- Associated Press - Monday, January 25, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream” speech asked that society judge others not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. The Science Museum of Minnesota is tackling that issue from a scientific standpoint with an exhibit called “RACE: Are we so different?”

The exhibit answers that question using a 10-minute play, maps and graphics and plenty of hands on, interactive components.

In one corner of the race exhibit, there are two rows of photographic portraits. They’re shots of people’s faces from the neck up, on a white background.

The photos show people with multiple ethnic heritages, and underneath their portraits, in their own handwriting, they describe how they view themselves. In small, light gray print at the bottom, there is a list of their ethnic makeup.

The display made Sally Cameron do a double-take.

“I came back. I was totally fascinated not only to read their words, but to see what their heritage was underneath,” she told Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1KrJM7T ).

The exhibit explores race in three major ways - through science, history and social systems.

The central theme of the exhibit is this: The difference in genetic makeup between races is minuscule.

Dwayne Billups brought a group of Boy Scouts from the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul to the exhibit on Jan. 16. Billups says he wants the boys to understand the bottom line about race.

“They need to know that there is no race, there’s only one race, there’s the human race,” he said. “And color has very little to do with it with the exception of how they are perceived in America and there are limits that are placed upon them and we just wanted to bring them down here to show them that those limits and those barriers can be overcome.”

Billups said one way to make that point is to introduce the young men to the dozens of African-American scientists who were presenting exhibits Jan. 16. Billups and the Scouts spent hours exploring the museum. And one of the Scouts explained what he learned on the field trip.

“My name is Dameer, Dameer White. I am 9 years old. I just wanted to say, you don’t have to treat people like they’re different, everybody’s exactly the same.”

The Science Museum’s Joanne Jones-Rizzi helped create the exhibit. She says it doesn’t look to scold people, but offers a science-based view of the history of race in America.

“Here’s something that is so much a part of our lives in so much that we think exists,” she said. “And so how historically has this invention been embedded in all of our lives?”

The exhibit touches on segregation, racial inequities in the U.S., and personal histories.

Jones-Rizzi says the exhibit was first introduced by the museum in 2007 and has traveled the country since. She says it doesn’t deal with current events, but she hopes it might help facilitate more discussion about them.

“This exhibit can be a catalyst for a discussion about those current events, and can provide a kind of touchpoint for people to begin those conversations.”

And she’s seen that happening, even between complete strangers. She’s also seen people coming in and taking notes - a rare sight in her 30 years of working in museums.

“You know the things the things you write down are the things you want to remember and the things that you might want to think about more. So, for me that was very rewarding,” she said.

Ra Kour brought her teenage son to see a movie in the Omnitheater about natural disasters. But it was sold out. So they went to the race exhibit instead. She’s been a member of the museum since 1993 and she says the race exhibit is the greatest exhibit she’s seen at the museum.

“It exposed something that a lot of people can freely talk about because of shame, humiliation or whatever we feel,” she said.

She was especially moved by a video display which has people speaking about their experiences dealing with race in the United States.

“And as a minority person myself, I appreciate it very much. Now my story was seen some place here so I can show my sons that that’s what mommy goes through, too, those experiences.”

The exhibit has a home in the museum for at least the next two years.

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