous foothold then I’ve made it to exactly where I wanted to be, but in a matter of months rather than years and without the qualifications to back it up. It’s a really odd place to be and certainly not where I imagined I would be five months after starting Tabletop Odyssey.

Then comes the imposter syndrome again: “You don’t belong here. You didn’t go to uni. You’ve not got the qualifications. You don’t deserve this. You’re not an academic. You’ve jumped the line. You didn’t go to uni. You don’t belong here.”

For those of you that don’t know, my partner and I recently split, and with that I’m no longer looking at a move to the USA – I’m now in a position where I can somewhat distance myself from what’s going on in the States because I’m not running headlong into it any more. I figured it would help and actually make things easier to write, but unfortunately I was mistaken. Maybe if I had more guts I would have written about how exposing your whole security team to a potentially debilitating and deadly virus for a photo opportunity is a really stupid idea, it’s them you want to keep safe and healthy and happy because they’re either going to be the ones to stab you in the back or the ones to stop someone else doing it – don’t piss them off you idiot. Maybe if I had more guts I would have, like many others that study Ancient Greece, written about how Pericles lost the election because of the plague, or how democracy was put on hold in Athens after a decade of war. Maybe if I had more guts I would have actually written something about how damaging, disrespectful and painful that bloody Medusa holding the head of Perseus statue is to the Me Too movement rather than just posting a vaguely disappointed tweet. If I had more guts I might have posted the 3000 word essay I wrote on disabilities and the use of wheelchairs throughout history when the Combat Wheelchair discourse kicked up in the D&D community.

So why haven’t I done it? Why am I so hesitant to keep writing? Why am I suddenly so worried to rock the boat when it’s what I’ve always done? Why, despite a continued want to make a difference, am I so bloody terrified? 

Honestly? Because I don’t want to be called a white supremacist again and no matter what you’re writing about, when it’s related to Classics right now it’s likely going to happen. I’ve been called out for being a white supremacist by family, friends, and random strangers on the internet simply because I want to be a Classicist and that sucks. I want to rid Classics of those ties, I want to show the world that you can study and have interest ancient and classical cultures without those colonial, euro-centric white supremacist notions. 

But how do you balance the public opinion with your own wants and desires to do good?

I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re doing something you love, as long as you’re not hurting anyone then it doesn’t matter what others think, but when it’s something as prevalent and potential damaging as this, is that really still the case? Is it time we accepted that there is no way to reform Classics as a subject, or is this something we keep fighting for because we know things can be different and we know those changes can be made?

I know I’m not the only person questioning this right now. I know I’m not the only person struggling to balance the importance of these subjects against the pushback they’re deservedly receiving. I know I’m not the only person out there trying to figure out how the hell they go forward in their work in the discipline with everything going on right now. But how do we actually move forward? 

I honestly don’t have a clue, other than just digging your heels in and refusing to let the world get you down; we recognise the issues we face and as long as we keep fighting against them there’s hope we can make things better… right? 

As I said earlier, I’m going to keep writing and I’m going to keep posting, no matter how little impact it has, because I’m too bloody stubborn not to. I just hope that the others out there that are also questioning this do so as well, whether you’re a Couch-Classicist like me or a tenured professor with a lifetime of experience – you never know, we might actually get somewhere if we just keep pushing.

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