6/26/10

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...”

6 comments:

Mark Kerstetter said...

Wow, I was unaware of this shameful episode. Ota Benga's story is heartbreaking.

cyurkanin said...

He's just one of many, many, Mark. The hideousness of our "fallen nature" never becomes more obvious though than when our rulers and sages use "science" to advance an agenda.

Jean-François de Buren said...

I was shocked and saddened by your post. That being said, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

"He's considered to be the most intelligent of all primates. Not half as smart as my little man I bet, though."

Was this supposed to be ironic? =) You do quite a bit of jumping back and forth from men to primates, which is as unsettling as you must have intended. A nod to Darwin's Origin of the Species, I suppose?

Before the collective brain fart that was the Englightenment, there would have been no doubt in the minds of the most intelligent, civilised people in the world that Ota Benga was, if not a social equal, then at least not an animal!

cyurkanin said...

Ma'am, after nearly three years considering your question and comments, the council has decided that... we must continue to discuss the matter.

Seriously, I don't how you end up being the one I ignore all the time. However, I do agree with your observation of the brain fart and yes the post was intended to be both ironic and confusing. You usually "get" what I'm doing here. Usually... :)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Seriously, I don't how you end up being the one I ignore all the time.

I'm just special, I guess . . . =)