The Florida Atlantic University newspaper reports:

Associate Professor Stephen M. Kajiura was reviewing with his evolution class in GS 120 for a midterm when FAU student Jonatha Carr interrupted him: “How does evolution kill black people?” she asked. Kajiura attempted to explain that evolution doesn’t kill anyone.

And then, Carr became violent.

Another member of the class taped the outburst, though it’s hard to follow much of what’s going on.

A student told the paper that Kajiura “was discussing attraction between peacocks when Carr raised her hand to ask her question… She asked it four times, and became increasingly upset each time Kajiura’s answer failed to satisfy her.” (The article says “her question about evolution.” It wasn’t a question about evolution.)

Kajiura, a member of NCSE’s Project Steve, describes the incident: “She became increasingly belligerent. It was at this point, a highly emotionally charged individual who was no longer capable of responding rationally. She was threatening to kill both me and the students in the class.” As the video shows, and the story describes, students fled the classroom, and a Spanish instructor came in and asked the violent student to leave the room. The student attacked him instead, Kajiura went over to try to intercede, as did several students.

The group ultimately led her from the classroom. Reportedly, police used Tasers on her before taking her to a hospital for an involuntary commitment and mental health assessment.

Some have suggested that this outburst was inspired, in part, by the murder of Trayvon Martin, which is certainly possible. And it’s likely that she’ll be found to have some underlying psychological problem, which news coverage of the Trayvon Martin incident may well have exacerbated.

But I’d also like to lay some blame on creationists. Their persistent and fallacious efforts to link Darwin to eugenics, and even to Hitler’s atrocities, seem like the most plausible inspiration for her initial outburst. There are other instances of institutional racism in science, including the Tuskegee experiment, which may also have helped inspire her, but those wouldn’t bring the link specifically to evolution.

The irony, of course, is that many racist policies originated from creationist arguments and beliefs. The judge who exiled Mildred and Richard Loving from Virginia for their interracial marriage justified that eugenic policy by writing:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.

Nor should we forget that the Ku Klux Klan rallied in Dayton, TN, to urge the conviction of John Scopes on the charge of teaching evolution, and when Scopes’s prosecutor William Jennings Bryan died shortly after the trial, the Klan burned crosses in his memory, calling him “the greatest Klansman of our time.”

An interesting sidenote about those famous Klan sheets. As Rebecca Skloot discusses in her amazing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Klan’s sheets originated as a tactic used to scare slaves in the area around the hospitals like that at Johns Hopkins University:

The Lackses aren’t the only ones who heard from a young age that Hopkins and other hospitals abducted black people. Since at least the 1800s, black oral history has been filled with tales of “night doctors” who kidnapped black people for research. And there were disturbing truths behind those stories.

Some of the stories were conjured by white plantation owners taking advantage of the long-held African belief that ghosts caused disease and death. To discourage slaves from meeting or escaping, slave owners told tales of gruesome research done on black bodies, then covered themselves in white sheets and crept around at night, posing as spirits come to infect black people with disease or steal them for research. Those sheets eventually gave rise to the white hooded cloaks of the Ku Klux Klan.

Little wonder, then that many African Americans have concerns about the motives of doctors and scientists. What’s shameful is how creationists play on those fears, which only harms those African American communities. We see this, for instance, with a 2001 bill in Louisiana, which would have declared evolution “the main rationale for racism,” or, as the bill described it, “Darwinian racism.”

Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, praised that resolution, and has aimed for African American markets with his book Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots. And in his various writings, Discovery Institute honcho John West regularly tries to tar Darwin as a racist, and thereby taint modern evolutionary biology and implicitly shore up his preferred form of creationism.

That alone didn’t cause this violence in a shark biologist’s classroom, but how could it not have played a role?

Comments

  1. #1 JC Christian
    March 21, 2012

    I’ve had these seemingly endless discussions with people where in the end, I finally figure out that they’re conflating a somewhat faulty understanding of social darwinism with evolution.

