An article was published in The Telegraph recently, which discusses the issue of far-right groups attempting to “retake” ancient monuments in England.
Twisting the past to try and legitimise fascism is nothing new. Archaeology was used as a part of Nazi nationalist propaganda to prove the origin of a master race that was German. Indeed, it played such an important role that during World War II the Nazis had archaeologists coming behind the front lines, even taking over and continuing ongoing excavations in countries they occupied.
Archaeology in Britain is poor at countering this. Of 837 archaeologists surveyed by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) in 2013, seven described themselves as non-white. With a community that narrow, however well-intentioned many of us are we are failing to be a voice against white supremacists. Statistically I imagine we are up there in what a white supremacist would wish for in terms of diversity.
We are also bad at tackling it head on. Many will have concerns about becoming a target or feel it is not their place to get involved. When publishing little if any thought is given to how the material will be consumed and used for various political ends. When things do get political there is also a tendency for archaeologists to either hide away or state that once it is out of their hands then they are unable to control how it is used.
There is also apathy. A link to the Telegraph article put up on the Prehistoric Society facebook page shows a number of people who either do not care or are actively defending the actions of the neo-Nazis as a “free speech” issue. The ever excellent moderating by Tess Machling saved that post from becoming an absolute trash fire of an argument, but still highlights how much needs to be done.
It is easy to not get involved. It does not impact us (white) archaeologists much in our day to day life and we will often be totally oblivious to it going on. That leaves the 1% of the industry to fight the use of archaeology as a tool against them. Racist tropes of angry and disruptive individuals then come into play and careers stagnate or are demolished.
We should all be angry that archaeology is being used to legitimise an ideology that kills. As the Telegraph piece points out mass shootings in Norway and New Zealand that combined killed over 100 people were carried out by Odinists, a religion often espoused by fascists. The heavy lifting can not be left to those who already carry more than their fair share.
The industry more widely must do more, but there are things we should all be doing:
- When disseminating archaeology consider how it will be consumed and engage with its life after you have published it.
- Challenge these ideologies safely, but directly.
- Recognise your own racism. Being in the society we are in means we all (including me) have racist ideas that we may not recognise. If you are called out on being racist don’t be defensive, use it to be a better person. Nobody is perfect, work to be better.
- Do not talk over BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) people on this issue. Yes be actively involved and take the weight off others, but do not make it about you and do not drown out the voices that need to be heard