In university, I minored in Classical Studies.
Seems strange. Indeed, why would I—a woman of color who is deeply conscious of colonization and the roots of white supremacy—choose to study Greek and Roman history of all things?
Ah, well, it was an accident.
I chose to take classics classes because my university offered them draped in the things I love most: storytelling theory, mythology, etymology, art, and social justice. I studied Latin because I love words and I have a desperate need to know the roots of things. I studied Homer because I love stories and I believe in the power of oral tradition. I saw The Odyssey and The Iliad as partners to the great indigenous original stories. I wrote an award-winning manuscript called Tapestries: Threads of Female Agency in the Classical Novel, a treatise of poetics founded on feminism and mythic tropes.
For me, these parts of my education were a doorway.
I do not place western history on a pedestal. I criticize it and I uplift marginalized histories. And I believe that to criticize anything, you must understand it.
I believe in woven histories. As I wrote in Tapestries, “The etymology of the word ‘text’ hearkens back to the Latin word for weaving.” The texts we study are all threaded together—wherever we are in space or time, some bit of storied fabric always stretched into some other bolt of chronicle.
The things that have shaped landscapes of the world are not always as pretty as they seem on tourists’ postcards. These photographs were taken not in Rome—a place I studied when I was nineteen—but in North Africa, my current home. They are by Moulay Idriss Zerhoune, in a place called Volubilis (called “Walili” in Arabic), where ancient Roman ruins still stand. Volubilis was an ancient Phoenician and Carthaginian settlement ruled by Rome. It’s gorgeous. Yet, as I moved through the crumbled marble and stone, I couldn’t help but think of the ravages of colonialism in all the forms it’s taken throughout human history.
The most important part of my classical education was not my ability to name each column we came across (Corinthian, Ionic, Doric) or my ability to recognize rooms in the midst of broken relics (Bathrooms have mosaics of sea creatures on the floor. Basilicas have pillars and platforms arranged in specific ways). These are nice party tricks, but most meaningful is my ability to speak frankly about the ways in which history and power have created certain skewed stories—and how we can use our knowledge of them to change those stories.
And so, I will continue to write new stories. My new stories take the old stories into account. I use them as foundations and inspiration, but also as ground I can build over. Structures of power decide who becomes “legend” and “myth.” Voices like mine have not been centered throughout history. My stories, and the stories we choose to uplift, can change that. Will change that. I am deliberately placing myself right in the center of these histories, physically and symbolically and significantly. When the sun rises again, the light will be elsewhere.