Sunday, May 31, 2015


In the 19th century, Swiss pastor Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) popularized a science which sought to ascribe arbitrary characteristics to people based on their physical appearance. Physiognomy was used to judge others' moral values and likelihood to commit crimes based on appearance. Animals were anthropomorphized in order to (more so) racially profile people of color. For example, if someone looked pig-like, they were judged as gluttonous; if someone were more simian-looking, they were perceived as savage and brutal. This was used continually used to validate various authoritative figures’ own prejudiced and racist ideologies. Physical appearance holds no basis on someone's moral values so there was no legitimate way for scientists to assume such behaviors and ideologies about any groups of people. It's interesting to note how many anthropomorphic stereotypes we have of certain animals (such as pigs, primates, etc.) and how people have used them (and continually do so) to validate someone's character. However, in the 19th century, it was more than a judgement. People actively took force to criminalize people based on these arbitrary accusations. There were multiple sciences such as this one which were only upheld due to many scientists' own racist biases. Another prejudicial science was criminal anthropology which believed that people were born criminals. These forms of pseudoscience had real-world effects as it lead to the increasing incarceration and criminalization of people of color. It’s disgusting to see how authoritative figures used any method to try and validate their own racist behavior and calling it a “science” because they had the “ proper education” and power to do so. Physiognomy would later be used by the eugenics movement in aiding their false claim to “better” the population through methods such as forced sterilization.

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