CIRCUS AFRICANUS: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HUMAN ZOO

In the European and American imagination there is the concept that those who are not White are inferior, are less than, are a type of subspecies, and are not human. The rise of scientific racism and the eugenics of social Darwinism that legitimized the barbarism of race-based slavery, genocide of native and aboriginal people, and the stereotypes that cripple and chain non-whites as perpetual Others and outsiders, caused the effects of racial subjugation which are still with us over 500 years after their start.

Saartjie Baartman, ( before 1790 – 29 December 1815-), a young Khoikhoi woman who was exhibited as a medical curiosity in Paris, France. Never paid for the racist gaze she was subjected to, Saartjie had to resort to prostitution. Paraded around as a circus exhibit, she was scantily clad with only a small apron to cover her privates. Upon her death, her remains were butchered with her genitalia cut off her body, her brain was removed (both parts were preserved in a solution), and a cast made of her deceased remains. She died from alcoholism, and it was not until 200 years after her death, were her remains returned to her ancestral land of present-day South Africa.

sarah bartman

Ota Benga (1883-1916), who was purchased for a bolt of cloth and a pound of sugar, from the Mbuti-Congo. After his village was destroyed, he was taken to St. Louis in 1904 for the World’s Fair (19.5 million visitors) and then to New York City, where he was imprisoned in the Bronx Zoo and the “Missing Link” Exhibit. 

Ota Benga at Bronx Zoo

Ota Benga at Bronx Zoo

Ota died in Virginia, after shooting himself in the heart.

The following videos catalogue these atrocities.

Video 1 covers science’s dirty secret of human zoos.

Video 2 is from a presentation given by Professor Susan Williams from GRCC presents on historical hegemony using examples of how members of oppressed races were put on display in human zoos. This is the first lecture in the 2011 GRCC Race and Ethnicity Conference.

It addresses  the imperial gaze, the othering of humans who look different from those in power, the subjugation and marginalization of those who are oppressed. The so-called ethnographical exhibits that dehumanized and vulgarized the humanity of so many groups of people, allowing viewers to gaze upon the so-called primitiveness of their fellow human beings.

Above photograph is from  Brussels, Belgium in 1958.

The zoos that housed humans as if they were less than an animal. The postcards that savagely depicted humans as missing links. Imprisoned Africans, Inuits, and Aboriginals who would often only be paid in food.

The 1889 Paris Exposition, which housed 400 enslaved non-white people as exhibits in people zoos, that received 28 million visitors.

Children’s books were not spared from this racist propaganda:  Babar the Elephant, Doctor Doolittle, Tin Tin Goes to the Congo, Dumbo (Disney, 1941,), and who could forget Disney’s Song of the South (which will probably never be released on Blu-ray or DVD; unless you are willing to shell out big bucks $$$ for the VHS copy).

Drive-by cultural imperialism.

A legacy of savagery that reaches its blood-stained talons from the past into the present and forward into the future.

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