Whitening Thief: Speaker discusses white supremacy

“White supremacy and classics have been walking hand-in-hand pretty much since its inception,” Dr. Maxwell Paule told a group of Augustana students during a Zoom event Tuesday, April 27.
Paule’s January 2020 article in Eidolon, “The Whitening Thief,” discusses the elements of white supremacist ideology in the young adult fantasy novel: “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan.
Many Augie students grew up reading the series, and it remains a favorite for many today, and that’s okay. Paule points out that the series becomes more inclusive as it goes on and that Riordan himself is most likely not a white supremacist, simply writing a story using ideas that are unfortunately prevalent in American society.
“The crux of why I see white supremacy in Percy Jackson is because it is built on the idea of the ‘Heart of the West,’” Paule said.
To summarize, Paule said that the world that Riordan has created is built on the idea that Western civilization is a great force from which the best leaders, artists and minds stem. “World history” in the novel is equated with western, eurocentric history. Not to mention, much of the world is built on bloodlines and genetics creating a “distinct class of divine offspring,” as well as the use of the word “half-blood,” a word with a history of being used in extremely racist contexts.
The field of classics has a history of being used to justify white supremacist ideology. Paule pointed to the example of an essay written by Thomas Jefferson defending slavery called Notes on the State of Virginia. In the essay, Jefferson names a number of well-known Greek and Roman slaves and claims that even while enslaved, they were able to become artists, philosophers and educators, but that it was not so with African slaves.
The difference, in his mind, was that there was some intrinsic racial difference, on the assumption that the Greek and Roman slaves were white even though they weren’t. The essay concludes by stating, “Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort. The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”
Augustana professor of classics Rocki Wentzel said that the term ‘western civilization’ wasn’t coined until the 19th Century, and it was tied to colonialism. She also mentioned that there are those that would say that western civilization as an idea is imagined.
“The idea that there is a western civilization and that it is grounded in Greek and Roman civilization […] and the idea that Americans are the heirs to that leads to the classics being used to justify white supremacist ideology within the field of study,” Wentzel said.
Paule highlights the importance of Percy Jackson in the context of the discussion of white supremacy and classics. Paule said that about 90% of his students have read the series, which gives some idea of the sheer number of people that are familiar with it.
“It’s kind of worse that [Riordan] was unintentionally writing a piece that aligned so well with white supremacist ideology,” Paul said. “That says less about Riordan and more about the pervasiveness of those ideas in American culture.”