Race Tackled in New Exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Mar 27, 2014

The RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit examines the issue through science, history and contemporary experience.
Credit courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota

A new exhibit opening at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History takes on the vast subject of race. The “Race: Are We So Different” exhibit examines the subject from several different angles.

“From the scientific angle: What is the science? What is the science involved in race? What is race? Is race real? The history of the idea of race and finally the contemporary lived experience of race.” said Cecile Shellman with the Carnegie Museum. “How is race played out, particularly in the United States of America?”

RACE is a project of the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota and is aimed at all age groups. The exhibit is interactive, including displays at which you can look at your own skin magnified, try and match speakers with pictures, and tables at which you can write your own experiences on note cards.

“Race is a very important thing to talk about,” said Shellman. “The exhibition mentions the fact that after 2008, many people in the United States believed that the debate on race was over and that this was now a post-racial society but that is not the case and there are many large aggressions and micro aggressions that happen on a daily basis across races and cultures.”

Together, a family discovers that assumptions can be misleading as they listen to voices and try to match them with pictures of the speakers.
Credit Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The exhibit goes beyond black and white to look at many cultures – including Native Americans and issues surrounding the use of Native Americans as sports team mascots, it also takes on the issue from the youth perspective with videos of high school students talking about their experiences.

The exhibit is not yet open to the public, but Carnegie Museum staff members, such as Director of Education Jessica Lausch, have seen it. She said RACE is relevant to the world we’re living in – and added the exhibit helped her think about things she otherwise may not think about.

“And I think it’s good to stop and reflect on our history and the people around us and see the impact and sometimes we don’t understand where somebody comes from because we don’t understand what they’ve been through in their lives and those experiences are different than our own,” said Lausch, “so to understand another person’s experiences just makes you able to relate to yourself and others better.”

Shellman said the exhibit has prompted dialogue among her coworkers, and showed her that everyone is, ultimately, the same, but also different.

“Even though race is not a biological construct, it is definitely a social one, and the idea is not to eradicate culture, and it’s not to eradicate heritage and understand each other,” said Shellman.  

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is including a Community Voices Gallery as part of RACE. It will feature new photography alongside Charles “Teenie” Harris photographs from the '50s, '60s and '70s. It will also include answers to questions posed to community members in the past and again recently. The idea is to show that the topics have been dealt with for decades, and in some cases, little has changed.

The exhibit opens Saturday and runs through Oct. 27.