You Sound White

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The traveling Race Exhibit is currently residing at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. It is a mind blowing exhibit that is not easy to digest in one sitting. The topics range from crime and race to race and real estate (redlining and the Fair Housing Laws etc.) to racial disparities within education.

The photo below shows how each individual would’ve marked the census on the corresponding years. Should we continue to ask people to check a box indicating their race on our yearly census form? Judging from our history – we aren’t faring so well with the whole labeling thing. Lest us forget that race is a socially constructed  concept anyways. Is it important to keep this data for the sake of government benefits, money allocation and/or working to reintegrate communities (racially)? Does the Hispanic origin section confuse Latino’s? Why does White always come first on the census – shouldn’t it be alphabetical?

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People were asked to write down their thoughts throughout the exhibit. Here are a few:

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“What” are you?

2 thoughts on “You Sound White

  1. I sense in some of the kids’ responses what seems to be a deeply ambivalent experience with which I can relate – what am I to do with the fact that I have already, without consent and before my birth, been categorized? What am I to do with peoples’ stereotypes and perceptions of me? Can’t I simply been seen as an individual without the infinite, real or imagined, connections to my family/community/group? For me, to separate my understanding and the implications of my light skin, my mother, my blue eyed biological father, my education, my neighborhood(s), and my religion (among many other identity-shaping experiences) from words such as “white,” “non-hispanic,” “Hispanic,””Cuban,” and “privilege” would be almost impossible. There is, however, always the temptation to do so. I think the desire to defy labeling and live more into a narrative-based identity is beautiful and more rooted in the stuff of reality. My fear in disregarding labels, especially for myself, is that it may also disregard the almost-as-real world of race/class/prejudice/the myth of colorblindness/homophobia/etc. that certainly have real life ramifications for every person in this country. I love the questions you ask as they point to the muddy, objectifying, and ignorant systems we, the historically and presently privileged, created. SO, short answer to some of your questions: I think to ask someone to label themselves with labels that have been provided is, at best, problematic for people who do not identify with any of the options available. More thoughts on “Latino” in person (simply too much for me to condense). I think data often goes both ways – at times used for equality, at times used for exploitation. There is so much to this conversation; I’m blown away every time at the complexity and my own difficulty in seeing all the machinations of power within the realm of race.

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