Thursday, 12 February 2009

On Darwin and racism: comment response

For a guy who's 200 years old, Charles Darwin sure is keeping me busy today.

So I received a comment from a reader who was too bashful to post in the open post. She complains that she "see[s] [my] blog as a great representation of black feminism" and therefore "doesn't know how to feel" about the fact that I endorse Darwin and his theories of evolution.

I've read the quotes suggesting that Darwin was a racist who saw black people and the aboriginal tribes of Australia as inferior to white people. And I have seen the arguments that Darwin's theories in fact led to slavery and are the foundation of Nazi eugenics, which - if we consider certain timelines, especially in the case of the former - are weak ones.

I can only say the following: Darwin could very well have thought, at the time that he was developing his theories, that the races he encountered represented different stages of evolution of the homo sapien. Given the popular thinking of the time, it would not be surprising. I do know that he was considered an abolitionist, and I also know that frankly, he is impossible for me to ignore. His findings are still being discussed today as more evidence is being gathered, and as someone with a slightly more than passing interest in this evidence, I cannot render him irrelevant as I might other less significant (to me at least) historical figures; I can't boycott his music or stop drinking his champagne. I tend to think he was more misguided than hateful, but I'm sure the same has been said about much more frightful characters.

Remember too that not all people who believe that species evolved believe in all the tenets of Darwinist theory. In fact, there are some with which we must disagree, namely, of course, his prediction that those he called 'weaker races' would not prosper and would become extinct.

In short, I don't know if Darwin was a racist. He may very well have been. But if I want to discuss evolution, I have to acknowledge him and the work he produced.


  1. I never got the idea that you were praising everything darwin did....just assumed that you were acknowledging his contributions to the topic of evolution.

    it is also good that the person highlighted that he may have been a racist, but that does not mean that his work should not be acknowledged.

    Good and bad have shaped the world..I am currently reading a book entitled the psychopathic god which is about hitler and a white person asked me why am I reading it. Educatiing yourself is about hearing all 3 sides to a story and analysing all of the views. Darwin's contributions have been significant in shaping the thoughts of the world, racist or not.

    One statement I believe in as that "a people without knowledge of their like a tree with no roots"

  2. While I care very much about whether people are racist or not, I can't say I would disregard the work of scientists such as Darwin because they were racist. I think every life matters, every mind thinks (even if their thoughts are stupid), every person adds something to the world. We have to thank Adolf for Hollywood.

    I am reminded of another well loved racist (who happened to be born the same year as Darwin), the man America celebrates this week, Abraham Lincoln, who is credited with freeing the slaves. Was he racist? Of course he was. He was a white American living during a time when it was against the LAW for a white person to marry a black person in that country. Don't believe me? Here's an excerpt from his speech made at Charleston, the Fourth Joint Debate.

    "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." - Abraham Lincoln. Read the whole speech here:

    Surprised? Don't be. I doubt there were many places on earth where people weren't racist at the time. Slavery may have been coming to an end worldwide by the time these two men were adults, but racism was probably not a word widely in use at that time. And I imagine it wasn't negatively perceived by the general European and American societies.

    So let's move past the race debate and move on to the more interesting religious vs logical debate. It's much more interesting and fun to read! ;-)


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