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In Evolutionary Thinking, Roseanne Barr’s Offensive Tweet Has a Long History

Roseanne Barr

You don’t need another voice, ours, expressing outrage at the tweet that got Roseanne Barr’s comedy show canceled by ABC. But for historical background, you’ve come to the right place.

The comment about Valerie Jarrett, formerly of the Obama Administration, “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” didn’t drop down out of nowhere from the sky. The linking of Africans and African Americans with apes has a long, disturbing history, that can’t be untangled from Darwinian evolutionary thinking.

Some voices, if not necessarily thoughtful or serious ones, have recognized this, while at the same time missing the point. From Think Progress:

Others claimed that Barr’s comments, which compared Jarrett’s looks to those of characters from the Planet of the Apes film franchise, weren’t racist at all. Bill Mitchell, one of President Trump’s most vocal supporters, tweeted that Barr’s comment merely pointed to the theory of evolution…

From The Forward:

Barr, who is Jewish, wrote a tweet saying that Obama-era White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is African-American, was descended from apes.

Darwin, of course, taught that all human beings share common ancestry with apes. But he wrote in The Descent of Man that Africans were closer to apes than other races, with the chilling consequence that “the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” 

Evolution as an ideology has been cursed by ideas along these ugly lines ever since. The textbook at the center of the famous 1925 Scopes trial, George William Hunter’s Civic Biology, instructed public school students on the scientific ranking of the human races, with the “Ethiopian or negro type” at the bottom.

The upcoming release of the multiple award-wining documentary Human Zoos, written and directed by Discovery Institute’s John West, documents the hidden history of evolutionary pseudo-scientific racism, from Charles Darwin to the rise of the Alt Right.

The film, which had its Seattle premiere this month and is excellent, reminds us of shocking episodes from America’s past when leading scientists approved of displaying Africans in zoos to demonstrate Darwinian theory and affirm its idea of a “missing link” being humans and apes. This was mainstream science in its day.

Roseanne Barr is no more a historian than a scientist. She was, likely, unaware of the terrible tradition to which she was giving a new voice. The Human Zoos website is up and available now with fascinating background reading about the heartbreaking story of Ota Benga, the pygmy at the Bronx Zoo, connections to eugenic “science” and more. Roseanne would profit by checking it out.

Photo: Roseanne Barr, by Jonathan Mauer [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.