History Museum Exhibit Promotes Healthy Dialogue on Racial Differences

Kenya Vaughn, St. Louis American, January 28, 2010

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But Race: Are We So Different?, the American Anthropological Association exhibit that opened recently at the Missouri History Museum, offers a platform for non-judgmental discussions on race.

The exhibit opened two days before the MLK holiday, and plenty of families opted to spend the day named in his honor to work towards understanding each other and building King’s “beloved community.”

The traveling multi-media exhibit uses video, audio, photos, books and interactive activities to break down the racial walls that separate us from each other.

Upon entry, there are voices–of blacks, whites and other–bouncing around the room in every direction from television screens and speakers. It sounds as if the conversation has already begun.

“‘Cause its Martin Luther King’s birthday,” seven-year-old Chasen Richardson said with authority as she offered her reason for coming to the exhibit.

“I learned about white and black people and how they had to be separated,” she continued. “Dr. Martin Luther King was trying to make them come together, but they didn’t allow them to do that.”

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In one set of videos, people from all racial backgrounds talk about being the minority and the majority and revelations with respect to their racial experience.

A white man admits his own “white privilege” when he realized that he automatically helped himself to ask questions and take up time in school. An Asian man talked about being called a “banana”–yellow on the outside, but white on the inside–while growing up in Minnesota.

A segment called “Where Do I Sit in the Cafeteria?” explored the added frustration of bi-racial teens. Already dealing with growing pains and identity issues that automatically come with adolescence, these high-school students’ experiences were compounded by dealing with gray areas with respect to their ethnicity.

As guests wandered full of aim through the stations, an overwhelming number of bi-racial children had been brought by their parents.

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Equality and slavery

The exhibit starts at the beginning, from the ideological foundation of race to the tragic legacy of racism in the United States.

According to historians, the issue of race took root when European explorers met with people who didn’t look or behave like them.

Racism started with American slaveholders’ attempt to justify the contradiction of declaring “all men created equal” while allowing and enforcing slavery.

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A comprehensive representation of race in America is offered through the exhibit: evolution of ideas, remaining disparities, transition towards a more ethnically accepting and blended society.

And while the hi-tech games, videos and 3-D illustrations are striking and informative, perhaps the most effective and compelling element of the exhibit consists only of about a dozen chairs.

Guests are asked to fill them on Tuesdays (6 p.m.) and Saturday (2:30 p.m.) for a talking circle to make room for an open conversation on race–from both sides of the coin.

“I was hoping there would be more diversity here,” Lynn Rossell said as she exited the room on Tuesday night.

Tyronne Howze was the lone black man in the circle.

“I felt the freedom to say whatever was on my heart,” Howze said.

The room was filled with white faces discussing their experiences and ideas as Howze chimed in to give his perspective and answer questions.

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Missouri History Museum is hosting “Race: Are We So Different?” through April 4. The museum is offering several special events and activities to compliment the exhibit throughout its run. For more information, call (314) 746-4599 or visit www.mohistory.org.

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