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New Documentary “Human Zoos” Shows How African People Were Brought to the U.S. and Displayed in Cages as Less Than Human

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by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News

When one thinks of the concept of “eugenics” most people think back to the atrocities of Nazi Germany and the genocide of ethnic cleansing during the Hitler regime.

What most Americans do not realize is that the “scientific” field of study known as “eugenics” originated in the United States, being inspired by Darwinian evolution, and is responsible for terrible social and racial injustices here in the U.S. before Hitler’s atrocities that occurred during WWII.

And the “scientific” field of eugenics is still alive and well today, even though the term “eugenics” is no longer popular. For more on this topic, see some of our previous articles:

Eugenics in the United States Today: Are We on the Same Path Nazi Germany Followed? [1]

Mapping the Genome and Modern Genetics: Eugenics Repackaged for Modern Times [2]

Eugenics Still Present in the U.S. Today [3]

The American History Of Compulsory Vaccination and its Ties to Eugenics [4]

Are Proposed Forced Vaccination Laws Comparable to Eugenics Forced Sterilization Laws in the U.S.? [5]

Another chapter of America’s dark eugenics past is the story of how indigenous African people were kidnapped from their villages in the early 1900s and brought to America as “freaks,” displayed as “missing links” to Darwin’s theory of human evolution, and displayed to the public in cages at Public Fairs and Zoos.

The Discovery Institute has produced a new documentary about this dark period of America’s past called “Human Zoos [6].” Here is the trailer:

Here is the synopsis [7]:

In September 1906, nearly a quarter of a million people flocked to the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Many came for a startling new exhibit in the Zoo’s Monkey House.

But it wasn’t a monkey they came to see. It was a man. His name was Ota Benga. A pygmy from the African Congo, Ota Benga was exhibited in a cage along with monkeys.

Benga was not alone.

He was one of literally thousands of indigenous peoples who were put on public display throughout America in the early twentieth century.

Often touted as “missing links” between man and apes and as examples of the “lower” stages of human evolution, 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.

Human Zoos tells the horrifying story of this effort to dehumanize entire classes of people in the name of science. It will also tell the story of the courageous African-American ministers in New York City who tried to stop what was going on.

Finally, the documentary will expose how some organizations are still trying to cover up their involvement in what happened and re-write the past.

The documentary features interviews with a number of experts, including Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Pamela Newkirk, author of Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga.

The film’s website has a section on eugenics [8], tracing the history of “scientific racism” to the theories of Charles Darwin.

It also has a section called “Cover Up [9]” with modern historical examples of Darwin-based “scientific racism” and the attempts to cover up the racism linked to Darwinian evolution.

Some examples:

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James Watson

Geneticist James Watson won the Nobel Prize for co-discovering the structure of DNA.

But in 2007, he sparked outrage when he suggested that African blacks were genetically inferior to European whites.

Echoing the arguments of scientific racists from the past, Watson claimed that black inferiority was due to evolution, explaining [10]:

“There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”

Watson was widely condemned for his comments, both inside and outside of the scientific community. It was an indication of how times have changed.

For more information:

“Fury at DNA pioneer’s theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners” [10] (Article/The Independent)

“Nobel-winning biologist apologizes for remarks about blacks” [11] (Article/CNN.com)

“Science museum bans DNA genius at centre of race row” [12] (Article/Daily Mail)

“Disgrace: How a giant of science was brought low” [13](Article/The Observer)

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AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

In 2005, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City opened an elaborate exhibition [14] exploring the life and legacy of Charles Darwin. The exhibition is still offered as a traveling exhibit to other museums.

Some have criticized the exhibition for offering a sanitized portrait of Social Darwinism [15], as well as for failing to disclose [16] the prominent role the American Museum of Natural History itself played in promoting Social Darwinist ideas like eugenics in the past.

For more information:

“Museum Exhibit Suppresses Darwin’s Real Views on Eugenics, Race, and Capitalism” [15] (Article/Evolution News)

“Rewriting History: Museum Fails to Disclose Own Role in Social Darwinism” [16] (Article/Evolution News)

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ALT RIGHT

Discredited Social Darwinist ideas about race have gained new prominence recently with the rise of the so-called “Alt Right.”

A number of “Alt Right” writers draw explicitly on Darwinian theory to justify their views.

In a 2017 study [17], more than 400 self-identified supporters of the “Alt Right” rated blacks, Mexicans, Nigerians, and other groups as significantly less “evolved” than whites and Europeans.

For more information:

“A Psychological Profile of the Alt-Right” [17] (2017 Study)

“Evolution and the Alt Right” [18]  (Article/Evolution News)

“In Explaining Dylann Roof’s Inspiration, the Media Ignore Ties to Evolutionary Racism” [19] (Article/Evolution News)

“Evolution and the Alt-Right, Continued” [20](Article/Evolution News)

Learn more at HumanZoos.org [6]