The following are all of the immediately visible images representing modern humans (as distinct from either earlier human species or animals) from the 10 separate stories NPR published this July and August as part of the series titled How Evolution Gave Us The Human Edge.
In case you missed the obvious, this is just one recent example of a long history of discourse relating whiteness and humanity which has its roots in racial science and ethical justifications of colonialism, slavery, and genocide (google it or something). I would argue that it matters in these contexts more than just the general vast overrepresentation of whites in the media and as allegedly race-neutral “humans” because the context here is one explicitly about defining what is human, what separates humans from animals, and about evolution as a civilizing process.
By presenting whites as the quintessential humans who possess the bodies and behaviors taken to be deeply meaningful human traits, whites justified, and continue to justify white supremacy. This is what white privilege looks like (pun fully intended): being constantly told by experts that you and people like you represent the height of evolution and everything that it means to be that incredible piece of work that is man. (irony fully intended).
The last four images are from What Does It Mean To Be Human?, a slightly more diverse online exhibit from the Smithsonian linked from NPR. The main sidebar pictures, the iconic Michelangelo Creation of Adam pose, and the majority of the images are still of whites.
Benjamin Eleanor Adam is a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center, where he studies the American history of gender and sexuality. Benjamin also teaches courses in Women’s and Gender Studies at Hunter College which focus on intersectional approaches to thinking about race, class, disability, gender, and sexuality. Benjamin casually blogs about these issues at Thinking Makes it So.
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