In the fall of 1906, an infamous mockery took place in New York City: Ota Benga, a Congolese man, was put on display in the “Monkey House” of the Bronx Zoo.
Mr. Benga found himself in the cage after being sold into slavery and subsequently purchased for display at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The anthropologist who brought him to the United States eventually left him in New York where he was placed under the supervision of the zoo.
The New York Times later described the debacle in a 2006 retrospective called “The Scandal at the Zoo“:
Visitors to the Monkey House that second day got an even better show. Ota Benga and an orangutan frolicked together, hugging and wrestling and playing tricks on each other. The crowd loved it. To enhance the jungle effect, a parrot was put in the cage and bones had been strewn around it. The crowd laughed as the pygmy sat staring at a pair of canvas shoes he had been given. “Few expressed audible objection to the sight of a human being in a cage with monkeys as companions,” The New York Times wrote the next day, “and there could be no doubt that to the majority the joint man-and-monkey exhibition was the most interesting sight in Bronx Park.”
As it turns out, some compassionate New Yorkers did express “‘audible objection to the sight of a human being in a cage with monkeys as companions.'” Those individuals included black ministers of New York and their white allies in the Christian community, who protested the exhibit.
Not only did these ministers object because the exhibit was racist, they raised theological objections as well. The Rev. James H. Gordon, a black minister, criticized the exhibit and argued, on behalf of other black individuals, that “we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.”
The enlightened New York Times was nonplussed by the complaints of Rev. Gordon and his friends. In an editorial, it wrote:
Not feeling particularly vehement excitement ourselves over the exhibition of an African ‘pigmy’ in the Primate House of the Zoological Park, we do not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter … As for Benga himself, he is probably enjoying himself as well as he could anywhere in his country, and it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering.
Some folks never learn.
Last week, the New York Times editorial board finally responded to week-old revelations of Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the ways they “crush” human fetuses and use “less crunchy” methods to better preserve their body parts for research. Despite the fact that a great many of the protestations were moral objections from a variety of religious groups, the New York Times failed to address these concerns at all. Instead, it focused on the deceptive investigative techniques of those who obtained the video and, in an unintended twist of irony, lauded the use of aborted fetuses to provide researchers with “lifesaving tissue.”
For the record, religious pro-life advocates like me are not panicking because we are opposed to organ donation. We are panicking because we are opposed to taking organs from donors without their consent. That is, we actually believe that these individuals are, as Rev. Gordon put it, “worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.”
Nonetheless, I think pro-life advocates have gotten desensitized to the reality of abortion in America. We’ve grown numb to the accepted dogma that abortion is a quick, clean surgical procedure — even if it is immoral. But the frank dialogue in these videos has reawakened us to abortion’s reality as we hear words like “crush” and “crunchy” used to describe what really happens at the abortion clinic. We are reminded that there’s nothing neat or clean about abortion — it is a gruesome, dehumanizing act of violence against a person. And yet somehow, the New York Times completely missed this entire aspect of the outrage.
Like their predecessors, the members of the New York Times editorial board do “not quite understand all the emotion which others are expressing in the matter.” We can only hope that maybe they will 100 years from now.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Examiner. If you’d like an email with a weekly recap of what I’ve written, click here. You can also keep up with my latest articles (and more) on Facebook or Twitter.