  2. #2 Megan
    March 21, 2012

    Considering all we can see is the unfortunately meltdown of this student, with no actual context for what caused it, I think it’s pretty poor form to blame it on creationists. Writing about legit problems with creationism is one thing. Scapegoating them for this particular situation with no evidence is another.

  3. #3 Phil Constantino
    March 22, 2012

    This article is premised on the same type of dangerous fallaciousness that the author is purporting to oppose. All we know is that this girl flipped out and was planning a protest over the Treyvon Martin scandal. We do not know if she was a die-hard creationist (it stands to reason that she was not, since she was halfway through a semester on evolution, but it’s speculation either way) and scapegoating creationists is exactly the same type of fear-mongering that creationists use when they try to discredit scientists.

  4. #4 Apuleius Platonicus
    March 22, 2012

    The link between Nazism and Darwinism is weak, but so is the argument that the actions of this obviously mentally ill individual are somehow attributable to creationists and their bogus propaganda.

  5. #5 CRW
    March 22, 2012

    There is no link between Darwinian style evolution and Nazism. The Nazis explicitly banned Darwin’s works during their reign, claiming that man could not have evolved from a “lower form of life.” If anything, the Nazi’s beliefs were more aligned with Nietzsche and Wagner, and vague notions of breeding “supermen.”

  6. #6 Edward
    March 22, 2012

    Um. Josh. Really. Come on.

    The young woman has issues but we don’t hold such things against people who have to deal with those issues. We acknowledge the extra burden of people who deal with such emotional or mental traumas in their lives because we recognize that those traumas force them to navigate every moment of their experience with additional urgency, yet also with impacted capabilities.

    Churches have their perspective, just as scientists have theirs. With religion, there is not proof, only faith. With Science their is only temporal proof, beyond that, only faith.

    Therefore you cannot claim these people are wrong. They may not be able to “prove” their God but neither can you disprove that God. Neither can you prove that the universe is finite or that it is measurable or even whether it is what we think it to be. You have no standing or evidence to make such claims. If you think you do, you are mistaken.

    So, if you want to take issue with the concept of an infinite being, be clear that you are using at least as much faith as those who are proponents of believing in non-quantifiable entities.

    Beyond this, it is poor taste to use an unfortunate incident as a springboard for an assault on people, by using unsustainable corollaries as arguments.

    You either have causation or you do not. In this case, you do not have causation. What you have are corollaries and rhetoric. It is a bad combination, it presents no valuable insight and only adds to an already heated quarrel. You yourself claim this kind of thing is the “Origin of the Species” of heated argument that causes this very type of tragedy and yet, here you waded into the fray with the same species of argument, merely from the opposite perspective.

  7. #7 NJ
    March 22, 2012

    I understand that liberals do not see irony. Evolution implies that man decended from apes. Yet when some humans revert back to violent irate apelike behavior they cannot seem to undertand why.

    Explanantion: If man is related to monkeys then one should not question another if he/she begins to act like one.

    Truth: Evolution does not exist and some people get pissed off when stupid scientists try to explain that some species/races are inferior to other through millions of years of evolution. That is racism. Therefore evolution is racism of species. Speciesism is the new word for it. It is the racist belief that some species have evolved to be more superior than other species, hence Adolph Hitler’s belief in the perfect race.

    I guess secular depressives are too doped up on flouride to understand the world that they themselves have made horrible for everyone else to live in.

  8. #8 Ryan Waxx
    March 22, 2012

    That’s the first I’ve ever heard that anyone’s trying to smear Darwin’s theories just because Eugenics loosely referenced them.

    Do you have any evidence that she was even aware of this fringe argument from a fringe group?

    One other thing: Would be be rushing to find “explanations” for the behavior of a white student who became violent towards a black professor if some unrelated white kid recently got shot by an unrelated black police officer?

