December 12th, 2018

// Is America’s History of Scientific Racism The Cause Of Today’s Racial Tensions?

Is America’s History of Scientific Racism The Cause Of Today’s Racial Tensions?
Documentary Exploring Scientists’ Long-Ago Theories On Race Inequality - And The Connection With Darwinism - May Shed Light On Prejudices.
Topic Summary
Immigration, white supremacists, racial profiling and the alt-right movement have made race a hot-button topic in recent times. Many Americans are taking a deeper look at race relations and whether we’ve progressed or regressed as a nation.
A recent NBC News poll showed 64 percent of Americans think racism remains a major problem in society. A Gallup poll in 2017 found 61 percent think racism against blacks is widespread in the U.S. – up from 51 percent at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term in 2009.
Sometimes reflecting on history helps us understand how we got where we are. A new documentary, Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten History of Scientific Racism, reveals how scientists a century ago viewed some non-white races as biologically inferior, fueling the controversial Eugenics movement, dehumanizing actions and racial divides that may be linked to the racial tensions we still see today.
“Increasingly, we are in a society where people follow what science commands, but often the people who tell us what to think are speaking out of their prejudices,” says John G. West (, writer and director of the film and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. “Today in regard to racism, there is definitely a group of white supremacists who are keying into the evolutionary thinking that was used a century ago.”
West can discuss for your listeners how scientific racism took root and spread, and how it may provide a foundation for racism today.
Discussion Questions
  • One of your main reasons for making the film was what you call the abuse of science. How do you think science was abused in this racial context?
  • Explain the Eugenics movement – its belief that non-whites were a drag on the human race – and how it impacted different cultures.
  • What kind of opposition did Eugenics run into and what was the outcome?
  • Are political happenings today related to race in the U.S. remindful of racially-divided times that the documentary explored?
  • Do you think America has progressed in terms of most people not buying into some scientists’ theories nearly 100 years ago of non-whites being biologically inferior?
About Dr. John G. West
Dr. John G. West is a Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Institute's Center for Science & Culture. Dr. West was previously an Associate Professor of Political Science at Seattle Pacific University and has written or edited 12 books, including most recently the expanded edition of Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science. Additionally, Dr. West has directed and written several documentaries, including Revolutionary, Privileged Species, and the award-winning Biology of the Second Reich. He has been interviewed by Time, Newsweek, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and he has appeared on CNN, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Dr. West holds a Ph.D in Government from Claremont Graduate University and a B.A. in Communications from the University of Washington. He is a recipient of several academic fellowships, including a Haynes Foundation Dissertation Grant and an Earhart Foundation Fellowship.


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