Friday, March 9, 2012

Racist Quote Attributed to Charles Darwin

I have to admit that I have never more than glanced at a few pages of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" in my lifetime. In general terms, I know what he said in the book, but high school biology was never my strong suit and I've never been interested enough to buy or borrow a copy of Darwin's opus in order to read his words for myself.

Perhaps that is my loss, I admit.

Charles Darwin was a prolific author, writing many books and articles all of which have been collected into one place and published online at the website The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. Darwin was also known to view Western colonialism as spreading the benefits of its civilization, though he strongly opposed the mistreatment of native peoples. He was against slavery as well as classifying different human ethnic groups as separate species.

Imagine my surprise when I found this quote being attributed to Charles Darwin:

"Since the dawn of history the Negro has owned the continent of Africa – rich beyond the dream of poet’s fancy, crunching acres of diamonds beneath his bare black feet and yet he never picked one up from the dust until a white man showed to him its glittering light.
His land swarmed with powerful and docile animals, yet he never dreamed a harness, cart, or sled.
A hunter by necessity, he never made an axe, spear, or arrowhead worth preserving beyond the moment of its use. He lived as an ox, content to graze for an hour.
In a land of stone and timber he never sawed a foot of lumber, carved a block, or built a house save of broken sticks and mud.
With league on league of ocean strand and miles of inland seas, for four thousand years he watched their surface ripple under the wind, heard the thunder of the surf on his beach, the howl of the storm over his head, gazed on the dim blue horizon calling him to worlds that lie beyond, and yet he never dreamed a sail.”
This quote can be found reproduced in many locations, mostly on Christian Creationist websites and White nationalist forums.

That creationists would spread it around is not surprising, since if Darwin could be exposed as a racist then the entire theory of evolution could then be perceived as stained because the most famous book in support of it was supposedly written by a bigot. If a bad person wrote a book in support of something you hate, then that makes your own position stronger, according to this reasoning.

White racists' use of this quote is also not surprising, but they use it for an entirely different reason. Charles Darwin is being used as a way to scientifically justify their feelings of superiority over blacks. Since Darwin is perceived as an authority figure in the field of biology and evolution, then his words can be used as evidence that even the greatest scientific minds viewed black people as inferior to whites.

But, despite the large number of places where this quote can be seen on the Internet, the actual source material is never mentioned. Charles Darwin is said to be the author of it, but the book or article where this quote first appeared is never stated for people to read the quote for themselves. After all, Darwin could have been quoting someone else and responding to it, or he could have said something before or after the statement and the quote as given is being taken out-of-context and there is also the possibility that Charles Darwin never said those words in the first place.

Having some free time, I decided to find the quote for myself. I did not have enough time to read everything that the guy ever wrote, so I attempted to Google the quote itself. White racist and creationist sites dominated the results, of course. This was not unexpected. but, no matter where I looked, I couldn't find anyone who stated which of Darwin's published works this quote first appeared in. I could find the quote easy enough, just not the source material. However, Charles Darwin wasn't the only person who is being quoted as saying these words.

One site quoted these words as having been said by the then-Governor of South Carolina to the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, circa 1865. This is a bit vague, since South Carolina had three men occupying that office just in that year.
  1. Andrew Gordon Magrath (December 18, 1864 to May 25, 1865) Confederate governor, deposed by the Union Army;
  2. Benjamin Franklin Perry (June 30, 1865 to November 29, 1865) appointed by President Andrew Johnson; and
  3. James Lawrence Orr (November 29, 1865 to July 6, 1868) who was the first elected Governor under the South Carolina Constitution of 1865.
Without a name to attach to the quote, finding out who said those words, when he said them and where his words are being quoted from was not getting any easier.

Then, I struck gold. Pure gold. I found the original work where the quote first appeared, the book it appeared in, the year the book was published and also the entire quote in context. Most importantly, I discovered who said (actually wrote) those words.

