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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.
Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

According to a financial advising site, Pittsburgh is both affordable and a good place to find a job for those fresh out of college.
Harold Hayes' Biggest Retirement Fear, It's Not What You Think

Harold Hayes' Biggest Retirement Fear, It's Not What You Think

Hayes leaves KDKA TV after nearly 37 years with his legacy as one of the city's most respected, fair and accurate reporters – and his priceless sense of humor – firmly intact.
What to Watch Out For in This Year’s Pittsburgh Marathon

What to Watch Out For in This Year’s Pittsburgh Marathon

Marathon weekend can be a challenge for both runners, who are trying to finish the grueling race, and spectators who are simply trying to get around. We've got the info you need, whether you're running or watching from the sidelines.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

The case against TouchTunes, the streaming music loudspeaker that can't stop screwing up the vibe at local bars.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

For the Steelers, this is a draft that’s long on need but short on intrigue.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Off to the Races

Off to the Races

Want to shade yourself in style at Derby Day and the PNC Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Spring Hat Luncheon? Look no further.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Reviews of "Mother's Day," "Keanu," "Green Room" and local film news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

The Tech Savvy program from the American Association of University Women aims to interest middle school girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Comments