Race & Ethnicity

New Exhibition Presents Race As Cultural, Not Biological

By Jared Bowen   |   Monday, January 31, 2011
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Jan. 31, 2011

An interactive game about the traits people share yields surprising results at the Museum of Science's new exhibition, 'Race: Are We So Different?' (Courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota.)

BOSTON — Race has existed long in our nation’s history—employed as a tool for law-making, social division and much worse. But a new show at the Museum of Science, called ‘Race: Are We So Different?’ asks us to consider why.
The exhibition’s premise is that race is a learned behavior, nothing more, said Paul Fontaine, vice president for education at the museum.
“When you come to the exhibit you learn that there’s no genetic basis for race. There’s no markers in our chromosomes for race. But it’s about human variation,” Fontaine said.

Video: Watch Jared Bowen's tour through the exhibition. (Full-screen video)

 The exhibition is also meant to explore the affect of racism upon humanity, so there are testimonies of people adversely affected by racism throughout the exhibition.

 “The idea, the concept of race is artificial, but its manifestations are very real,” said Fontaine.
Museum educator Nina Catubig Nolan said that exhibition wants to present race as a cultural development, not a biological one.
“Race is a social construct and the history and parts of the exhibit try to follow this idea. Where did this idea of white come from? In the early days of our country you were an Englishman, you were Russian, you were Italian. The idea of race didn’t come until later on in our history,” Nolan said.
Visitors start with a survey, which asks them to decide who is “white.” As they go through the exhibition, they see displays intended to make notions of race more ambiguous.
 “There’s a lot of ‘aha’ moments in terms of just personal experience,” Nolan said.
There are provocative moments too, like a station that dispels the notion that sickle cell anemia is an African-American disease.

The answer to this question has continually changed since the census began in 1790, reflecting changing ideas about race in American society. (Courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota.)

“It turns out that somebody who’s of Greek descent may have the sickle-cell gene, whereas somebody who descends from someone who lived in Southern Africa really won’t have the sickle cell gene,” Nolan said.

That’s because there’s malaria along the Mediterranean, but not in southern Africa, which affects the development of sickle-cell genes.
Another station asks visitors to listen to voices and choose the person they think they’re listening to from a series of pictures of people with different skin colors. Nolan says it’s an exercise in racial stereotyping.
 “When I found myself getting every single voice wrong it kind of caused me to question my own experiences like why would I think that somebody with that accent could look like this,” Nolan said.
In ‘Race: Why are We So Different?’ the answers can be more difficult than the overarching question.

Two Views of Race On The Boston Stage

By Jared Bowen   |   Friday, January 21, 2011
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Front: Tory Bullock (Jim), Lori Tishfield (Melody)
Back: Johnny Lee Davenport (Richard)

One takes us to a place rarely visited in theater and the other beyond where we usually go, it's the Huntington Theatre's Ruined and Company One's Neighbors

Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama, Ruined takes place in the Democratic Republic of Congo at Mama Nadi's bar and brothel, a nexus for all things social, political, and sometimes evil. The title references the horrible sexual mutilation of women in a Republic notorious for rape. These women's identities are often secondary to their sexual servitude.

It all comes together in a single line towards the end, "Men can do better," which encapsulates the destruction of life caused by the world's exploitation of this region, and the men's exploitation of these women. 

Theater critic Terry Bryne praises the play's compelling subject matter, with some reservations.

"There is so much explanation and exposition of who is doing what to whom, that I got lost from the central love story that's really at the heart of it," says Bryne.

Ruined is playing at the Huntington Theatre Company's B.U. Theater.

Over at the Boston Center for the Arts, Company One is courting controversy with its production of Neighbors. The multi-racial Patterson family must reconsider their values when the Coon family of actors move next door. With names like Mammy, Zip, and Sambo Coon, they always perform in black face and their performances are provocative to say the least. 

It all works because it engages in a conversation about these stereotypes by illustrating all the things that, even if not said out loud, are still thought in America. 

"There are wonderful moments when you laugh at something, and think to yourself, was that really funny? I really loved that it put you out on the edge," says Bryne. 

"But, I think the playwright wrote himself into a corner. The end wraps up a little too neatly. It couldn't complete the sentence," says Bryne. 

As for the controversy Neighbors has sparked in other parts of the country?

"I think we are really lucky to have a director in Summer Williams. He handles it so beautifully, and there was never a moment when I thought the actors were anything but transparent. They were all right there, willing to go for it," says Bryne. 

Jan 4-Feb 6
B.U. Theatre
Tickets >

Jan 14-Feb 5
Boston Center for the Arts
Tickets >

Watch this segment on Greater Boston

Changes To The Black Political Landscape In 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011
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When Worlds Collide

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
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Latino USA with Maria Hinojosa

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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María Hinojosa is a journalist and author as well as the managing editor and host of public radio's Latino USA

Throughout her career, Hinojosa has garnered many awards and honors. Since 1995, Hispanic Business Magazine has named her one of the 100 most influential Latinos in the United States three times.

In 1991, Hinojosa won an Associated Press award for her coverage of Nelson Mandela for WNYC Radio. That same year, she won a Unity Award and the Top Story of the Year Award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists for her NPR story Crews, about New York gang members. The NPR story evolved into the book Crews: Gang Members Talk to María Hinojosa.

She received both the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Radio Award and the New York Society of Professional Journalists Deadline Award for her NPR report Kids and Guns. For Manhood Behind Bars, a story for NPR that documented how incarceration has become a right of passage for men of all races, Hinojosa received the Robert F. Kennedy Award. She was inducted into the "She Made It" Hall of Fame of Women in Media. She is the author of the book Raising Raúl.

In The Matter of Cha Jung Hee

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
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About the Author
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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