Race: Are We So Different?

In 2007, The Science Museum of Minnesota and the American Anthropological Association created Race: Are We So Different in hopes of combining three major fields of study into an engaging and interactive exhibit. This exhibition focuses on the historical, cultural, and biological components that contribute to the construction of race. By talking about these three fields, the exhibit hopes to create dialogue about what race is and what it is not.

America has a long history of trying to conceptualize the idea of race. Race is an enduring concept that has molded our nation’s economy, laws, and social institutions. People used the concept to explain physical differences, it set forth an idea that skin color sets us apart. Race remains an issue today and affects millions of people. This is despite the recent discoveries that reinforce the accepted scientific fact that we all have a common ancestry [1]

As mentioned, the exhibit is presented in three components. Each component tells the visitor something. By going through the exhibit, the average visitor will come to term about how the concept of race impacted all parts of life.  These components represent relatable topics to our society today.

For example, the biological components talk about the recent discoveries made.  The recent discoveries focus on human genetics. Genetic research has shown that the differences in races are due to our ancestors moving around.  Certain places like Africa were warmer than others. Our ancestors in Africa needed to keep cool so they adapted to their enivornment by reducing the amount of body hair. With less body hair, this caused lack of skin protection which led to sun damage. Skin would evolve to be permanently dark which served to protect against sun damage. The exhibit discourages using race to analyze the differences among human variations. Race:AWSD proposes that the better way by examining genetics. They even counter the argument that sickle-cell is a black disease. It is not a black disease; it is a disease prevalent in Africa and Middle East which happens to have a warm climate and malaria is rampant. The human there just happens to be adapted to warm climate and sun damage. [2]

As it is a travelling exhibit, there have been opportunities for Race: AWSD to complement other exhibitions. While at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience curated War Baby/Love Child, an exhibit focused on the artwork focusing on the artists’ experiences as Asian-Americans. War Baby/Love Child did capture the experience of Asian-Americans but the exhibit connected to the visitor’s emotion by talking about personal experiences with adoption, sexuality, and other important themes. [3] Race: AWSD offered a sense of understanding about race while War Baby/Love Child added the personal connections.

Recently, the exhibit has been used to facilitate further dialogue about race. At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the museum hosted a Youth Summit on Race and Identity in conjunction with their youth initiative. The museum wanted to attract more teenagers. Twenty teenaged participants of diverse backgrounds were asked to join the Youth Summit and help create dialogue at Race:AWSD. As Ferguson occurred, the teenagers created further dialogue and the teens saw their chance to speak out. As their projects for the Summit, these teenagers had roundtables at their high schools, produced trading cards, created poetry, and interviewed people on the street about race. These projects were displayed during the Youth Summit. As the Summit came, there were 120 participants, which included the 20 teenagers who created the various media.[4]

In the end, the exhibit has proven to be immensely popular. It started in 2007 in Minnesota and has been exhibited at more than 30 museums. This year, it will return home to the Science Museum of Minnesota in October and be on display until 2018. Perhaps the exhibit will find a chance to grow or be used for more dialogue like the Youth Summit.

 

[1]”Race: Are We So Different.” Youtube video, 5:22. July 8, 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aaTAUAEyho.

[2]Race: Are We So Different. http://www.understandingrace.org/humvar/index.html. Accessed 4/5/15.

[3] Jessica Davis. “Behind the Curtain Race is a Common Theme in Local Exhibits.” City Living Seattle,  September 19, 2013. http://citylivingseattle.com/Content/News/Out-and-About/Article/BEHIND-THE-CURTAIN-Race-is-common-theme-in-local-exhibits/22/172/89407.

[4] Weenta Girmay. “A Conversation about Race: an Exhibit, a Summit and an Identity.” Remake Learning, October 16, 2014. http://remakelearning.org/blog/2014/10/16/a-conversation-about-race-an-exhibit-a-summit-and-an-identity/.

 

One thought on “Race: Are We So Different?

  1. This seems like a very engaging exhibit. It powerfully makes the point that while people have genetic and physical differences, underneath it all we’re really the same, biologically speaking. But it also doesn’t deny that race is a powerful force in our lives. I hope this exhibit really makes people think critically about their preconceptions and the role that race and racial ideologies have in our lives, and contribute to greater understanding between people of different backgrounds.

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