The Politics of Platforming [cw: ableism, eugenics]


I’m going to start this post with the same thing I said earlier today on Twitter: As a member of the disabled community and a classicist I will no longer read, support, or promote Antigone in any way.

For those of you who don’t know, Antigone is a UK-Based e-journal that advertises itself as a “new and open forum for Classics in the twenty-first century.” According to their website, their goal is “to introduce as many people as possible to [Classics’] thrills and its spills, its charms and its challenges”—that is, to make Classics accessible to all. And their online platform adds to their accessibility—with no paywall and a less formal writing style, the articles posted by Antigone reach a much broader audience than an academic article might.

So if the goal of Antigone is to make Classics accessible to all, why are they giving a platform to someone who advocates for killing disabled infants?

That’s right, the journal’s most recent article is a reprint of an article on Apuleius by Peter Singer. The article is about how Apuleius is somehow an advocate for animal rights, and the ‘author bio’ describes Singer as a “renowned philosopher and animal rights advocate.” What this description hides is that Singer’s ‘renowned’ philosophy includes eugenics. He is the co-author of book titled Should the Baby Live? The Problem of Handicapped Infants, in which the second sentence is literally “We think that some infants with severe disabilities should be killed.” This, my friends, is not only ableist, but eugenics—it assumes that disabled babies will not grow to have fulfilling lives [=ableism] and therefore it is better to end their lives so they don’t suffer and go on to reproduce [=eugenics].

Many with bigger platforms and more relative power in the field have tried to get them to rescind the article to no avail. Some supporters of the journal have even said that they may disagree with some of the opinions held by the author, but that for the sake of academic freedom we need to ‘separate the artist from the art.’

The problem with this sentiment is that it’s often impossible to separate a person’s work from their personal beliefs because their work is informed by their beliefs and identities. Let’s take a well known example from the Classics world: Holt Parker. Holt Parker is a classicist whose research focuses on deviant sexuality in the ancient world—his work has been essential for sexuality studies in Classics for many years. He is also a convicted pedophile. To quote Sarah Scullin, in her Eidolon piece about Holt: “I am so repulsed by what I have read of the man’s actions that I’m not sure I will ever be able to read his words without juxtaposing them with his other monstrous utterances.” For disabled classicists, the same holds true for Singer: we cannot read his work without thinking of his ‘monstrous utterances.’

Now imagine that you are someone new to the field, considering studying Classics in college/university. You do some research and come upon this open-access, online journal and do some reading and you come upon Singer and his article. If you’re disabled, are you going to think “wow I really want to join a field where a man who thinks I should be dead gets a platform?” Probably not. And with that, Classics lost another opportunity to diversify itself.

As a disabled Classicist, I am appalled that a journal that aims to make Classics accessible to all would give a platform to this person. Seeing someone who doesn’t think I (and many others) should be alive being supported by a prominent voice in the field is disgusting. And the lives of the many disabled classicists who have critiqued the journal’s choice to platform this eugenicist are proof that he is wrong.

I know that the opinion of one grad student thousands of miles away will not change the minds of the editors at Antigone. Nor will I change Singer’s mind about disabled individuals. Thanks to freedom of speech, he is allowed to say what he wants, no matter how offensive it is. But, just like my worries over FARTs in the field, I am concerned that Antigone thinks that Singer’s work can and should be separated from his beliefs. I am even more concerned that they don’t see how their choices are a reflection of the field as a whole, and how a choice like this does more harm than good to the generations of potential Classicists out there. But I am most concerned that, instead of listening to those who expressed concern over the choice to platform a eugenicist, Antigone refuses to acknowledge the harm this action has done to many. This is not a Classics I want to be a part of.

The good news is, there is a thriving community of disabled ancientists out there trying to change the narrative not only about disability in the ancient world but the role of the disabled academic. I encourage everyone, whether or not you are disabled, to check out CripAntiquity (Twitter: @cripantiquity) and the great work they have done to make the field more accessible—this includes guidelines for making conferences accessible, a bibliography of resources for teaching, and guidelines for making graduate programs accessible. While aimed at accessibility in terms of disability, many of the actions suggested in these documents are great for making the field more accessible broadly speaking.

And finally, I encourage everyone to follow my lead: do not read, support, or promote Antigone. I hope that one day I can change my mind about them, but until then, I will be finding my ‘accessible’ Classics articles elsewhere.