Evolution Icon Evolution

Students Sue School District for $12 Million Over “Monkey See” Photos

Monkey See

A glance at the Wikipedia article on “scientific racism” makes it sound like the phenomenon is basically something out of the past: “Historically, scientific racism received credence throughout the scientific community, but it is no longer considered scientific.” But four African American high school students in Suffolk County, NY, might beg to differ. 

They are suing their school district for $12 million after the teacher of their advanced zoology class showed slides of them juxtaposed with a gorilla with the caption “Monkey see, monkey do.” The photo of the four was taken on a field trip with their class to the Bronx Zoo, a place with a dismal history. There, in 1906, the African pygmy Ota Benga was displayed in a cage in the zoo’s Monkey House to educate the public about the insights of Darwinian theory.

Human Zoos

The story of Ota Benga, including much historical context and tracing eugenic and racist thinking from Darwin to the contemporary alt-right, was the subject of a recent documentary from Discovery Institute, Human Zoos, written and directed by John West.

From the CBS News report:

The students and their families are crying foul over the images a science teacher used in the slideshow…

“There can’t be any question about what they meant,” said lawyer John Ray. “Remember, this is a zoology class. Evolution is taught.”

Not an Isolated Goof

The attorney calls it “institutionalized racial superiority,” and the students say they felt that they had been deliberately shamed. The teacher defends himself, saying he has been snapping photos of students like this, black, white, and otherwise, for years. But the “Monkey see” slide is not an isolated goof, apparently:

The parents said they were shown slideshows this week from years past and noticed another troubling photo.

“The lion caption. It was a picture of a lion and then three black young ladies. Then it said, ‘Not all animals are cute,’” said Desmond Dent, Sr., father of one of the students.

Let’s be fair. The instructor likely did not act from a specific intent to hurt black students. In 2020, a teacher would need to be operating under a career death wish to single out African Americans that way. Was the exercise “culturally insensitive,” as the school district evidently now concedes, given the relevant history, including the fact that the photo was taken at the notorious Bronx Zoo of all places? That seems more likely.

The Inevitable Subhuman

But the lawyer, John Ray, may have come closest to hitting the nail on the head. As he commented, “Remember, this is a zoology class. Evolution is taught.” As Denyse O’Leary at Discovery Institute’s Walter Bradley Center has observed, it’s in the nature of Darwinism that it must have its “official subhuman.” A theory of gradual, unguided, purposeless biological change, with species and races continuously varying and shading over into each other, is necessarily going to be ill at ease with a single human race, all its members equally bearing the image of a transcendent creator.

From a Darwinian perspective, with all the human races having been shaped by different evolutionary pressures across a range of environments around the globe, it would be surprising if some races were not “superior” or “inferior” in intelligence or other characteristics. It would be wholly against expectation if Caucasians, Africans, Asians and others were all perfectly equal in their endowments. Why would they be? That has got to be one reason that scientific racism persists: it’s baked into Darwin’s theory.

The Banner of “Race Realism”

Not surprisingly, then, Darwinism has again and again proposed classes of subhumans, whether safely extinct ones, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, or living ones, such as modern Africans. Also not surprisingly, under the banner of “Race Realism,” racialists today like those on the alt-right conspicuously embrace evolutionary theory.

In contrast, while religious thinkers over the centuries have included their share of racists, nothing in the idea of design or the idea of creation suggests that there should be categories of lesser or greater humans. On the contrary, if human beings uniquely bear the stamp of a designer’s image, that would argue strongly against any myth of a racial hierarchy. Science and faith, in that case, would testify together against the perversity of racism.

Photo: Monkey House, Bronx Zoo, in 2009, by Michael Gray via Flickr (cropped).