Did you know William Shakespeare was actually an African-American? Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Shakespeare died in 1616, nearly two centuries before there was a United States of America, which calls into question the “American” part. The “African” part is also fake, but it occurs to me that if we can persuade students at the University of Pennsylvania that Shakespeare was black, maybe they won’t be so hell-bent on banning him from campus because he does not “represent a diverse range of writers.”
According to the student newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian (h/t Campus Reform), a Broadway-poster size portrait of the Bard was removed from its long-standing location in the English Department and replaced with a photo of Audre Lorde, a writer who was not only black and female but a lesbian:
The portrait [of Shakespeare] has resided over the main staircase of Fisher-Bennett — home to Penn’s English Department — for years. The English Department voted to relocate and replace the portrait a few years ago in order to represent a more diverse range of writers, according to an emailed statement from [Department Chair Jed] Esty, who declined to be i1nterviewed.
“Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” Esty wrote in the email. He added that the image of Lorde will remain until the department reaches a decision about what to do with the space.
It seems to me the move doesn’t go far enough. I mean, why does a university need (or want) an “English” department in the first place? Is the student body at Penn unaware that English is the language of white supremacy? Some schools have already taken steps to exclude or minimize English. Take the University of Colorado, which tried to do the right thing in 2014 by renaming two of its dormitories for prominent American Indians but blew it by choosing the English translations of their names rather than the original, hard-to-pronounce indigenous versions.
Scoffers will point out that in a nation where most speakers are monolingual and that the one language they speak is English, eliminating that language would hamper communication. Maybe it would be easiest to go back to my original plan and “bunk” the myth that Shakespeare was a black man.