Let’s talk about RACE


Ella Bourland and Kanako Fujioka

“The Ann Arbor area is defined by diversity,” stated Ann Arbor USA, and many Ann Arborites pride themselves for this fact. It’s almost as if Ann Arbor exists in a bubble that distinguishes itself from the rest of Michigan. However, as accepting as Ann Arbor might seem, there seems to be a silence when it comes to discussions about race.

To break this lull, the University of Michigan chose to display the “Race: Are We So Different?” exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. The Race exhibit started at the Charles H. White Museum in Detroit in 2007. After seeing the exhibit, Melanie Bahti urged her mother Amy Harris, director of the UMMNH, to make it accessible to the Ann Arbor community.

DSC_0184However, Harris was hesitant. The gallery was too small to display the complete Race exhibit. But after receiving another eager request from Pioneer High School teacher Barbara Klaver, Harris contacted the Race tour manager. She was happily surprised to find out they were launching a condensed version of the same exhibit. “It was serendipity at that time; it was perfect,” said Harris.

The Race exhibit incorporates both biological science and anthropological, social sides of race. Therefore, Harris was pleased with the way the exhibition fit into the museum’s field of natural history. “Race is something that permeates our society and our lives in almost every way. I think it’s a really important topic that is not talked about enough,” said Harris.

While this exhibit primarily addresses race in the greater United States and the world, Harris also wanted to give local perspectives. As a counterpoint the the national exhibit, Race in This Place was developed to identify concerns in the Ann Arbor community. Four themes were established in the display: education, health, the legal system and immigration.

DSC_0217A video containing the voices and personal stories of familiar Ann Arborites was also included in the Race in This Place exhibit. As was youth art, and several stations where visitors are encouraged join the conversation by writing down their reactions on Post-it notes.

Harris believes that it is crucial for people of all ages to participate in discussions about race. Harris said, “Even the smallest children can look at a variety of people and see that they look different.” She says parents need to acknowledge that their kids are recognizing these differences and the role in society by explaining it in an age appropriate way.

Harris says the museum has received nothing but positive feedback. “People really like the local component and the national traveling exhibit because it’s rich and has so many different entrees to thinking and talking about race,” said Harris.

Although the exhibit is temporary, Harris hopes that the conversations about race will continue within the community. UMMNH has created the Understanding Race Project, which reaches out to schools in Ann Arbor and hosts several discussions about race. Everyone is welcome and  and encouraged to attend.

Race: Are We So Different? is open at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History through August 11, 2013.