From the chapter “Homo sapiens, Pinnacle of Evolution?” of Richard Leakey’s 1995 classic, the Sixth Extinction—Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind:
…Homo sapiens was soon to represent the ultimate product of evolution and to be separate from the rest of nature in some important sense, with the gradation of increasing superiority through the geographical races, from Australian to European.
For instance, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-inventor of the theory of natural selection, believed that evolution had been working “for untold millions of years…slowly developing forms of life and beauty to culminate in man.”
In 1933, Robert Broom stated the following: “Much of evolution looks as though it had been planned to result in man, and in other animals and plants to make the world a suitable place for him to dwell in.” Broom clearly saw humans as special and separate, and the rest of the natural world ours to exploit as we please. Broom’s was not an isolated opinion; it accurately portrayed the contemporary thinking. Anthropologists of the time were in awe of the human brain and saw it as lord of all. Human progress through pre-history, according to the prominent British anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith, had been “a glorious exodus leading to the domination of earth, sea and sky.”
Examples of what by today’s standards we would condemn as blatant racism were legion in scholarly writings of the early decades of the century, which placed in an evolutionary framework what had been seen as the product of creation in earlier times. One citation will suffice by way of illustration. In his Essays on the Evolution of Man, the imminent British anatomist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith wrote the following in 1923:
“The most primitive race now living is undoubtedly the Australian, which represents the survival with comparatively slight modification of perhaps the primitive type of the species. Next in order comes the Negro Race, which is much later and in many respects more highly specialized, but sharing with it the black pigmentation of the skin, which is really and early primitive characteristic of the Human Family of Primitive Man shares with the Gorilla and Chimpanzee. After the Negro separated from the main stem of the family, the amount of pigmentation underwent a sudden and very marked reduction and the next group that became segregated and underwent its own distinctive specialization was the Mongrel Race…”
Overt racism of this kind disappeared from text by mid-century, with curious effect. Viewed as more primitive than white Caucasians, the “inferior races” formed something of a bridge between the ultimate expression of Homo sapiens and the rest of the animal world. When all races were regarded as equal, the bridge disappeared, and a gap opened up, making modern humans even more separate from the world of nature.
[In other words, speciesism became even more entrenched. The question now is, how many more centuries will the animals have to wait before examples of overt speciesism disappear from the texts and ultimately from people’s minds?]