Local View: Use firm hand to stop racism in the Northland
Local View: Subtle racism can hurt more
City Leaders View: When you witness racism, speak up.
Challenge your conceptions about race
by Melanie Ford
Zenith City Weekly
That stinks,” said a boy of about 12 to his mom. They were reading a history board at the exhibit, Race: Are We So Different?, at the Duluth Children’s Museum.
Mom was explaining Plessy v. Ferguson, a 19th century Supreme Court decision allowing segregation of Whites and “negroes” in public accommodations.
Race explores the science of human variation, the history of the idea of race, and the contemporary experience of race and racism in the United States, combining discussion with experiential activities and video dialogue.
The mother went on to read some of the U.S. historical events adversely affecting people of color. The boy kept shaking his head, murmuring over and over, “That stinks.”
In the video “We All Live With Race,” poet Ed Bok Lee says life is like a rainforest, “beautiful by its diversity” and “necessary by its diversity.”
However, the exhibit lays out, with no holds barred, that we live in a society built on principles of freedom and equality which were ignored. America was not created to be a country of diversity.
Race covers history starting with the first Europeans on the North American continent, who had to morally justify taking indigenous lands. There is also a lesson on how Blacks came to be slaves.
The exhibit travels nationwide, created by the American Anthropological Association, managed by the Science Museum of Minnesota, and brought to Duluth by Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial, Inc.
[Author’s disclosure: I sit on the board of directors of Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial, Inc.]
Race emphasizes that human life began in Africa. Skin colors, which have recently been used to associate a person with a race, changed as a result of ultraviolet ray intensities as people moved around the globe.
Within the science theme is a display called “The Hapa Project.” Writer and artist Kip Fulbeck photographed people of mixed race and asked them to comment on their identity: “What are you? It is a common question among multiracial people in a country focused on tidy racial categories.” In response, one man wrote: “I am 100 percent Black and 100 percent Japanese.”
“Tidy racial categories” is a recurring issue within each theme. Census categories, racial stereotypes, and the experiences of mixed–race persons are explored through videos and photographs. There are books for people of all ages with plenty of comfy chairs to sit and read.
In a video entitled “Where Do you Sit in the Cafeteria?,” a mixed–race high school student says, “It’s the biggest thing our generation is dealing with: self–hate…[Our parents] worked so hard for us to go to school together and for what?”
An exhibit addressing Native American sports mascots encourages museum attendees to write down why they agree or disagree with use of these mascots.
One anonymous person wrote in response, “If I made a mascot of a white man with a huge beer gut, wearing a wife beater, soiled pants, with cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, and I say ‘real white man,’ this is ok because I am honoring their struggle to become what they want to become.”
According to the exhibit’s website, UnderstandingRace.org, “Race is the least important aspect in determining character, yet it is often the most significant factor in how we are perceived.”
The exhibit gives viewers plenty of reason to challenge their conceptions about race. The board of Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc. hopes viewers will leave with an understanding of racism and the will to change it.
Race: Are We So Different? will be at the Duluth Children’s Museum through September, 506 W. Michigan St., 218–733–7543
Open our eyes
that we might see
our own face, reflected
in a stranger
that we might recognize
the holy light
in every soul we meet.
Grant us the bravery
to leave the foot-worn path,
to move beyond
to walk in the ways
Guide our hands
in the service of healing
Teach us to listen deeply,
to speak truth out in the open
to understand that we belong
to one another…
Help us to mend goodness,
to insist upon compassion,
to repair the damaged world
in countless, daily ways.
Give us hearts
that break easily open,
Create in each of us
a space of consolation
and of peace.
Duluth, MN: February 2012
– Sarah Hollows
Enslaved narratives often begin “I was born,”
a reminder that the author is a living, breathing, human being
giving voice to their experiences,
an act of liberation to claim ownership
To honor the legacy of the enslaved people of this nation
I would like to begin by saying I too was born
into the systems that enslave,
I was born expected to be a cog in the great machine
instead of a living, breathing, human being
with these three words I claim myself for myself,
and offer a piece of myself to you
I invite you to see yourself somewhere in me.
Decolonizing and rehumanizing my body and mind
this isn’t just about me and mine
this is about you,
and our children,
and our children’s children,
and our neighbors’ children,
and our nation’s children,
our sisters and brothers,
our elders and ancestors
I was born and raised in the land of 10,000 lakes to be Minnesota nice.
I was raised a white girl in the Catholic tradition,
which is to say that I have been conditioned
to be quiet
and good –
and to feel guilty when I am not.
But I refuse to stay quiet when white supremacists claim
that racial equity is somehow “reverse racism” against whites,
distorting the reality
of a nation that has systematically
imprisoned and/or foreclosed on people of color
living, breathing, human beings
strictly based on their perceived otherness
(hear me specifically their “non-whiteness”)
I refuse to stay quiet when whiteness is the dominant color of leadership
and marginalized voices are silenced by voter suppression.
When being Minnesota nice means smiling and politely moving on,
sweeping our dirty history (our dirty now) under rugs
and baking our shame into prize winning casseroles.
I won’t be Minnesota nice if it means not talking about how
this land wasn’t always the home of my people,
that we never asked to move into
and remain indefinitely
upon the land of indigenous peoples,
and to claim it as our own when New Americans arrived
we never asked.
My people were once immigrants here,
discriminated against for being tired and poor amidst
huddled masses of desperate people yearning to
And that discrimination and desperation led them to cling to an imaginary identity
one that would distinguish them from “the others”
so that they might be recognized as being better
to get better jobs
and better homes
and better lives for their children,
and their children’s children,
I was born.
I was born to see that this life
and I see that I have a stake in making it better
when being good isn’t good enough,
and the only guilt that I should feel
is if I stand here in complicity
and do nothing to change it
because if I’m being honest
instead of being nice
I’m as mad as hell at being born into this system
and I’m not gonna take it anymore,
how about you?
Sarah Hollows has lived in the Twin Cities for the majority of her life. She graduated from St. Catherine University in 2011 with a BA in Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity, and a Women’s Studies minor. Currently she is a Community Organizing Apprentice with OAP (http://www.oaproject.org/) working to advance racial equity in the St. Kate’s community.
“There is controversy swirling around the web-o-verse about an antiracism awareness ad program begun in Duluth, MN, called the Un-Fair Campaign. Its aim is simple:
To look at racism and to encourage a community dialogue about the causes and solutions.
Sounds great, right?”
“I love the Un-Fair Campaign! I love the controversy and conflict – they’re integral to bringing about social change.”
Facebook entry by Babette Sandman
“This campaign has caused agitation and that is what it takes for social change to happen. People have been too comfortable with the way things are, and now they are totally agitated – like “how dare you make us uncomfortable… just let things be the way we like it.” You know you’re on the right track with the Un- Fair Campaign when you’re shaking everything up, getting them out of their comfort zone, making them think of things, and they are resisting change. This chaos is important and the dialogue amongst the people all are essential for a social change movement! Don’t you just love it? Rock on!”