Rethink the Race Exhibit


It was an ambitious feat to take three quarters of the student body to an exhibit on a topic that affects us all: race. The intention of the field trip is honorable, but the follow through is missing.

Shelley Gates, the Career and Technical Dept. Chair and trip organizer said the exhibit ‘RACE: Are we so different?’ was meant to be “the beginning of the discussion,” and that “having kids be exposed to something like this is an invitation to continue the dialogue.” But how much did the school extend the invitation?

The exhibit is divided in two parts. The first is a formal museum display on the history of race. In the center is a roundabout with hand puppets of various ethnicities. The second part is a room where visitors wrote words about themselves in crayon, to emphasize that ‘everyone is different’ and undefined by the social construct of race. It was hard to say if this exhibit was really aimed at a mature audience.

While the exhibit was perhaps successful in establishing that race is a social construct, it didn’t explore in depth the problems that this mere ‘social construct’ has created. It hardly touched on concepts such as institutionalized racism and privilege, preferring a more PG narrative that bordered on ‘colorblindness,’ a toxic concept that allows white people like me to turn a blind eye to pervasive racial issues by saying, “I don’t see color.”

ETHS had little follow-up with this exhibit. There were, for example, no post-exhibit reflection sessions.

It is important we pick up the administration’s considerable slack. It is our responsibility to advocate for these conversations. We can and should explore these questions. Some students already have; groups like SOAR seek out this dialogue. The ‘#Itooamawildkit’ posters around Evanston are a reference to a broader project about race in schools.

Perhaps an anonymous survey about race in Evanston could offer some insight into future programming and discussions for students. We must open our mouths to ask, and (white people particularly), open our ears to listen.