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Human Evolution as a “Path to Whiteness”

Photo source: Evolution News staff.

Staff of Evolution News recently toured the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and brought back a fascinating and revealing series of three photo essays on how the museum covers evolution (see herehere, and here). I was not part of that particular trip. So I was struck by a point made in the final essay, “Evolution Theater: Smithsonian Whitewashes Human Origins”: the simplified and misleading science on display, which is supposed to be so up-to-date as to merit showcasing on the National Mall, retains the element of traditional Darwinian racism. (For a more accurate take on the paleontological evidence, see the recent episode of Science Uprising on the subject.)

An Abused Word — But Not Here

Believe me, I don’t use the word “racism” casually — it is grotesquely and most unfairly overused in our current culture. Note this, however:

Entering the Hall of Human Origins, the viewer is greeted by a panorama of species becoming more “white” as they evolve. One exception is the Hobbit of Indonesia (Homo floresiensis) which is portrayed as exceptionally dark….

[V]isitors are treated to a single line of descent mimicking the discredited “march of man” icon that keeps popping up in cartoons. Real paleontologists admit a reticulate pattern where it’s not at all clear who is ancestral to whom. This complexity is ignored.

Inside the Hall of Human Origins, these same six specimens are portrayed on a path to whiteness. Visitors seem to accept this portrayal without rioting because, after all, this is “science.” Note that skin colors, hair, and nose shapes are not preserved with bones. [Emphasis added.]

Do Your Own Google Search

I had never thought of this before. In contemporary museum displays and other evolutionary depictions, just as in Darwin’s Descent of Man and in the notorious Civic Biology textbook that was at issue in the 1925 Scopes Trial, human origins are portrayed as an upward progress from dark to white. Neanderthals, however otherwise “primitive” (which is questionable in itself), are shown as light-skinned. And maybe they were, but modern man — Homo sapiens — is almost invariably white and European, not African or Asian. Check out some examples from around the Internet, herehere, herehere, and here. Do a Google image search for the phrase “human evolution” and you’ll see many others.

Just a coincidence? Or is Darwin’s racist legacy still with us today? You tell me. For a deeper exploration of that legacy, see John West’s documentary Human Zoos.