What’s Race Got to Do With It?

For the past two weeks or so, the Science Museum of Virginia has been nudging (and in some cases pushing) us toward exploring a topic that makes some people feel uncomfortable.  A new exhibit at the museum asks: Race: Are We So Different?
It’s a tough question for some in Virginia. The state still honors Lee and Jackson with a state holiday and our state capital, Richmond, once was the capital of the Confederacy.
Toss in the fact that the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is being commemorated this year and some people are bound to feel a little uncomfortable talking about race in mixed company.
The exhibit described on the museum’s website as an examination of “the topic from scientific, historical and cultural perspectives” opens the door for forums, events and conversations about race and racism in America.
About 150 of us filled the museum’s third floor auditorium on Feb. 2 for what was billed as a community conversation. The moderator, Matthew Freeman of TMI Consulting cautioned the standing room only crowd that some of the conversation would be “difficult.”
I felt a tinge of discomfort in the air several times as Dr. Michael Blakey, National Endowment for the Humanities Professor at the College of William & Mary, spoke. He didn’t mince words as he told the crowd, which was 53 percent white, that the sense of white privilege still persists in American society.

Using automatic voting devices, we were able to  share our opinions on a range of questions posed throughout the evening. One telling fact: When asked, “Where is Richmond when it comes to racial equality?” nearly 35 percent said we have not achieved racial equity at all.
Not all of the events are meant to push you to the edge. Many are designed to be fun while educating.
On opening day, dancers from different cultures were featured. I sat on the floor alongside blonde-haired toddlers as Wayne Adkins and other Chickahominy Indians shared stories and danced across the huge rotunda’s marble floors.
We all joined hands and danced together in a final circle dance.

In the end, the exhibit and other events are meant to help move us toward discovering answers to the question of whether we really are different.
It’s an excellent start. Thanks to the museum and the Valentine Richmond History Center for moving the conversation forward.
But based on my 50-plus years of life experiences, I know that each of us will have to arrive at our own answers about race in our own way and in own time. Let’s hope it doesn’t take too much longer.


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