Here is the original quote:
"Education, sir, is the development of that which _is_. Since the dawn of history the negro has owned the continent of Africa--rich beyond the dream of poet's fancy, crunching acres of diamonds beneath his bare black feet. Yet he never picked one up from the dust until a white man showed to him its glittering light. His land swarmed with powerful and docile animals, yet he never dreamed a harness, cart, or sled. A hunter by necessity, he never made an axe, spear, or arrowhead worth preserving beyond the moment of its use. He lived as an ox, content to graze for an hour. In a land of stone and timber he never sawed a foot of lumber, carved a block, or built a house save of broken sticks and mud. With league on league of ocean strand and miles of inland seas, for four thousand years he watched their surface ripple under the wind, heard the thunder of the surf on his beach, the howl of the storm over his head, gazed on the dim blue horizon calling him to worlds that lie beyond, and yet he never dreamed a sail! He lived as his fathers lived--stole his food, worked his wife, sold his children, ate his brother, content to drink, sing, dance, and sport as the ape!
 "And this creature, half child, half animal, the sport of impulse, whim, and conceit, 'pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw,' a being who, left to his will, roams at night and sleeps in the day, whose speech knows no word of love, whose passions, once aroused, are as the fury of the tiger--they have set this thing to rule over the Southern people----"
These words came from the book "The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan" written in 1905 by Thomas F. Dixon Jr. It was the second book in a trilogy, preceded by "The Leopard's Spots"  in 1902 and followed by "The Traitor" in 1907. "The Clansman" served as inspiration for the 1915 silent movie which glamorized the Ku Klux Klan, "The Birth of a Nation", directed by David Llewelyn Wark "D. W." Griffith.

While Dixon opposed slavery, even though his family had owned slaves before the Civil War, he viewed blacks with contempt and strongly supported racial segregation.

If you'd like to read the quote for yourself, go to this link where it begins in the second paragraph from the top of the page.

While creationists and white racists like to spread this quote around and attribute it to Charles Darwin, they cannot provide a source from which they are quoting. But, I can and I have.

You may be wondering how it could be that a racist quote written by one man - Thomas Dixon - could be attributed to another man - Charles Darwin - and people wouldn't catch-on right away and thoroughly dismiss it as the fabrication that it is. The answer is simple: most people haven't read "On the Origin of Species" or any other book by Charles Darwin and those people who have are typically science students or scientists and Darwin's books are part of their field of study. Even so, the fact is that over 100 years have gone by since Darwin's death and so much more research has been done in the study of evolution that Darwin's books, while groundbreaking in their day are now quite antiquated.

The fact that very few people have read all of Darwin's works makes it that much easier to pull it off. How is the average person to know what Charles Darwin did or did not say? They can't, so people who either want to attack Darwin personally and professionally (creationists) or use him to justify their own racism (white nationalists) can do so quite comfortable in the knowledge that people who know better will be few and far between. An added plus for racists is that people who have read Dixon's books are even fewer in number than those who've read Darwin, so most people won't know from where the quote actually originated.

But, now I know and so do you. Pass it on.

If you'd like more information about the technological achievements of African civilizations, you can see this article on Wikipedia, History of science and technology in Africa.

Read Part 2 where I respond to people who think the quote is accurate, regardless of who said it.


 12,304 PEOPLE HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS QUOTE!
as of SEPTEMBER 7, 2014


Duane Browning

16 comments:

Summer said...

Just wanted to stop in and thank you profusely for your research here. I've just spanked some recent high school graduates who were "not being racist but thought this was interesting" and made the critical error of posting this in their public facebok feed, which put it in my line of sight when my daughter commented.

I think as we evolve as a culture one thing we will regret is pulling critical thinking classes out of public education.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this research - it is indeed very valuable, especially in the light of the fact misattribution of quotes is somewhat of a plague of recent times.
Nonetheless, having exhibited great bit of critical thinking, you surely cannot disagree the quote itself is as true now as it was 150 years ago.

Anonymous said...

It might not be by Darwin, but your usage of the word "Racist" is skewed at best, self-serving at worst.

You do nothing to refute the quote in your diatribe of mindless drivel, save for a link at the end of your passage. You also don't bother to examine the dual nature of the quote itself. I wouldn't relegate the quote to a negative position so quickly, as you have done, so unwisely. They didn't squander their resources to further advance themselves for personal gain like the whites in Europe. Oh wait, according to you that would be racist.

I digress, this is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

I read that quote on another site. It did not sound like Darwin, who was passionately opposed to slavery --- even though he did write, in the Descent of Man, Chapter XXI:

"...since he attained to the rank of manhood, he [man] has diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more fitly called, sub-species. Some of these, such as the Negro and European, are so distinct that, if specimens had been brought to a naturalist without any further information, they would undoubtedly have been considered by him as good and true species."

I decided to do my own search which led to your post. Congrats on exposing this misquotation and on finding the real source.

Duane Browning said...

"Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this research - it is indeed very valuable, especially in the light of the fact misattribution of quotes is somewhat of a plague of recent times.
Nonetheless, having exhibited great bit of critical thinking, you surely cannot disagree the quote itself is as true now as it was 150 years ago."

Quote debunked in Part 2.

Christine said...

