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Darwin’s ‘yard apes’

A deadly hurricane exposes an even deadlier philosophy


After the destructive 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the southern USA, many evacuees from the devastated city of New Orleans sought refuge in other cities. Most were African-American. An official of the Greenville Technical College twice referred to these recent arrivals in Greenville (South Carolina) as ‘yard apes’. The college immediately removed the offending employee. ‘She’s not a member of this institution today,’ said Greenville Tech President Tom Barton.

As we might expect, there was outrage at the comments—and rightly so. How can someone in the twenty-first century believe such nonsense? School officials and representatives from the NAACP1 should dig a little deeper into the curriculum of the public school system that they blindly support. There they will find scientific ‘justification’ for the ‘yard ape’ designation for blacks—in the writings of Charles Darwin.

Consider the subtitle to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. It reads: Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin’s supporters claim that his use of the word ‘races’ was meant to describe subspecies of animals. To a certain degree, this is correct. But what did Darwin mean by this, and what if Darwin thought of non-whites as an animal ‘race’ or ‘subspecies’? In The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote:

‘At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes [that is, the ones which allegedly look like people] … will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian [Aboriginal] and the gorilla’ [emphasis added].2

Darwin believed that the various races were at different evolutionary levels

Darwin believed that the various races were at different evolutionary levels, all distant from the apes, with ‘Blacks’ lower and ‘whites’ (Caucasians/Europeans) at the top.

Thomas H. Huxley, an ardent defender of Darwin who garnered the nickname ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, wrote that ‘No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.’ Huxley described whites as ‘bigger-brained and smaller-jawed.’3

Richard Hofstadter, in Social Darwinism in American Thought, demonstrated that ‘Darwinism was one of the chief sources of racism and of a belligerent ideology which characterized the last half of the 19th century in Europe and America …’.4 Benjamin Wiker comments that according to Darwin, ‘the European race, following the inevitable laws of natural selection, will emerge as the distinct species, human being, and all the transitional forms—such as the gorilla, chimpanzee, Negro, Australian aborigine and so on—will be extinct.’5 Of course, Darwinism did not lay the groundwork for racism itself. Racism has been around a long time. But Darwinism made it seem plausibly scientific.

It’s good to see that Greenville Technical College did some house cleaning. Now it’s time to take a serious look at the entire system that promotes the scientific theory that can be used to justify racism. As Scott Bell argues in The Darwin Conspiracy, ‘If we are all biological accidents, [which Darwinism teaches] why shouldn’t the white accidents own and sell the black accidents?’6

References and notes

  1. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (a US organization). Return to text.
  2. Darwin, C., The Descent of Man, 2nd ed., John Murray, London, p. 156, 1887. Return to text.
  3. Thomas H. Huxley, Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews, Appleton, New York, USA, p. 20, 1871. Quoted in Morris, The Long War Against God, Baker Book House, Michigan, USA, p. 60, 1990. Return to text.
  4. Surburg, R.F., ‘The Influence of Darwinism,’ in Darwin, Evolution, and Creation, ed. Paul A. Zimmerman, Concordia, Missouri, USA, p. 196, 1959. Return to text.
  5. Wiker, B., Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists, InterVarsity Press, Illinois, USA, p. 250, 2002. Return to text.
  6. Bell, J.S., The Darwin Conspiracy, Vision House, Oregon, p. 64, 1995. Return to text.
Adapted from an article on www.AmericanVision.org and used by permission.

(Availble in Punjabi and Urdu)

First published: 28 May 2007
Re-featured on homepage: 8 July 2009