Anténor Firmin's Contributions to Bioanthropology

Cap-Haitien-born Anténor Firmin was one of the earliest scholars to write on the subject of negritude. Conceivably the first anthropologist of color, he introduced the notion of human anthropology as allied with the study of racial characteristics.


During the late 1800s, a strain of thinking pervaded U.S. and European intellectual circles, arguing the African race as low on the evolutionary scale in comparison to Caucasians. The French were dominating the conversation of the African race as intellectually inferior, due to misguided assumptions of racial differences. A prominent French author, Count Arthur de Gobineau, published "Essay on the Inequality of Human Races" that posited supremacy of the Aryan people over Africans and other dark-skinned races.

Anténor Firmin, an educator, lawyer, politician, and diplomat, repudiated de Gobineau's theory with his scholarly "On the Equality of Human Races". In it, he asserted the obverse, that "all men are endowed with the same qualities, same faults, without distinction of color or anatomical form." For this view, he was shunned. He supported his contention with examples of the high achievement and intellectual prowess people of color possessed. He also suggested equality of the races could be proved with scientific empirical methods. Although Anténor Firmin took his opponents' seriously, he also found humor in their ridiculous claims. He considered them crazy, weird, and silly, and said as much.

It took over a century for Anténor Firmin's book to be recognized for what it was, a brilliant piece of scholarship that pre-dated Jean Price-Mars's writings on the same subject of negritude decades later.

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