I have in fact noticed that many people misquote Darwin on purpose in order both to slander his theory of evolution and to make people misjudge his character. You are right he was not racist in the least in a letter to one of his colleagues he comments upon how great it would be if Great Britain were the first if many countries to get rid of slavery. He also commented on how strong African Americans looked I feel he would be rolling over in his grave if he knew how people misquoted him and used his ideas for their own selfish gain instead of the advancement of science and society.

fgbouman said...

Thanks so much for your research. You've done those who care about truth a great service.

Anonymous said...

“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...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 and the gorilla” (Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd ed., John Murray, London, p. 156, 1887).

When he says australians he means the Indigenous Australians which were slaughtered and even put in cages like animals.

Seems like he genuinely believed White people were better than Negroes and other non-white skinned people.

Though I do think you've done well with your research.

Anonymous said...

I've read Darwin's most known works long time ago. Until now I assumed the quote was accurately attributed to Darwin, even though I always thought that the style was way too beautiful and elegant for Darwin, whose prose is rather poor and lacks vigor and beauty. This is an aesthetic judgement.

The motives you attribute to the people who use this quote are plausible. I should add, however, that attributing such a "racist" opinion to a 19th century scientist is not so far fetched.
Consider the fact that such opinions were prevalent and mainstream until the 20 century in Europe. You have as proof, among many other, Kipling's "The White Man's Burden"; think also about the "scientific", literary and academic background that enabled "Nazi biology".

So, it's naive to assume that science or scientists are neutral, and that they have always been "politically correct". The contemporary myth of the highly moral and ethical scientist is quite recent in fact.
Science like all the other fields of human activity has irrational and not always coherent motives.

Your attempt to refute Dixon's ideas are also naive. Not because he might be objectively accurate, but simply because an objective and 100% "scientific" assessment in either way is impossible. Given the epistemological fact that, once we assume we all are equal - which is above all, an ethical and politically necessary assumption, crafted by religion, Christianity - we cannot, as humans, objectively assess and study parts of our own culture employing a tool which is itself subject to power dialectics: science.

Thank you for your research, which has awakened my interest in that American author, Dixon. I've always admired the masterwork of D.W. Griffith and as an European of multiple ethnicities, the race problematic is totally indifferent to me; humans will always find a way to dominate each other. The old Master/slave dialectic.

Anonymous said...

You can be as verbose as you want, and attribute the quote to one source or as an amalgam of several sources, but it doesn't make it untrue. Unfortunately, most Africans during this time were woefully behind the rest of the world in terms of infrastructure, commerce, industry, etc. - There is a reason a subset of Africans were plucked up and enslaved: they did not have the means to defend themselves against stronger and more advanced tribes/traders. They were captured by stronger tribes and sold to traders. This cannot be refuted. Even today, countries in Western, Central and Southeastern Africa are still light years behind the rest of the world. Drought and famine are common, and there are still clashes between tribes for dominance. Darfur anyone?

The Black Rabbit of Inlé said...

"The resemblance to a negro in miniature of Pithecia satanas with his jet black skin,white rolling eyeballs, and hair parted on the top of the head, is almost ludicrous."

Charles Darwin. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) p.556
http://tinyurl.com/bm8zjzt

Oh dear, Darwin joked that black people look like monkeys.

Duane Browning said...

No, he's saying that this monkey looks like a person.

Anonymous said...

How is anything he said remotely racist? He simply stated facts and Darwin was absolutely not a bigot. He was a outspoken human rights advocate and he was a scientist.

Anonymous said...

wich part of the quote is true? obviously most of you have not taken any time to study africas great history. just look at the churches of lalibela the pyramids of geza, the fct that africans saled to the americas long before any european and were trding with the natives there. arrow heads were traded made from guanin consisting of copper silver and gold from africa. what about the moorish kingdoms?. the first alphabet, artists, poets, scientists where in africa.
people are ignorant and completely brainwashed by white supremecy..!! thanks for your research though as i was'nt convinced this quote was from charles darwin and was on a sarch myself..

Anonymous said...

How sad to belive that marauding arab bandits or moorish pirates... what ever, was responsible for abounding leaps in society or science. North african muslims call central africans kafar, which. means infidel. very hate filled i might add. yes whites are guilty for purchasing slaves, but where is the acceptance that those slaves wouldn't be slaves if they would have fought on their feet rather than capitulate on their knees. Oh and if you wish to know what religious house holds the most slaves throughout history read pre WWII texts on the origin of the name hindu kush.

Anonymous said...

"Alphabet, artists, poets, scientists" didn't come from Moors they came from Ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, India and China. The Phoenicians gave us the Alphabet. The Moors did a lot of good things for Spain and definitively had Black West Africans, but were mostly made up of Berbers, Romans, White Slavic Slaves, and the Moorish leaders and military Generals were all Arabs. One big Multicultural family hahah..