  9. #9 Paul
    March 23, 2012

    I think it would be a mistep to apply the incoherant, violent and irrational outbursts like this to any specific thoughts or theories. I read the source article and watched the video and I think the blog author is making some ridiculous leaps. The saying, ” when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is apt here. As a self described creationist battler, he says, ” But I’d also like to lay some blame on creationists”. Seriously? How he hops from crazy classroom girl to the sad murder of a Florida teen to creationsists to Eugenics, to Hitler to the Tuskegee atrocities, to the KKK…I am surpirsed he didn’t try to link global warming and the nucleur arms race to creationists as well. Frankly, his stream of conciousness dribble is more similar than not to the girl in the video. Bluntly, not a very intelectual, cogent, informative or pursuasive blog post.

  10. #10 marc
    March 23, 2012

    It’s heartening to read the comments condemn the blogger for blaming creationists. This kind of unthinking, knee-jerk partisanship isn’t just “poor form,” it’s part of the problem.

  11. #11 Plumstones
    March 23, 2012

    It is indeed “certainly possible” that a student who was interviewed about Trayvon Martin’s murder the night before might have some rage the next day. A kid who looks like her cousin or her brother gets shot in the state where she goes to school, the perp isn’t arrested, she’s interviewed about it the night before, and Josh Rosenau wants to “lay some blame” for her outburst on creationists? Oh, my gosh. Between Mr. Rosenau’s blame-laying, Megan decrying the lack of “actual context” (as though a murder is not “context”), NJ’s characterizing the student’s behavior as “apelike” (reinforcing the long-held stereotype of Black people as simian), and Paul’s calling the student’s behavior “crazy” without examining why a murder might inform said behavior, the only erudition I see here is coming from Ryan Waxx. Kudos to Waxx for laying down some knowledge; I can only hope he isn’t casting his pearls before swine.

  12. #12 Porlock Junior
    March 23, 2012

    @Ryan Waxx:
    If this is the first you’ve ever heard of anyone trying to smear evolution by association with Hitler via Eugenics(*), you simply have not been paying attention. A simple way of starting to pay attention would be to use a search engine and look at some of the links on the first page.

    The good news: the number of first-page entries that are *not* from answersingenesis or the like is heartening. The bad news: left as an exercise for the reader. The short news: it’s all the Hell over the place.

    (*) I know you politely Godwinized, but I’m forced to make the connection explicit rather than be a Hitler denialist. It’s certainly explicit enough in those links you’ll be looking at.

  13. #13 Porlock Junior
    March 23, 2012

    Now as to the post itself: congratulations, it has been prominently linked somewhere or other, as we can see from the comments. (No, not all of them.)

    The real problem is that you have committed a Blood Libel. That’s in the 21st-century sense of saying that a maliciously wrong idea can lead to truly bad results, and applying it not correctly to Liberal doctrines but perversely to something right-wing. (The historical sense, of course, is something quite different. I had occasion recently to look up the history of the phrase and was rather surprised by its morphing from about 2000 on. See the OED. See the right-wing insistence that the meaning is all different from before. See Sarah Palin.)

    By the way, nearly all the commenters — all who accuse the post of irrationality — have oddly forgotten to comment on how obvious it is that the unfortunate student would be harping on some crap about evolution killing Black people, and demanding an answer that she’d like, immediately before becoming unhinged. The connection is clear and has nothing to do with the evolution-eugenics stuff.

    Please would someone tell us what it is?

  14. #14 Spike
    March 24, 2012

    Wow.

    Was John Altevogt nearby?

  15. #15 SLC
    March 25, 2012

    Discovery Institute honcho John West regularly tries to tar Darwin as a racist, and thereby taint modern evolutionary biology and implicitly shore up his preferred form of creationism.

    Rather interesting considering that, at least at one time, Mr. West was a Holocaust revisionist.

  16. #16 SLC
    March 25, 2012

    Re CRW @ #5

    Frankenberger specifically rejects common descent in, “Mein Kampf”.

  17. #17 Marion Delgado
    April 2, 2012

    The Pol Pot Right will never show even a trace of accountability. They need to be exposed, exposed, exposed. David Neiwert is right – focus on their eliminationism.

    It’s particularly sad if a member of a community being targeted to prevent them from voting by the GOP, Tea Party, ALEC, etc. pays any attention to their canned talking points.