While I am very critical of political correctness, it is important to remember that no group is 100% wrong about everything. Case in point – complaints about Darwin Day.
A blog post by Zuleyka Zevallos for Latino Rebels that complains about the March for Science comes close to the problem:
My analysis of MfS’s early social media also shows that in the first two weeks of Black History Month, MfS tweeted only twice about this significant cultural event. In the same period, there were no Facebook posts in commemoration of Black history. By contrast, on February 6, MfS published 12 tweets about SuperbOWL (a celebration of owl facts on Superbowl Sunday), and 23 tweets on Darwin Day. Darwin is an important scientist; but if MfS can find the time to highlight his achievements, as well as elevate the study of owls, surely they can do more to focus on other scientists who are not White, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied men. Diversity does not have to be a zero-sum game: there is room to celebrate scientists from various backgrounds.
Yet that’s the sticking point: Darwin can be celebrated over and over without this being “political” not simply because of his tremendous contributions to science, but specifically because he is the unquestioned embodiment of “science.” Darwin’s story is recognized and remembered because he is the taken-for-granted norm: he is a White, cisgender, able-bodied heterosexual man of Christian background. Darwin’s intersecting identities (his race, gender, able-bodied status, sexuality and religion) are not seen as “identity politics,” even though these characteristics enabled his education and career success.
Yet notice that even Zevallos never really questions whether it should be Darwin who is celebrated as the embodiment of science. Isn’t it odd that in the middle of Black History Month, people want to celebrate a “White, cisgender, able-bodied heterosexual man?” Are there no Black scientists from history who could possibly fill this role?
Let me propose that to celebrate science, instead of having a Darwin Day, we should have a George Washington Carver Day. Hear me out.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D-CT]has proposed Senate Resolution 59:
Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) supports the designation of “Darwin Day”; and
(2) recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.
Rep. James Himes [D-CT-4] has proposed the same thing in House Resolution 44
Supports the designation of Darwin Day.
Recognizes Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.
So these American politicians would rather celebrate a white British scientist than a black American scientist during Black History Month? Seriously? Are they implying that Carver is not a worthy symbol of science? It’s hard to deny that some form of racism underlies this choice.
Consider some facts about Carver’s life. First, he was born into slavery.
Second, he was born into slavery.
Do you hear me? Carver was a man who was born into slavery and yet despite all the tremendous obstacles he faced even after slavery was abolished, he went on to become one of the nation’s most famous botanists, playing a pioneering role in crop rotation and recognizing the importance of nitrogen fixation. Here’s an old World War II poster celebrating him as “One of America’s Great Scientists”:
As Americans, there are many good reasons for choosing Carver as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.
First, and foremost, his life is an inspiration not only to African-Americans, but too all Americans. Despite the tremendous disadvantage of being born into slavery, he found the inner strength to persist and secure an education wherever he could. When his application to several colleges was denied because of his race, he persisted as an amateur scientist, where (according to Wiki), he maintained a small conservatory of plants and flowers and a geological collection. He persisted even more, while supporting himself by manually plowed 17 acres and working various odd jobs until he was eventually accepted into Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames to study botany. He did so well that he went on to get a Master’s degree and his scientific work earned him a national reputation, whereby he was recruited to the Tuskegee Institute to head its Agriculture Department.
According to Wiki:
Carver taught there for 47 years, developing the department into a strong research center and working with two additional college presidents during his tenure. He taught methods of crop rotation, introduced several alternative cash crops for farmers that would also improve the soil of areas heavily cultivated in cotton, initiated research into crop products (chemurgy), and taught generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency.
Second, Carver nicely embodies the attitude of using science to serve humanity. It’s not merely that his research helped to literally feed thousands, but that he sought to educate the public about science. He designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers, spoke at conferences, gave testimony before Congress, and developed an agricultural extension program for Alabama.
How can anyone think we Americans should be holding up Darwin as the symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge instead of Carver? Especially during Black History Month?
Look, we can give a nod to Darwin and still use February 12, 2017 as “Carver Day.” Since Carver was born into slavery, no one knows his birthday. Meaning it could very well have been Feb 12th. The advantage of using this date as “Carver Day” would be that it would be in the middle of Black History Month and thus allow all people of all races to be inspired by his life.
So why choose the British Darwin over the American Carver? Some might argue that Darwin’s work was more revolutionary. But then why Darwin and not Einstein? The advantage of Einstein over Darwin would be a) an Einstein Day would not disrupt Black History Month and b) there is the immigrant aspect to celebrating Einstein.
What’s more, the day of celebration is not about picking and choosing what scientific discovery to celebrate. It should be about celebrating the process of science. Carver accomplishes this is a truly inspiring manner. He had every just reason to be angry, vengeful, and bitter about the circumstances of his life. But he instead chose the high road, blending his love of science with a life of service to others. Carver was born with chains on his wrists and grew into a man who held out his hands to offer food and knowledge to all his fellow humans.
As I see it, there can be only two reasons to prefer Darwin be celebrated over Carver. And the two reasons are not exclusive of each other.
- Racism. There may people in the scientific community and science enthusiasts who are troubled by seeing Science celebrated with a black face during Black History Month. Why else would white American politicians prefer the white British scientist over a black American scientist?
- Anti-religious bigotry. According to Wikipedia:
George Washington Carver believed he could have faith both in God and science and integrated them into his life. He testified on many occasions that his faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively pursue and perform the art of science…. Carver viewed faith in Jesus Christ as a means of destroying both barriers of racial disharmony and social stratification. He was as concerned with his students’ character development as he was with their intellectual development.
I would imagine that would greatly distress those trying to use Darwin Day to send a stealth anti-religious message.
It would seem to me that it should be resolved, that both the House and the Senate,
(1) supports the designation of “Carver Day” for Feb 12th; and
(2) recognizes George Washington Carver as a worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge.
And if the politicians insist it should instead be Darwin Day, they need to explain why.