Race: Are We So Different? A new exhibit at the Chicago History Museum

Hello & Happy New Year,

The brilliant Chicago History Museum has a brand new exhibit called Race: Are We So Different?  I saw it with my family and found the exhibit fascinating. I was impressed by the amount of information within the exhibit as well as the ways my own belief system was challenged. There were three main components to the exhibit: the history of race in the United States, the science behind common human ancestry, and race in contemporary life.

Here are some of the images and videos showcased during the history of race section of the exhibit:

This states, “No colored barber shall serve as a barber to white women or girls.” -Atlanta, Georgia, 1926

“It shall be unlawful for any white prisoner to be handcuffed or otherwise chained or tied to a negro prisoner.” -Arkansas, 1903

“It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards or dice, dominoes or checkers.” -Birmingham, Alabama, 1930

Here are some of the images showcased during the science behind common human ancestry section of the exhibit:

“Although scientists did not invent the concept of race, the history of science includes many attempts to rationalize and justify race and racial hierarchies.

“Race was not found in nature but made by people in power. Racial classification provided a way to justify privilege and oppression by making inequality appear to be the result of natural differences.”

This is a quote by Teja Artboleda, “There is no biological evidence that supports racial categories. Moreover, racial categories are politically charged, making these categories advantageous to some people and not to others. RaceOff makes visibly clear that the line between black and white, or between any two so-called races, is vague. It’s also irrelevant to the bigger question which is, ‘what are we?’ The answer is simple – human.” You can watch Teja Arboleda’s Ted Talk here.

One of the best parts of the exhibit was this wall. It was filled with photographs of multi-ethnic persons. Underneath, they reveal their ethnicities. Do you think you can decipher another person’s racial makeup by just looking at them?

Below the framed photos was a table with some cards and pencils. You were to answer the question that all multiethnic people have been asked, “What are you?” My son and I were all over that. Here is what he wrote, “I am proud to be mixed.” Then he proceeded to draw a little boy with a line down the middle of his face. One side was labeled black and the other white. How do you label yourself? Does others see you that way?

“We all came from Africa, and we’ve been moving and mixing ever since. Do you know where your ancestors have been?”

“If people resemble others who come from the same part of the world, isn’t that race?”

“No, because race usually means more than that. Race implies that there are large differences between regions. In fact, most common variants in the DNA sequence are carried by people everywhere in the world. The variants that are found in only one region tend to be carried by a minority of people in that region. Hundreds of thousands of variations in the DNA sequence have now been examined, and there are only a few exceptions to this pattern.”  -Jeffrey Long, human geneticist, University of Michigan Medical School

“Didn’t darker skin evolve to protect us from skin cancer?”

“No. Evolution favors changes that improve reproductive success. Because skin cancer usually affects people after they have had children; it likely had little effect on the evolution of skin color.”

Here are some of the images showcased during the race in contemporary life section of the exhibit:

The bottom of this sign says, “[Racism] is not about how you look, it’s about how people assign meaning to how you look.”

There was also information showcasing racial disparities in education, jobs, and housing during this section of the exhibit.

One of the most interesting questions I encountered during the exhibit:

Can you? Why or why not?

This exhibit is fantastic because it pushes you to question your own beliefs about race and where those beliefs came from. I challenge you to check out The Chicago History Museums exhibit, Race: Are We So Different? It will be on display until July 15th, 2018. After you’ve seen it, come back here and tell us what you think! We’ll be waiting.

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