“Race is a recent human invention,” is the first thing you read when entering the new RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit at COSI. Developed by the American Anthropological Association, this fearlessly insightful project is the first national exhibition to present issues of race from cultural, historical, and scientific perspectives.
The concept of race is only a few hundred years old. It has been used to separate us, establish ideas of superiority and inferiority, and justify mistreatment. But all of us share common ancestry. “All skin colors, whether light or dark, are due not to race but to adaptation for life under the sun,” said biological anthropologist Alan Goodman. According to information presented at RACE, the separate physical traits used to differentiate one race from another aren’t linked to each other or to any other aspect of human variation.
RACE explores discrimination and uncovers harrowing statistics related to healthcare, higher education, financial security, and mortgage lending. In one interactive display about ethnic dialects, guests listen to recorded voices and try to match them with corresponding photos. I got them all wrong. Visitors are also invited to share stories about an experience they’ve had with race. Here’s what a few children contributed:
“I am not perfect, I am not whole…I am made of different parts, just like you.”
“I am Ecuadorian-American. I’m awesome!”
“I am a good friend to people! And I am funny.”
“People always think I’m Asian due to my eyes. I am really Scottish and German. I do not like labeling, no one should.”
“I am me.”
“Some people in my class are racist because that’s what they learn at home. It seems wrong and makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“I want to be exposed to more races, but it feels like I’m not allowed.”
And here’s what a couple of adults wrote:
“My daughter is bi-racial. I am asked all the time (especially at her doctor’s office) whether I am her mother. They don’t ask all parents this question. Her friends at school ask if I am really her mother. Even though we don’t look alike, she is my perfect mini-me! And I know that she’s mine.”
“I am a straight white woman, and I try to use the privileges I have to work to end racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia. As a teacher and mother, I work to make our world as just as our ideals.”
RACE combines interactive components, historical artifacts, iconic objects, photographs, multimedia presentations, and graphic displays, but my favorite element is the interpersonal one. COSI employees are stationed throughout the room to form discussion groups and answer questions. We are all invited as community members to talk about what is often a difficult topic. This is an open, compassionate forum whose goal is to spark conversation and improve relations among all of us. The exhibit will be on display through May 6.