Science Museum exhibit asks: are we so different?

Richmond is a beautiful city with a rich history. While we can be proud of much of that history and the role it played in building this nation, other aspects of it are darker, more complicated, and harder for people to talk about.

Race is obviously a big one.

The Science Museum of Virginia’s current exhibit, “Race: Are We So Different?”, a project of the American Anthropological Association, helps Richmonders look at (and hopefully talk about) race as the social construct that it is—the history of it, the science (or lack thereof) behind it, and how the individual experiences it in everyday American life.

As the staff member working the customer service desk told me, it’s a “reading heavy” exhibit, but by no means should anyone interpret that as code for “boring.” While the printed information is interesting enough on its own, there’s also plenty to look at and touch along the way. Highlights for me were…

  • “Who’s talking?”, a guessing game of sorts in which visitors are asked to match different voices to images of individuals representing a variety of races.
  • A sampling from The Hapa Project, a multi-media exhibit featuring stunning photos and hand-written self descriptions of individuals who identify themselves as “Hapa,” a term used by some to describe people of mixed ethnic heritage with partial roots in Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry.
  • “Who is white?”, a computer survey during which visitors read the name of a nationality (e.g. Albanian, Nigerian, Italian, etc.) and indicate whether a person of that nationality is white or not. They can then see how their answers compare to others’ responses to the survey.
  • “Where do you sit in the cafeteria?”, a short video featuring teenagers openly talking about their experiences with race–and how different races relate to one another–within a school setting.

For those looking for a Richmond connection, the Science Museum has included a companion exhibit entitled “35 Blocks.” Here visitors can track the history of race in Richmond from the Science Museum (once the segregated Broad Street Station) down to the Capitol, the site of the 1990 inauguration of L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first African American governor. Wilder’s inauguration suit is also on display, along with the robes of Robert Merhige Jr., the federal judge whose rulings helped integrate city schools, and the office chair of Richmond’s first African American mayor, Henry L. Marsh.

As I mentioned, this is a text-heavy exhibit that covers dense and complicated issues–there’s going to be a lot of meat to a story that stretches from the late 1400s to present day. All told, it took me around 90 minutes to get through the exhibit, but I honestly could have spent more time going through each display even more thoroughly. So block out a good chunk of time and go at your own pace. This topic is too important to rush.

“Race: Are We So Different?” is at the Science Museum through April 29th. They also have a series of lectures and panel discussions scheduled throughout the month of April, so check the website for details. Adult admission to the Science Museum is $11; kids ages 4 through 12 and seniors 60 and over are $10. The Science Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30am to 5pm, and Sunday from 11:30am to 5pm.

Science Museum of Richmond
2500 West Broad Street
804-864-1400

Valerie Catrow is the former editor of RVANews and a current contributor to their parenting column, Raising Richmond. A Richmonder through-and-through, she grew up in Midlothian, graduated from the University of Richmond, and currently lives on the city’s Northside with her husband, Ross, and their son, JR. You can see what she’s up to on a day-to-day basis on her personal blog: Made in Richmond.

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