RACE: Are We So Different?

August 6, 2013

Kimmie Farris is spending her summer as the AmeriCorps Administrator at the YWCA. She recently completed a master’s in English literature at The University of Alabama and is entering a doctorate program for English literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall. 

When asked if I would like to spend one afternoon of work visiting the McWane Science Center to see the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit, I jumped at the chance. As a former employee of the McWane Center and a current employee of the YWCA’s Social Justice Department, the RACE exhibit promised to touch on a variety of my interests.

The RACE exhibit takes up approximately one fourth of the McWane Center’s third floor – a sizeable area for any display, but particularly so for one that is heavily based on text and video. When I first saw the exhibit’s size, I thought I would be done in an hour or less, and I would be back at work in no time. In reality, I stayed at the exhibit for three and a half hours and still was unable to fully digest all of its information. The information is presented in a variety of formats – written, audio/visual, interactive – all of which build upon one another. For me, the videos were the most compelling: I watched a group of teenagers discuss racial segregation in their lunchrooms in a video titled “Where do you sit in the cafeteria?”; listened to respected historians, anthropologists and advocates discuss the enduring legacy of housing inequity among the races; heard from geneticists, biologists and doctors about the surprisingly high degree of genetic similarity between all races (94%); and, in my personal favorite, “We all live with race,” listened to people from all races share their stories about how their race has affected their lives.

While certainly an excellent introduction to problematic history of race in the United States, I came to wonder what the RACE exhibit would offer someone who is already involved in social justice advocacy. The answer ultimately came from an interactive exhibit in which a screen displays pictures of six racially different women, and an audio file plays a female voice speaking. Visitors are asked to match the voice to the woman they think is speaking, an act which reveals the racial stereotypes surrounding speech patterns. Because of my desire to get the right answer, I found myself falling into racial stereotyping before I even knew it.  When a voice came on with a Jamaican accent, I immediately matched it to an African American woman with long dreadlocks; in reality, the woman speaking was of Chinese descent. Lesson learned: stereotyping can strike at any moment, even in the midst of an exhibit on racial harmony.

The RACE exhibit will be at the McWane Science Center from now until September 2nd. To get involved with the YW’s social justice programming designed to eliminate racism, contact Joan Witherspoon-Norris.
 
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