28th January, 2018. Was Darwin a ‘racist’?

Darwin decided that the various races of homo sapiens around the globe in the 19th century constituted but one species. Also when on his voyages of the 1830s he took a benign interest in the language and culture of the ‘primitive’ tribes-people’ encountered in South America, Tierra del Fuego, Australia and New Zealand. But how/why, he pondered, had different races evolved? His answer seems (to me) curious. Darwin seems to have argued that in the early days of homo-sapiens males chose female mates according to varying notions of beauty around the globe and that skin colour was a cardinal determinant of beauty. As the ‘fittest’ males got the fittest mates so, across many generations, the external feature became a racial characteristic.

Although of benevolent nature and sympathetic towards individuals Darwin saw in early archaeological evidence coming out of Africa, the Americas and the Middle East that through historic times more primitive tribes were supplanted by more vigorous/advanced cultures. This he saw as evidence for ‘survival of the fittest’. When applied to his own era he saw the supplanting of native peoples in Australia and New Zealand by European colonists as evidence of this natural force in operation. Presumably he viewed the ruthless dispossession of the native American tribes in the same light, this in full-swing during his life.

I don’t think Darwin took any perverse delight in colonial dispossession although British ‘expansionists’ were happy to use his analysis to justify their means to an end, after all, who could cry ‘foul’ on the mighty British Empire. Unfortunately the concept of inferior/malignant races (extreme racial inequality) was used partly as a justification for racial persecution in many regions of the world in the 20th (and 21st so far) century.

(To be continued).