Sunday, July 10, 2011

Smithsonian's RACE exhibit: Eye-Opening and Depressing, Strange and Refreshing

By Passion Hannah

This month the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History opened the exhibit “RACE: Are we so different?” We (Tia and I) took the trip into D.C. to check out the exhibit because it features all races, including an emphasis on mixed heritages and their experience in America. 
Passion and Tia added their hands to the series of colors at
the touring race exhibit at the NMNH.
The exhibit was absolutely amazing. There was a section at the entrance where you could take a picture of your skin, and then it would become a part of a collage with other visitors’ skin colors. 
Your definition of what you are,
not the governments, not your parents,
not anyone but you.

The part that we focused on quite a bit were a series of photographs on a wall. People had handwritten what they felt about their race, and then under their statement was what they were mixed with. (For more examples of these photos, see our tumblr.) It was refreshing and strange to see so many mixed people. Just by looking at some, you wouldn’t expect them to have such diverse races. None looked the same, which was wonderful. Even if one had a similar heritage as another person, they both looked very different. 

Another stunning section was a short documentary called “A Girl Like Me”. It was quite eye-opening because so many of these African-American girls spoke about their journey with race, and how being lighter skinned or white was more appealing to them. 

Honestly, it was depressing to watch. These girls are beautiful, but society dictates that we must have light skin and straight hair to be beautiful. (For on that visit "Cute to be so dark" at Multicultural Familia.) They also recreated the “doll test” where kids were to chose between a black baby doll and a white baby doll. Most of them said the white baby doll was more appealing and considered it the “good” doll, where areas the black doll was the “bad” doll. When asked why one doll was good and one was bad, the kids said it was because of skin color. The kids were all young and black. It just goes to show how little progress the country has made with opinions on race. 

How would the U.S. Census have counted you through each
decade? On each person's shirt is the sad truth.

There were many other very interesting parts of the exhibit, and I recommend it to anyone who can take a trip to go see it. The new closing date for the exhibit is January 2nd. So, there is plenty of time during the summer, fall, and winter. Really, it leaves you with no excuse. 

On the day that we went, the atmosphere was a haze of awe. Regardless of race, you will be amazed at the stories that were being told. No doubt, it will change your perception of race.


  1. Aja, thank you and Tia for sharing your review of this exhibit!

  2. Oh! Actually it was Tia and Passion. I haven't been able to go although I very much plan to. This was Passion's article too.

  3. The photos with the writings are from a book by Kip Fulbeck called "Part Asian 100% Hapa". Excellent book. I also have his book "Mixed". Its similar but it has mixed kids. The kids don't default to "race" when asked "What are you?".

  4. Those sound like great books, especially from what we have seen of them. We haven't been to the Festival in L.A., but it seems the exhibit takes some of these works to people around the U.S. like the "A Girl Like Me" video.

    We'll be sure to add those to our collection.

  5. I volunteer for that exhibit! Thank you for the wonderful review and I am very happy to see that you appreciated it. Please stop by again if you ever get the chance, I promise it will never be the same experience twice :P