Cincinnati Museum exhibit explores race
March 30, 2009
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People are like avocados. How they are viewed is dependent on what part of the world they are in. Americans see an avocado as a vegetable, but Brazilians considered it a fruit. In the United States, we call people ‘black,’ ‘white,’ ‘brown,’ ‘mixed,’ and so on. Our terms for race are small in comparison to Brazil’s 134 terms.
The Brazilian Institute of Geographical Studies conducted a survey on race in the 1970s. Participants were asked to describe what race they viewed themselves as. Respondents gave descriptions ranging from ‘brance-melda’ meaning ‘honey-toasted’ to ‘canela’ that translates to ‘cinnamon.’ Some participants described themselves as ‘enxofrada’ or ‘jaundiced’ and ‘roxa’ meaning ‘purplish.’
The Cincinnati Museum Center brings to light this topic as well as a host of other race issues in the exhibit RACE: Are We So Different? Cincinnati is the seventh stop of fourteen on a national tour for the exhibit.
Chad Mertz, director of public relations for the Museum Center, said that the exhibit couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Three days before Obama’s inauguration, the exhibit opened.
The interactive exhibit is a collaborative project between the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Visitors are encouraged to look at race and racism through biological, historical and social perspectives. Designed not only to change the way people are educated on race, the exhibit is supposed to promote communication about race.
‘The Science of Human Variation’ section offers insight into what recent science knows about human variation. There is no one gene, or set of genes, that proves or let alone supports the idea of race.
The scientific portion of the exhibit gives insight into skin color, disease and other biological issues. One part of the exhibit showed that a drug called BiDil, created with African-Americans in mind. The drug is used in addition with other heart medications.
‘That tripped me out,’ Reginald McDaniel said. ‘Medicine doesn’t have human thoughts’hellip;but I do believe that the thoughts behind the medicine were racist.’ The freshmen electronic media and broadcasting major said that he didn’t understand if the medicine was specifically for African-Americans or not.
The historical portion of the exhibit focuses on the fact that race is an invention, one only created a few hundred years ago. Race as well as racism is learned, not instinct. Even though we are not born with race instilled in our minds, it has been built into our laws and society.
An exploration of the United States Census drives home the fact that race is an ever-changing concept. A blown up photo covers a wall with seven people in it. Each person wears a shirt with a year and what race category they would fall under that year. For example, one woman was considered a mulatto in 1850, a Negro in 1970, and white as well as African American in 2000.
Finally, the social viewpoint spotlights personal accounts from people’s everyday experiences with race. The Living with Race Theater gives visitors a chance not only to listen, but also to respond to these accounts. For instance, a Korean woman talks about growing up in a white family. Another woman discusses her recent realization of white privilege.
Though RACE: Are We So Different? does not provide answers on how to deal with race, it does allow visitors to draw their own conclusions. The Talking Circles are an extension of the exhibit where people are able to speak in their minds. Trained facilitators lead discussions on race in a safe environment.
‘They’ve been extremely interesting,’ Mertz said. ‘They’ve been getting into some core issues and offer many perspectives.’
Outside of RACE: Are We So Different, the museum spearheaded several programs that relate to the exhibit.
The Museum Center welcomed the city to come out for a free public viewing of the presidential inauguration parade and events. In February, University of Cincinnati professor and anthropologist Anthony Perzigian gave a lecture entitled ‘The Concept of Race: a Darwinian Perspective.’ This month on April 2 ‘- April 5, the Museum Center collaborated with Black Folks Make Movies for the Raw Stock Film Festival: Celebrating Cinema of Color. The Museum Center also hosts cultural festivals annually.
‘When we [Cincinnati Museum Center] have an exhibit, we want to generate further awareness,’ Mertz said.
In conjunction with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Museum Center will launch a series of community conversations on race. The series kicks-off with Talking With Our Children About Race. The goal is to transition from discussion to putting the thoughts into action.
RACE: Are We So Different? runs through April 26, 2009. Exhibit hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. ‘- 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. ‘- 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.understandingrace.org or www.cincymuseum.org.