AMERICAN RACISM AND NATURAL SELECTION

 


In his book The Winning of the West, US President Theodore T. Roosevelt established the ideology of massacre, and later implemented it. 

Social Darwinism provided support for racists and imperialists in other countries too, not just Britain. For this reason it spread quickly through the whole world. At the head of those subscribing to the theory came U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the foremost proponent and implementer of the programme of ethnic cleansing applied against the Native Americans under the name of "forced relocation." In the book The Winning of the West, he founded the ideology of massacre, maintaining that a racial war to the finish with the Indians was inevitable. 1 His greatest prop was Darwinism, which gave him the opportunity to define the natives as a backward species.

As Roosevelt had foreseen, none of the treaties with the Native Americans were respected, and this too was provided a false justification under the "backward race" theory. In 1871, Congress disregarded all the treaties made with the Native Americans and decided to exile them to dead lands where they could await death. If the other side were not perceived as human beings then how could the treaties made with them have any validity?

Roosevelt also proposed that the above mentioned racial war represented the culminating achievement of the spread of the English speaking peoples (Anglo-Saxons) over the world.2

One of the foremost proponents of Anglo-Saxon racism, the American evolutionist and Protestant clergyman Josiah Strong, employed the same logic. He once wrote these words:

Then will the world enter upon a new stage of its history - the final competition of races for which the Anglo-Saxon is being schooled. If I do not read amiss, this powerful race will move down upon Mexico, down upon Central and South America, out upon the islands of the sea, over upon Africa and beyond. And can anyone doubt that the result of this competition will be "survival of the fittest"? 3

The foremost of the racists who used Social Darwinism to justify themselves were the enemies of the blacks. Their racist theories, which divided the races into levels and defined the white race as the most superior and the black race as the most primitive, enthusiastically embraced the concept of evolution. 4

The most prominent of the evolutionary racist theoreticians, Henry Fairfield Osborn, wrote in an article headed The Evolution of Human Races that "The standard of intelligence of the average adult Negro is similar to that of the eleven-year-old-youth of the species Homo Sapiens." 5

According to this logic blacks were not human beings at all. Another of the best-known proponents of evolutionary racist thought, Carleton Coon put forward, in his book The Origins of Race, published in 1962, that the black and white races were two different species which had split from each other back in the Homo Erectus period. According to Coon, the whites had evolved further following this separation. The supporters of discrimination against blacks employed this so-called scientific explanation for a long time.

The existence of a scientific theory which supported it rapidly increased racism in America. W. E. Dubois, known for being against racial discrimination, stated that "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line". According to him, that the problem of racism should have emerged in such a widespread manner in a country which wants to become the world's greatest democracy, and which from some points of view has accomplished this, is not the least important of paradoxes. The abolition of slavery has not sufficed for the establishment of brotherhood between black and white people. He thought that official discrimination, set up in a short time, has in our day turned into an ipso facto and legal situation, a way out of which is still being sought. 6

 


The emergence of the first racial discrimination laws, known as the "Jim Crow Laws," (Jim Crow was one of the derogatory names for blacks used by the whites) also happened at this time. Blacks were definitely not treated like human beings, and were despised and treated with contempt everywhere: furthermore this was not the attitude of a few racist individuals but that determined by the American state by its own laws. Immediately after the first law approving racial segregation on railways and trams was passed in Tennessee in 1875, all the Southern states implemented segregation on their railways. "Whites Only" and "Blacks" signs were hung up everywhere. Actually, all of these just meant the granting of official status to a situation which already existed. Marriage between different races was forbidden. Under the law, segregation was compulsory in hospitals, prisons, and graveyards. In practice, this included hotels, theatres, libraries, and even lifts and churches. The field where segregation was most sharply felt was in schools. This was the practice which had the heaviest effects on the blacks and was the greatest obstacle in the face of their cultural development.

The practice of racial segregation was accompanied by a wave of violence. There was a swift rise in the number of black lynchings. Between 1890 and 1901 some 1,300 blacks were lynched. As a result of these implementations blacks rose up in several states.

Racist thought and theories accompanied this period. Shortly after, American biological racism would express itself in the results arrived at by R. B. Bean's method of skull measurement, and under the pretence of protecting the people of the new continent from a wave of uncontrolled migration, a particular kind of American racism arose. Madison Grant, author of the book The Passing of the Great Race (1916) wrote that the mixing of the two races will open the way to the emergence of a more primitive race than the inferior species, and he wanted inter-racial marriages to be banned. 7

He also wanted inter-racial marriages to be banned.

Racism existed in America before Darwin, as it did in the whole world. But as we have seen, Darwinism gave racist views and policies apparent support in the second half of the 19th century. For example, as we have seen in this chapter, when racists put forward their views they used the claims of Darwinism as slogans. Ideas which before Darwin had been regarded as cruel, now began to be accepted as natural law.

1- Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God, Baker Book House, 1989, p. 70

2- Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God, Baker Book House, 1989, p. 71

3- Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, p.188

4- Alaeddin Senel, Irk ve Irkçilik Düsüncesi (The Idea of Race and Racism), Ankara:Bilim ve Sanat Yayinlari, 1993, p. 85-90

5- Henry Fairfield Osborn, "The Evolution of Human Races", Natural History, April 1980, p. 129 - reprinted from January/February 1926 issue

6- François de Fontette, Le Racisme (Racism), 6th ed. Presses Universitaires de France, 1988, p. 101

7- François de Fontette, Le Racisme (Racism), 6th ed. Presses Universitaires de France, 1988, p. 105