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Iowa Professor: 'White Marble' of Ancient Statues Supports White Supremacy

A University of Iowa professor argued that the appreciation of beauty inspired by the "white marble" of classical statuary supports white supremacy today.

"The equation of white marble with beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe; it's a dangerous construct that continues to influence white supremacist ideas today," Sarah Bond, assistant professor of classics, wrote in an article for the art blogazine Hyperallergic.

Bond noted that "many of the statues, reliefs, and sarcophagi created in the ancient Western world were in fact painted," so the "white marble" seen in such art today is an accident of history, not the intended look. Marble "was considered a canvas, not the finished product for sculpture." So it was "carefully selected and then often painted in gold, red, green, black, white, and brown, among other colors."

The professor pointed to various excellent museum shows like the "Gods in Color" exhibit to emphasize that these statues were originally painted, not marble white.

But Bond went even further, arguing that the misconception of original statues being marble white has supported — and still supports — white supremacy. "The equation of white marble with beauty is not an inherent truth of the universe," the professor noted. "Where this standard came from and how it continues to influence white supremacist ideas today are often ignored."

The professor attacked "most museums and art history textbooks" for showing "a predominantly neon white display of skin tone when it comes to classical statues and sarcophagi." This "neon whiteness" creates "a false idea of homogeneity — everyone was very white! — across the Mediterranean region."

Bond pointed to the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who formed the foundation for art history. Winckelmann argued that the Apollo of the Belvedere — a Roman white marble copy of a Hellenistic bronze statue — is "the quintessence of beauty." The classics professor suggested that Winckelmann's preference for men over women might reveal a homosexual identity, and that his taste in art bolstered "white male supremacists."

Bond also referenced the Dutch anatomist Pieter Camper, who measured human facial features to create the racist "cephalic index," which was used by the Nazis to support notions of Aryan superiority.

Operating off of this history, the classics professor drew some debatable connections to modern white supremacy. She mentioned the group Identity Europa, which uses "classical statuary as a symbol of white male superiority," which seems plausible.

But then Bond smuggled in an attack on a prominent Republican congressman. White marble statuary "also continues to buttress the false construction of Western civilization as white by politicians like Steve King," the professor argued.

Here, Bond went too far. King has been attacked for defending Dutch politician Geert Wilders and tweeting, "We can't restore our civilization with someone else's babies." He later explained that his remarks were about culture and not race. Even so, liberals twisted his statements to make them seem racist.