Mary Beard and the Culture of ‘Me’

Mary Beard wants us to care about her tears, but what about the harm caused by the superiority of white academics?

Mary Beard got called out for allegations that she was being casually racist, so she responded in the only way most white feminists know – by making it all about her. She posted tears of her crying face at the abuse she received. While there is often abuse that comes with social media, and abuse is wrong, the fact is this wasn’t about abuse. It was about being called out.

Academics, especially white academics, often think they’re impervious to any criticism. They’ve studied. They know more. They are better. But, actually, often they don’t. Academics are as susceptible to holding prejudice as anyone else. Just because they’ve been lucky enough to get into academia doesn’t mean that they are somehow immune to the world around them and, historians tend to be white-centric. Look at David Starkey.

Beard revealed innate prejudices about Haiti – that it is a “danger zone”, and that it is a place where moral decency doesn’t apply. There was also the essence of apologism throughout the tweets. In no situation is it ever okay to rape, sexually exploit or sexually harass someone. Abusers often go to certain areas under the guide of volunteering, and helping “uplift” countries that are shrouded only in Western racism and use this context, and this idea of their own sainthood to be able to commit abuses without being called out. Nobody who takes advantage of people struggling should ever get a free pass.

But there was another element to this story: white womanhood. The tears were used to try to elicit sympathy after Beard was called out. She made the story about her victimhood, and not about the initial comments. She could have apologised, and then, if the abuse had continued, simply speak out about sending abuse but affirm that what she initially said was wrong, and that she will vow to do better. What we got was a play in two parts – Mary Beard showing her superior knowledge and her wisdom to which we all should listen and then, when she was called out, Mary Beard displaying her ‘oppression’.

“But there was another element to this story: white womanhood”

Call outs are vital. They help us grow in understanding. While people should never screw up, it will inevitably happen. People shouldn’t then go on the defensive and make it about their pain and ego. We should listen to what people who understand that particular marginalisation are saying.

Beard though, was only interested in the Beard show and pulling the story back to her. That isn’t allyship. It’s about serving her own interests. It’s amazing how quickly in this story, the people of Haiti were cast aside.

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