We’ll get the official announcement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but it’s never too early to plan. The award-winning exhibition RACE: Are We So Different? is coming to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences this year.
The traveling exhibit, which will be at the Raleigh museum from April 22 to Sept. 4, is free, thanks to partnerships that netted more than $300,000.
It has three interrelated topics: the science of human variation, the history of the idea of race and the contemporary experience of race and racism in this country.
It’s best described as an interactive, transformational learning experience that increases the cross-cultural quantity and quality of conversations about race, said Emlyn Koster, director of the museum.
“It’s the right thing at the right time and in the right way,” Koster said. “It’s the right experience because the subject is very timely, the approach is very constructive and the museum is a very appropriate, educational place.”
RACE matches the museum’s mission to “illuminate the interdependence of nature and humanity,” he added.
“It’s novel that it’s titled with a question because most people believe we are much more different than we actually are,” Koster said, citing DNA research that shows all humans are more than 99 percent the same. “It’s a very important experience for our society.
“It’s been timely from its first moment. It keeps being relevant to matters on people’s minds.”
He’s right, especially as race and racism continue to color the landscape of our state and nation.
Interestingly, RACE overlaps with neighboring North Carolina Museum of History’s exhibit Selma to Montgomery: A March for the Right to Vote, which runs through June 4 and features photographs by Spider Martin.
As part of the RACE exhibit, Cultural Conversations invites participants into a safe space with five to 25 people sitting in a circle, ready to further explore issues of race and culture, openly and honestly.
“It takes a page out of the Native American practice of putting people in circles. Circles encourage vulnerability and transparency,” said Emelia Cowans-Taylor, the museum’s assistant director of communications. “It allows people to take a look at how they think about themselves and how they think about others as it relates to race.
“Will it completely remove people’s biases in one sitting? No. But will it open the dialogue about race and race relations in our community and in our world? Yes.”
The 90-minute facilitated chats, scheduled in advance, welcome everyone from companies seeking diversity training to strangers.
“This is perhaps the most important conversation we’re going to have as a community in the next decade,” said Damon Circosta, executive director of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which contributed $110,000 to the exhibit. “Typically, conversations around race and equity happen in the margins. We’re so excited about having it right in our downtown ... because it deserves broader distribution than a college class or book club.”
The exhibit “really underscores the notion that we really are more alike than we are different, and it does it in such a way that doesn’t anger, it informs,” Circosta said. “It gives people an understanding of this thing we call race that’s grounded in science, as opposed to conjecture.”
The theme, he said: “A human is a human is a human, and humans are the ones who put these distinctions of race in place, and we’re not going to progress unless we do so together.”
Find out more
To learn more about the exhibit, go to www.understandingrace.org/home.html.