By Yolanda T. Moses, University of California Riverside
I recently returned from North Carolina Museum of Natural History where the “Race Are We So Different Exhibit” will be until October 22, 2017. I had the honor to participate in the fourth of five community Town Hall Sessions that have been held since May of 2017. Dr. Alan Goodman was on the first panel which focused on the theme of “Closing the Race Gap.” A special thanks to Dr. Irma McClaurin, who is a special consultant to Museum for this project and has been with the AAA for over a decade in this journey. The Town Hall titled “(W) Rap on Race: Where do we go from here?” was prescient in that the panel members Dr. Jay S. Kaufman, Canada Research Chair in Health Disparities Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health at McGill University, Dr. Joseph Graves, Jr., associate dean for Research and Professor of Biological Sciences in the Joint School NC A&T and UNC Greensboro, myself and the moderator, Mr. Greg Fishel of WRAL Television discussed the importance of projects like RACE to provide accurate information for people across all divides and divisions to enable them to be able to understand and talk about the intractable issues of institutionalized racism here in the U.S. and particularly in the Southeastern United States.
I have visited more than a dozen science centers and museums in different regions of the U.S. over the past ten years that the exhibit has been traveling. In every location it has a particularly unique impact because it takes on the issues and local racialized environment. Collectively, we have produced a powerful set of materials that will provide anyone who is interested in engaging with the topic the ability to do so. But it is now time to figure out how to engage those people who are not engaged but need to be. I will give you an example of what I mean. Our project intentionally developed a set of age appropriate materials for parents to talk with their children about race during or after the time they visit the museum (see www.understandingrace.org). Informal feedback from the NCNSM indicates that the majority of black families visited the exhibit with their children, while the majority of white attendees did not. When asked why not, at least the informal analysis is that they felt the material was too “harsh” or “uncomfortable” for their children to see.
We need to be more intentional and strategic about tackling the issues of “white denial” and “white privilege” as we continue this very important work. We must engage people who “still do not see” or who not want to see, that they are beneficiaries of the historical and contemporary consequences of institutionalized racism and its disproportionate negative impact on the lives, bodies, and life chances of people of color in this country.
Moving forward as anthropologists, our research, teaching, and activism will be carried out in a much more politically charged, divisive, and highly racialized environment. For one thing, the power of white supremacy is no longer hidden in our democracy, it is now embodied in the President of the United States. He has unleashed a whole new level of racial animus and vitriol, and has culturally sanctioned behavior from white supremacist groups that now dominate our news and social media. This will be our new normal especially on our college and university campuses where the Alt Right has declared war on us and on our liberal ideas. We need to be ready for long engagement.
Yolanda T. Moses served as President of the American Anthropological Association, Chair of the Board of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, Past President of City University of New York/ The City College (1993-1999), and President of the American Association for Higher Education (2000-2003). She currently serves as Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside.
Find more resources about race on the AAA website at www.americananthro.org/understandingrace.