Landmark Exhibit on Race Asks “Are We So Different?”

5 02 2009
Interactive Web site helps foster important conversations on race

Race is a historically recent idea, yet it is often the most significant factor in how we are perceived, an exhibit shows.

Race is a historically recent idea, yet it is often the most significant factor in how we are perceived, an exhibit shows.

Washington — Is race real or a recent human invention? Is race about biology or culture? Who is “white”? These and similar questions are addressed by RACE: Are We So Different?, a much-praised traveling exhibit and related Web site that look at the history of the idea of race, the science of human variation, and the experience of living with race and racism.

RACE: Are We So Different? was developed with $4 million in funding from the Ford Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the American Anthropological Association (AAA) with the aim of changing the way Americans think about race.

Through the exhibition and Web site (, the AAA’s goal was to foster productive conversations about race in homes, communities and the nation. The 5,000-square-foot traveling museum exhibition was developed in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM). Over five years, the AAA held two interdisciplinary conferences as well as other workshops and meetings, and conducted extensive audience research at seven museum sites across the United States.

“Race is an important part of the American story,” said Robert Garfinkle, SMM’s program director for special projects. “The exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to look at the way race touches our lives and the lives of the generations that came before us. Race is a part of virtually every aspect of American society and culture, and affects each of us in both small and profound ways.”

A decade ago, the AAA launched a national public education program to improve race relations by improving public understanding of race and human variation. The AAA issued a statement in 1998 that said race is “a recent idea created by western Europeans following exploration across the world to account for differences among people and justify colonization, conquest, enslavement, and social hierarchy among humans. … Among humans there are no races except the human race.”

“Ideas about race are culturally and socially transmitted and form the basis of racism, racial classification and often complex racial identities,” the AAA said.

The exhibition addresses race from biological, cultural and historical points of view, and it demonstrates how race and racism are embedded in our institutions and everyday life. Visitors to the exhibit are asked to consider:

  • Facts about race that indicate human beings are more alike than any other species, and that no gene or set of genes can support the idea of race.
  • The social and cultural consequences of the concept of race, with examples drawn from settings ranging from school to the sports and entertainment industries.

Many of the exhibits are interactive. For example, Who’s Talking? invites visitors to match voices they hear with photos of people. The Colors We Are allows visitors to scan their skin and watch their shade appear as a color “chip” next to chips from other visitors.

The exhibition opened in 2007 at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul and has since traveled to six other cities in the United States. It opened January 17 in Cincinnati. It will come to Washington in 2011.

More at source:   Are We So Different?

To take a virtual tour of the exhibit or to access the educational materials, see the Web site RACE: Are We So Different?




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