It’s a subject that many find difficult to raise and perhaps even more difficult to discuss in a meaningful way.
But an enlightening exhibition set for next fall at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie aims to fearlessly focus on different aspects of race. “Race: Are We So Different?” comes to the Chicago area under a special partnership between the museum and YWCA Evanston/North Shore.
“Racism is not how you look,” historian Robin Kelly once said. “It is about how people assign meaning to how you look.”
Noreen Brand, the museum’s director of education, began her comments about the upcoming exhibit by reciting that provocative quote last week during a press conference in Evanston.
“We celebrate differences and personal identity and family background, country and language, and at the same time differences among people have been the basis for discrimination and oppression,” she said.
The museum hosts thousands of students every year to engage them in questions about “what does it mean to be who you are, how to celebrate differences, how to look at identity and how to foster understanding of what it means to be a human being.”
Brand called the effort “an investigation of the history of race from a scientific perspective, looking at human invention of race and then how, at one point, it was legitimized and now we’re looking at how can we dismantle this concept.”
“This was a natural for us,” she concluded about hosting the project.
It proved a natural for YWCA Evanston/North Shore as well.
President and CEO Karen Singer called the exhibition and its associated events an important new initiative in the organization’s racial justice work, “one that will have a profound effect on all of us and on our communities.”
The result of three years of dreaming, planning and collaborating, she said, the two partners along with sponsors are bringing a national expedition to the Chicago area for the first time.
It runs from Oct. 12 through Jan. 25, 2015 at the Skokie museum, but many associated programs will be held in Chicago and North Suburban communities this spring, summer and during the exhibition’s run.
In fact, a discussion series on the works of August Wilson already got under way in Evanston, but that’s likely to be the tip of the iceberg. The Evanston Public Library has a series of events scheduled throughout the year focusing on African American history and culture as well.
Eileen Hogan Heineman, racial justice program director at YWCA Evanston/North Shore, added that communities beyond Skokie and Evanston will be encouraged to host programs that align with the exhibition. The museum and the YWCA also are cosponsoring on-site programs that will include a scholar series, teacher trainings and local government workshops around race.
“The YWCA Evanston/North Shore is encouraging educational, civic, business, faith-based, youth development and arts organizations to create or participate in programs that will help move people individually, and collectively, to seek racial equity,” the YWCA said in statement.
“Eliminating racism is core to the identity and mission of the YWCA,” Singer said. “Our work reflects this key commitment. Understanding and talking about race and racism, understanding how our communities and institutions have and continue be affected by racism is critical to our ability to work together to create racial equity.”
“Race: Are We So Different?” was developed by the American Anthropological Association. It looks at race through history, variation and lived experienced. First presented at the Science Museum of Minnesota, it tells stories and explores race from biological, cultural and historical perspectives.
Like many of the museum’s provocative and most resonant traveling exhibitions, “Race: Are We So Different?” uses different multimedia tools to explore in a unique way a difficult subject. Interactive components, multimedia presentations, iconic objects, photographs, and graphic displays will all be central pieces of an in-depth exploration of race.
Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl last week said one of the reasons she wanted to run for mayor was to preserve the city’s significant diversity. At that point, she said, Evanston was losing its African American population, which has somewhat turned around.
But celebrating diversity is not solely indicative that Evanston has solved all racial problems, Tisdahl said.
“We clearly have not. But the one thing you can say about Evanston is we are always working to be better. That’s why having this exhibit here is so tremendously important,” she said.