Is Humankind a Subspecies of Chimpanzee?

In recent years, the subject of humanity has been somewhat obscured in much the same way as the subject of race. We know all too well that humans are of one race – all of them human. Yet, we ignore or choose to ignore the otherness of all human beings, even as we pride ourselves on our diversity and ability to mix and match. The trouble of mankind is that we are diverse and yet remain inseparable from each other. The problem of humanity is that all of us are not identical. The issue of humanity thus re-emerged with a vengeance recently in the form of an allegedly frivolous incident involving a school student who was (Reportedly) punished for the use of a term that, when used in conjunction with another word, describes mankind as a whole: mankind in a single phrase.


Although the story sounds like a movie starring Tom Hanks, it’s anything but. The story began at Union County College in North Carolina, where a math teacher assigned to the classroom of a Mathematics professor, Cross-iburton University, made note of a word appearing in a student’s assignment that was being used to describe mankind as a whole. The word, according to the professor, was “mankind.” A heated debate followed which spilled over into the classroom and eventually spilled over into the classroom room, forcing the professor to resign his position.

Although the debate was framed around a matter of academic disagreement, the dispute was about free speech as it relates to humanity and perhaps more importantly, was about free thought as it relates to humankind. If the whole world could be defined in terms of gender-neutral pronouns and a few adjectives such as “humanity” in the future, then people would be very restricted as to how they could think or argue. It is beyond doubt that most people in the world have thought or argued without even using pronouns such as “I”, “you”, or “our.” There are many grammatical structures in which the use of pronouns can cause problems in arguments or discussions. The use of pronouns such as “I” or “you” can cause some individuals to feel very threatened or uncomfortable. If there is no room for questioning, then progress cannot occur.

For example, a group of anthropologists who were studying chimpanzees at St. James National Park, found themselves trapped in a cultural war of sorts, when one group of scientists wanted to define the genus of Man. According to them, only six different species of human existed. They also claimed that chimpanzees were completely unrelated to all the other species that make up the genus of Man. This caused an immense rift between the chimpanzees and humankind and a scientist who wanted to include chimpanzees in his taxonomy of Man began to argue that Man was only one species of another.

Science has since advanced to the point that this is simply not true. Furthermore, the Chimpanzee genome has shown that Chimpanzees and Humans are highly related. Therefore, if the hypothesis is that chimpanzees are less related to Humankind than Man himself, then Humankind must be placed in its own genus with a few subspecies thrown in. Even if one wishes to call Humankind species of Chimpanzee, it is still possible to use language that is gender-neutral, so that both male and female chimps are included in the family tree of humankind.

Although there has been much confusion about the place of Humankind within the animal kingdom, and whether or not the species we are known as Humankind is really a species of Chimpanzee or a subspecies of Chimpanzee. The most accurate way to classify a species is to take an individual from the immediate family (offspring) and look at whether or not that individual will grow up to reproduce independently. If that individual does not, it will be classified as a species separate from Chimpanzees. This is the same method used to determine whether humans, as a species are indeed separate species from Chimpanzees, and not merely a subspecies of Chimpanzees. It is possible that the taxonomists may change the biological classification of Humankind into subspecies later on, but until then, it appears that the present scientific definition of Humankind is a chimpanzee.