Matters of Race

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History seeks to engage and inform the public with its latest exhibit, “RACE: Are We So Different?”



 

Fatal War Among Races,” proclaimed a headline published across the country in September 1886. The article concerned a disturbance in Greenfield. “Four Mile Run, in the Fourteenth Ward, was the scene of a race riot at noon today, in which two of the participants received fatal injuries,” it began. “The fight was the result of bad feeling existing among the Irish and Italian laborers who have their abode in the neighborhood.”

A “race riot” between “Irish and Italian laborers?” Today, the words “Irish” and “Italian” describe “nationalities.” Those laborers’ great-great-grandchildren probably checked “white” in the 2010 census box, but consider this political cartoon from June 1889: As a flag-draped Lady Liberty is stirring the melting pot of “citizenship” with the spoon of “equal rights,” an apish figure identified as an Irishman comes at her with a knife. With a sloped forehead and swollen lips, the Irishman resembles the caricature once portrayed in minstrel shows.

The cartoon is found in the Carnegie Museum of National History’s provocative, cathartic exhibit “RACE: Are We So Different?” On view through Oct. 27, the show combines rigorous science and personal experiences, illuminating a paradox: Race is imaginary and devastatingly real.

“What we want people to get out of the exhibit is that even though there is no biological basis for race, there is a cultural reality to it,” says Cecile Shellman, communications and community specialist for the CMNH.

The exhibit is split conceptually into thirds. The first makes a biological argument against race by explaining human variation, including how ultraviolet radiation exposure correlates to skin color. The second section explains how race became a way to categorize and rank humanity in an American context; it ties race to colonialism and technology. Overland traders saw physical features change gradually across continents, but travelers sailing from Europe to Africa saw starker differences. Western thinkers, including 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, pointed to these differences to group people into races: American, European, Asian and African.

The third part covers the ramifications of race, with such hot-button topics as affirmative action and affordable housing. It’s the most potentially divisive portion, but without incorporating those topics, the exhibit would fall short of its ambitious goal — enabling discussions that help to end racism.

“We made no illusions about the fact that this was going to be definitely thought-provoking and potentially controversial,” says Shellman.

Despite the sensitive subject matter, the exhibit is easy to digest. It’s wordy yet heavily illustrated, scientific yet personal and scholarly yet interactive. There are segments for children and adults. The show’s real triumph is its measured tone: persistent without slipping into anger.

This balance reflects good planning and guidance: The exhibit is a coproduction of the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota, giving it heft and approachability.

The exhibit includes a local collaboration: For the “Community Voices” piece, KDKA-TV reporter Lynne Hayes-Freeland and photographer Nikkia Hall have replicated “Pittsburghers Speak Up,” a man-on-the-street feature that reporter George Barbour and photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris produced for the Pittsburgh Courier from the 1950s to the 1970s. As did Harris and Barbour, the duo asked residents questions that originally were printed in the Courier decades ago. The display will rotate through the run of the exhibit, but the first pairing asked people for their thoughts about the state of race relations in the city. Pittsburghers’ responses in February 2014 surprisingly were similar to those from September 1957 — just as hopeful and frustrated.

“The best part was really asking myself the questions,” says Hall.

The show’s run covers portions of two school years, creating the opportunity for diverse programming, including self-portrait making, film festivals, a scholarly look at skin color from Penn State University anthropology professor Nina Jablonski and a talk from NPR correspondent Michele Norris. The museum also wants to be a clearinghouse for Pittsburgh’s cross-cultural events. Given the focus, this approach to programming was crucial, says Shellman.

“This needed to be a community-focused exhibition.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Meet Some Steelers, Get Some Autographs, Help Some Kids

Meet Some Steelers, Get Some Autographs, Help Some Kids

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive line and the team's entire rookie class will be signing autographs for charity later this week.
Richard DeShantz Shows You How to Make Pot Roast Like a Pro

Richard DeShantz Shows You How to Make Pot Roast Like a Pro

The owner of Meat & Potatoes shares his delicious techniques with a national TV audience.
The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

When viewed from the foot of the South Side Slopes of Pittsburgh, the stairs ascending Josephine Street form a massive image that consists of more than 7,500 individual mosaic tiles.
Joe Manganiello Plays the Good Guy for Children’s Hospital

Joe Manganiello Plays the Good Guy for Children’s Hospital

The actor, director and Mt. Lebanon native is joining the board of trustees of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Omar Abuhejleh taps deep into his roots at his vegan cafe that's focused on Levantine cuisine.
Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I still stare in bewilderment at people who tell me they’ve moved to a place because “You can’t beat the weather.”
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Meet Some Steelers, Get Some Autographs, Help Some Kids

Meet Some Steelers, Get Some Autographs, Help Some Kids

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive line and the team's entire rookie class will be signing autographs for charity later this week.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

Chefs Sonja Finn and Becca Hegarty helm the refurbished restaurant at the Carnegie Museums.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

For some reason Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the latest playoff rankings and Penn State is No. 7. That has to change if Penn State beats Wisconsin on Saturday night.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Before the Proposal: How to Ask her Parents' Permission

Before the Proposal: How to Ask her Parents' Permission

It can be more intimidating than the actual proposal, asking a father for his daughter's hand in marriage. Three grooms share their stories of how they popped that first big question.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Waynesburg University will present a TUBACHRISTMAS concert on Dec. 9.

Comments