Eugenics and racist pseudoscience are not safely confined to history. They’re very much with us today, as Steve Fuller, among others, has pointed out.
To understand the present situation, however, you need to understand the past. That includes shameful times in our own country, not so very long ago, that have been swept under the memory carpet. John West’s new documentary, Human Zoos, is a reminder of a particularly vicious episode in U.S. history: the display of an African pygmy, Ota Benga, at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. That much was known to me, but not that many others — thousands! — were similarly displayed as “missing links” connecting apes to more “advanced” humans, per Darwinian theory. This is amazing stuff.
The 55-minute film will receive its premiere in Houston, TX, on April 18. Please join us for this FREE event! More information is here, and don’t forget to REGISTER to reserve your space. See the trailer here:
Yes, this was the consensus science, the prestige science of its day. It was taught to young people, and the smart set in academia and the media readily endorsed it. To adopt today’s favored terminology, speaking out against eugenic dogma or Darwinian racism would have made you a crank and a science-denier. Yet some did speak out:
Human Zoos tells the shocking story of how thousands of indigenous peoples were put on public display in America in the early decades of the twentieth century. Often touted as “missing links” between man and apes, these native peoples were harassed, demeaned, and jeered at.
Their public display was arranged with the enthusiastic support of the most elite members of the scientific community, and it was promoted uncritically by America’s leading newspapers. This award-winning documentary explores the heartbreaking story of what happened, shows how African-American ministers and other people of faith tried to push back, and reveals how some people today are still drawing on Social Darwinism in order to dehumanize others. The film also explores the tragic story of eugenics in America, the effort to breed humans beings based on Darwinian principles.
Congratulations to our colleagues John West and Rachel Adams for their outstanding work on Human Zoos, which has already accumulated a range of awards and recognitions including: “Best in Show” (Cinema Worldfest Award), “Best Editing” (Oregon Documentary Film Festival), and “Awards of Excellence” (Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards, Impact DOCS Awards).
Dr. West will answer questions from the audience afterward via Skype. Other regional premieres are upcoming. See you in Houston!
Photo: Ota Benga in the Bronx Zoo, 1906, via Wikimedia Commons.