Those excited enough about Latin to join a club to celebrate it aren’t known for making themselves the center of a debate about political correctness in the age of Black Lives Matter. But a Latin club from a posh Chicago suburb is now under fire for staging a slave auction at an event intended to show slavery’s role in ancient Greece and Rome.
“We couldn’t believe it. We were all standing there in shock,” Danielle McDaniels, a parent who witnessed the auction, told NBC Chicago. “Watching a live slave auction, complete with chains, it was a bit much. It was overwhelming.”
The 45-second slave auction skit came at the Illinois Junior Classical Convention in Itasca, Ill., last Friday. Two students who appeared to be white from the majority-white Barrington High School in well-to-do Barrington, Ill., took the stage. The “slave” was in chains; the “auctioneer” gave the hard sell.
“Today we are going to have a Barrington bro for sale,” the auctioneer said as the “slave” appeared to flex his muscles. “This experienced soldier, now a slave — of the classics.” The auction concluded: “Thirty going once, 30 going twice? Sold!”
The skit won first prize. But not everyone was impressed.
Barrington School District said sorry.
“The Barrington School District offers sincere apologies to those offended by a skit our high school Latin students conducted at the Illinois Junior Classical Convention in Itasca this weekend,” a statement posted to the school’s Facebook page said. “Their depiction of slavery as it was practiced by ancient Greeks and Romans unintentionally but understandably evoked strong emotions among a diverse audience. We agree with the concern and are reviewing the incident with students and staff who were involved.”
Morgan Delack, a spokesman for Barrington School District 220, told the Barrington Courier-Review that the skit was “meant to be an introduction of students depicting slavery in ancient Rome.”
“Clearly, it did not come off as humorous, but there was no maliciousness or cultural insensitivity intended,” she said, pointing out that the teacher who sponsored the club apologized for the skit at the event. “I think the group of students understood that some people were offended.” Delack also told the Courier-Review that the Barrington Latin teacher, Chris Condrad, did not review the skit before his students performed it.
A student who appeared in the skit apologized as well.
“There’s nothing that I can say to undo the pain that we’ve caused,” he said in video aired by NBC Chicago. “But I am truly, truly sorry.”
The website of the Illinois Junior Classical League said the organization helps students “gain an active appreciation and understanding of the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, thereby better enabling us as individuals to interpret and appraise our world today.” The convention, it said, had “activities for everyone,” including “two mandatory testing sessions, oratory and dramatic interpretation contests, [the Latin trivia game] certamen, sight Latin reading, and four general assemblies” and “fun events, such as colloquium, impromptu art, a bounce house, costume contests, a talent show, art competitions, a toga banquet, and also a dance.”
Latin, the league said, is not a dead language.
“On the contrary, here at IJCL, we like to believe that Latin is eternal,” the website said. “It’s the mother of five different romance languages: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and French. Many English words also come from Latin, including the word ‘defenestrate,’ which stems from ‘de-‘ meaning out of or down from, and ‘fenestra’ meaning window. Simply, this word means to throw one out of window. Which is what our IJCLers will do to you if you are so foolish as to ask this question.”
A Kenwood parent and student said the skit showed the “white privilege” of some in the Junior Classical League.
“White privilege is exactly what it is,” Danielle McDaniels, the parent of a Kenwood student, said. “… Regardless as to how it was meant, it was a live slave auction, it was done in poor taste. For God’s sake, it was Black History Month.”
“Especially, like, since JCL is primarily white, they are so into their, like, white privilege, I guess, that they don’t know how they can affect minorities,” one student said.
“I feel like we still haven’t gotten, like, the proper apology,” another said, “and everything hasn’t been owned by the Barrington School.”
On Barrington’s Facebook page, reaction was divided.
“They could have done it in a respectful way,” one commenter wrote. “It’s not funny, and ppl take it seriously rather slavery is over or not.”
“Roman slavery was not American slavery,” another wrote. “It was a way for Greek scholars to pay off their debts. Run up a huge debt while at an academy? Sell yourself to a rich Roman family. You end up as a tutor and advisor to the family. Some pretty famous works of the time were written by Greek slaves in the service of Roman families. Romans were remarkably color blind when it came to slavery. But yeah lets bring the Antebellum south into this.”