Are we so different? Don't be afraid to find out
In the Saturday and Monday editions of the Post-Bulletin, readers will receive a lot of information about an exhibit that will open Monday at the Rochester Public Library. "Race: Are We so Different?" is a 5,000-square-foot exploration of the myths, realities and institutions that have led humanity to divide itself into categories that, all too often, can be boiled down to "us" and "not us."
The exhibit's arrival in Rochester is well-timed. Our community is growing, and many of its newest residents aren't of European ancestry.
Such change is seldom comfortable or easy, and Rochester is no exception. We'd like to believe our community is inclusive and colorblind, but in reality we're not immune to the fears and stereotypes that have plagued mankind for centuries. In the past few years, discussions about crime, gangs and housing have been tinged with an overall wariness toward people whose appearance, language and lifestyle don't "fit in" with the Rochester of 20 years ago.
The race exhibit won't eliminate that wariness, but it will challenge it. Scientists, anthropologists and historians will take us on an interactive journey that will span the globe. We'll learn how the human body has adapted itself to thrive in different climates, how genetically similar we are despite our physical differences, and how ruling classes have used racial differences and shoddy "science" to justify and maintain their positions of authority.
Along the way, we'll gain new awareness of the causes and consequences of slavery and segregation. We'll catch a glimpse of what it's like to be in a biracial relationship. We'll begin to understand what it's like to be an adopted child of color, growing up in a predominantly white community.
Between now and June 11, more than 7,000 students from area schools will go through this exhibit. We can't think of a better use of their time. But ironically, children probably don't "need" this experience as much as the rest of us do. Rochester's growing diversity is nowhere more evident than in its public schools, where our children receive constant, daily exposure to cultures and skin colors that don't match their own. As a result, we're convinced that the average 8-year-old in our community doesn't classify his or her classmates as black, white or brown.
But clearly, there are plenty of people in Rochester who do. Mayo Clinic would not be footing the entire bill for this exhibit — in excess of $100,000 — if its leaders didn't believe that race-related problems exist here. If we're going to become a worldwide "destination medical community," those problems can't be ignored.
So go through the exhibit. Go to the Rochester Public Library's website and check out the calendar of discussions, dramatic productions, videos and public forms that will be taking place all summer. Talk about what you see with your children. If they go through the exhibit with their class, have them go through it a second time, serving as your "guide."
It will be interesting. It will be fun. It will be thought-provoking. And the only cost of admission is a willingness to leave your preconceptions at the door.