The New Imperialism

“What’s that thing, mommy?”

Anthony’s mother bent softly over his shoulder and pointed to a little wooden sign hanging on the door of the cage.

“Let’s read the words, Anthony. You should be able to sound it out and I think you might recognize it once you do.”

Anthony squinted at the letters.

“Or... or, ang... uh... Hey!” Anthony’s face lit up, “Momma, it’s an orangutan! Just like in my alphabet book!”

His mother tossled his curly brown hair and kissed him on the cheek. She was beaming too.

“Very good, Anthony! You are so smart. Now, let’s see what else it tells us about him. He’s from Malaysia and his name means “man of the forest." He’s considered to be the most intelligent of all primates. Not half as smart as my little man I bet, though.”

It was October 8, 1906; a few scant years into the new century, a century that promised new hope for new man. A century that showed signs of mankind shedding the last vestiges of its superstitious past and embracing the new sciences; the evolved would take control and guide the masses into a brave new future. Important bedrock work had been done in Europe in the last century, but now the future of scientific racism was unfolding in the United States, especially under the guidance of forward-thinking men like Madison Grant.

The pair moved leisurely through the monkey exhibit at the Bronx Zoo and stopped at another little sign.

“What does this one say, Anthony? “

“It says... Oh-Ta, Ben-Ga, mommy. That was easy, Ota Benga. But he’s not a monkey."

“No, Anthony,” his mother whispered, pulling the boy away from the small, dark man behind the fence. “But he’s not like us, Anthony. He’s a savage. But maybe with our help...”


Happy Father's Day

Back to writing again next week.