Posted on July 20, 2011

Is Race a Social Construct? The Natural History Museum Investigates

Brittany Dant, Smithsonian, July 14, 2011

Race and racism are complex subjects, but the Natural History Museum takes them on with energy and zeal in a new exhibition, Race: Are We So Different? The show is the first national exhibition to spell out the construct of “race” and all that it encompasses from a biological, cultural and historical point of view.

{snip} The exhibit is staffed with volunteers trained to encourage dialog and reflection. One of the volunteers, Caitlyn Harkin, explained some of the more complex ideas behind the exhibit.

Harkin, who is completing an undergraduate degree in American Studies at George Washington University, underwent up to 30 hours of training to staff the exhibit, learning about the content of the show, strategies for engaging visitors and addressing various race-related issues.


The exhibit seeks to show that race is not rooted in biology. Why is this an important fact for people to know and understand?

By discussing the genetics–or lack thereof–of race, we eliminate the argument that there is something fundamentally, on a molecular level, different about people. We are then left to explore what those other social and historical factors are that lead to the development of race as we know it today.


If there was one thing that every exhibit visitor should take away, what would that be?

That race is not inherent in our genetics, but rather a social construct developed over time, which continues to be a strong and ever present force in our country and in our lives.

Race: Are We So Different? will run until January 2, 2012. {snip}