Can a museum exhibit that has been dismantled, packed and shipped to Memphis still be at work in the Seattle area?
We’ll find out.
The traveling exhibit, “Race: Are We So Different?,” has concluded its 14-week run at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. But many groups that saw it say it will help launch or deepen their own attempts to counteract racial disparity:
• At Yoga Behind Bars, program manager Nari Baker said the exhibit gave the group’s staff, board members and volunteer instructors insights into why people of color are disproportionally represented in jails and prisons.
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• At Child Care Resources, CEO Deeann Puffert said the experience will help her nonprofit organization develop ways of better helping both children and child-care providers who are people of color.
• At the King County Prosecutor’s Office, 25 attorneys attended a legal-education session built around the exhibit. Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said it will strengthen their work on a day-to-day basis to address inequities in the justice system.
Nearly 128,000 people visited the science center during the run of the exhibit. Staffers say many or most of them saw the race exhibit, but counts are not kept on which exhibit areas visitors enter.
Some 200 groups that toured the exhibit augmented the experience with discussion sessions, sharing and comparing their own perceptions and experiences about race.
And of those, more than 80 groups pledged to make a “commitment to action for racial equality” to bring about change in the community.
The traveling exhibit, developed by the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota in 2007, presented evidence indicating there’s no scientific basis to separate people by race — no genetic markers or traits that divide people into racial groups.
In other words, the practice of treating people differently according to their skin color is based on prejudice, fear and ignorance, not science.
But that doesn’t mean race is not “real.”
Displays in the exhibit note that different races continue to face different treatment in many aspects of life, including education, employment, health care and criminal justice.
“It was a really powerful experience, definitely eye-opening to many people in our group,” said Baker.
Her group, Yoga Behind Bars, is a nonprofit, founded in 2007, that holds 23 yoga classes a week at 10 jails and correctional centers in the Puget Sound area.
Most of the volunteer instructors are white, Baker said, and are seeking a deeper understanding of the perspectives of people of color.
Baker said staffers, board members and yoga instructors from the group experienced the race exhibit together, exploring their own thoughts about race in sessions before and after visiting the science center.
Those discussions were aided by volunteer “facilitators” trained by Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, a multiyear effort to end institutionalized racism and race-based disparities in local government.
“Partnering with Pacific Science Center has helped us connect with hundreds of organizations — religious groups, schools, businesses, neighborhoods, foundations and government,” said the initiative’s manager, Glenn Harris.
He called the commitment statements from 80-plus groups “a tremendous step forward for our city.”
Groups that pledged action were encouraged to select a topic to focus on, such as business, education, health or criminal justice.
At Child Care Resources, which already had an anti-racism focus, Puffert said the exhibit was a catalyst for frank, respectful discussion.
“Once you are able to talk about things, you can make more sense of your world and what action you want to take,” Puffert said.
Her organization plans to hire a consultant to help identify “measurable milestones” so that progress on diversity issues can be assessed over time.
Prosecutor Satterberg went to the exhibit twice. The depth of its scientific evidence impressed him, but Satterberg said he was already familiar with the way the criminal-justice system has operated differently for people of different races.
It’s a subject he’s been working on through several programs, such as one involving community leaders helping young offenders learn from their mistakes and set a new direction, rather than begin a revolving-door experience with the world of jail and prison.
“Prosecutors can and should be part of the answer to racial disproportionality in the criminal-justice system,” Satterberg said.
There are now three copies of the exhibit that debuted in Minnesota. Altogether, they have appeared in more than 40 cities across the country.
Mark Henriksen, tour manager for the St. Paul museum, said he’s encouraged that many cities, including Seattle, have chosen to incorporate it into community activities.
“It gives us the sense that the exhibit is really succeeding,” he said.
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org