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Exhibit Provides Opportunity to Understand Race

Guest Blogger • Jan 21, 2010

By Katie Irwin

A few months ago I came across an exhibit about race by the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota. It explains the realities and myths surrounding race, and how the concept has evolved through time. The Association is encouraging people across America to discuss and examine their thoughts on race. The What is Race? exhibit shows how the concept of race has changed and is still changing, and it uses biology, culture and history to educate the public. From the exhibit’s website it states:

“Racial and ethnic categories, which have changed over time, are human-made. We now know that human beings are more alike genetically than any other living species. Scientifically, no one gene, or any set of genes, can support the idea of race.”

As an anthropology student, I discussed these issues regularly. Every week my peers and I would talk about the articles or books we were reading and our own experiences we had regarding racial issues. Hearing, talking and discussing events that my friends or I have witnessed and been involved in has been beneficial in understanding this ongoing issue. My professor would say that these conversations don’t happen in the real world, and generally they don’t. This exhibit can help change that.

Unfortunately, there are extreme groups that do not want discussions about race to happen and have attacked the exhibit. The Council for Conservative Citizens (CofCC), a known white supremacist organization posted the exhibit’s introductory video on its website and labeled it biased and pseudoscience.

What these extreme groups ignore is that anthropologists try hard not to let the values and normality of their upbringing interfere with their research; what is normal for one culture might be considered strange in another culture, so we spend years learning to minimize bias. I think their attacks come from a place of hatred, and wanting to uphold racial divisions in this country.

In fact, this exhibit is helping dispel the myths of past scientists, philosophers, explorers, etc. who were influenced by their Euro-centric backgrounds which have led to some of the most biased and false science and propaganda about the “inferiority” of non-white “races.” One of the best books I read on this subject was “Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen J. Gould; he writes about the theories devised in the 18th century, when Europeans used science to try and justify slavery, and did the experiments himself to prove the biased nature of them.

This exhibit is a wonderful start in learning about the issues, and I believe we should be discussing this subject to truly understand that race is a social, political, and historic concept.

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