Staff Evolution news recently visited the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and brought back a fascinating and revealing series of three photographic essays on how the museum covers evolution (see here, here and here). I was not on this particular trip. So I was struck by a point made in the final essay, “Evolution Theater: Smithsonian Whitewashes Human Origins”: the simplified and deceptive science on display, which is said to be so up-to-date that it deserves to be featured on the National Mall, retains the element of traditional Darwinian racism. (For a more precise view of the paleontological evidence, see the recent episode of Uprising science on the subject.)
A misused word – but not here
Believe me, I don’t use the word âracismâ casually – it is grotesquely and unfairly overused in our culture today. Note this, however:
Entering the Human origins room, the spectator is greeted by a panorama of species becoming more and more “white” as they evolve. An exception is the Hobbit of Indonesia (Homo floresiensis) which is described as exceptionally darkâ¦.
[V]Isitors are treated to a single line of descent mimicking the discredited “human walking” icon that keeps appearing in cartoons. True paleontologists admit a reticulated model where it is not at all clear who is whose ancestor. This complexity is ignored.
Inside the Hall of Human Origins, these same six specimens are depicted on a path to whiteness. Visitors seem to accept this performance without a riot because, after all, it is “science.” Note that the colors of the skin, hair and shapes of the nose are not preserved with the bones. [Emphasis added.]
Do your own Google search
I had never thought of it before. In contemporary museum exhibits and other evolutionary representations, as in Darwin Descent of man and in the notorious Civic biology manual that was at issue in the Scopes trial of 1925, human origins are described as an upward progression from black to white. Neanderthals, although otherwise “primitive” (which is questionable in itself), are presented as having fair skin. And maybe they were, but modern man – Homo sapiens – is almost invariably white and European, not African or Asian. Discover some examples on the Internet, here, here, here, here, and here. Do a Google image search for the phrase “human evolution” and you will see many more.
Just a coincidence? Or is Darwin’s racist legacy still with us today? You tell me. For a more in-depth exploration of this legacy, see John West’s documentary Human zoos.