When The New York Times Defended Putting a Black Man in the Bronx Zoo
Just as the late Stephen Jay Gould updated Charles Darwin by arguing that humans evolved through fits and starts—“punctuated equilibrium”—social progress also is less steady than we would like. Even amid a positive trajectory, there are breakthroughs, plateaus, and setbacks. Sometimes, what seems like a step back actually helps propel society forward. The short unhappy life of Ota Benga—the human being exhibited in the Bronx Zoo—demonstrates how one big example of racist ugliness may have resulted in at least one small step toward racial progress.
Although the true origins of this sad story begins with the specious theories of superiority whites developed centuries ago, Benga’s tale begins in the early 1900s, in the Belgian-controlled Congo Free State. His life in his community ended when King Leopold’s Force Publique invaded his world, murdering his wife and two children, then selling him as a slave to the Baschilele tribe. This all too familiar outrage took a bizarre turn when an American anthropologist, Samuel Philips Verner, purchased him for five dollars’ worth of cloth and salt. This woefully misguided missionary then brought Benga along with eight other young Africans to star in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Benga’s slight build, dark skin, and artificially sharpened teeth—from a ritual called chipping—fit many Americans’ racist stereotype of the African savage. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch greeted the “African Pygmies for the World’s Fair” on June 26, 1904. Benga and his troupe won the gold medal for entertaining the crowds with their dances and other tribal rituals...
Read whole article on The Daily Beast.
comments powered by Disqus
- Trump’s Supreme Court Justices Show How They Might Help Him in Contested Election
- Two Visions of the Suburbs Are on the Ballot. Both Are Myths
- FBI Won’t Deliver Report on White-Supremacist Terror Threat Until After Election
- VMI Superintendent Steps Down Amid Allegations Of 'Structural Racism'
- Arizona Education Board Votes To Require Students Learn About The Holocaust, Other Genocides
- How Democrats Can Learn Hardball From the Republicans of 1861
- When a Kidnapping Ring Targeted New York’s Black Children (Review)
- To Understand The Spectacle Of Presidential Debates, Look Back To 1960, Says Harvard Historian
- If only Richard Nixon had Listened to Jackie Robinson — The GOP Might be Doing Better than Trump Today
- "Time's Monster" by Priya Satia Review – Living in the Past