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Understanding race

By Carlina Duan, Community Culture Editor
Published February 7, 2013

Furthermore, the Understanding Race Project has implemented a vast array of film screenings, panels and discussions across local venues such as Zingerman’s, the Hatcher Graduate Library and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens throughout the term.

The Museum of Natural History also created a supplement to the “RACE” exhibit within the museum itself. Titled “Race in this Place: A Community Conversation,” the additional exhibit attempts to highlight race in four thematic areas: education, health, the legal system and immigration. In each of the four areas, the exhibit showcases local community organizations that delve into conversations about race in those areas. “Race in this Place” includes many joint projects with community organizations, including the Neutral Zone’s Students Educating Each other about Diversity (SEED) program.

A metaphor for identity

Danny Brown, one of the co-directors of SEED at the Neutral Zone, described the mission of the program.

“It’s not just talking at kids about diversity,” he said. “But it’s bringing their life experiences into a room together and celebrating difference and discovering how their own lives fit into larger context in society in a way that’s entwined.”

Brown helps lead the program of Ann Arbor high-school students, who are trained to facilitate conversations about youth with other youth in the community.

“(The youth) have intense dialogues on race that focus on, not only people understanding their own race, but how their race fits in a system and what that means in their position in society,” Brown said.

Within the local museum exhibit, SEED teens were also featured in a video alongside community members, in which all discussed race relations within the Ann Arbor community.

The exhibit also features a unique art project created by the SEED youth. Lined behind a glass case, goggles were splashed with various Sharpie colors — featuring bubble letters, drawings of hockey sticks and other graphic designs.

“We ask (teens) to think about their race, gender, social class and other factors, and we ask them after reflecting that to transpose some of those elements of themselves onto these goggles,” Brown said.

The teens then wore the goggles at a weekend retreat, and looked at each other through their goggle creations — examining one another through their constructed identities.

“It becomes a metaphor for identity — identity being a frame for how you make decisions, build relationships,” Brown explained. “It’s also a metaphor for how people perceive you, because while you’re looking at someone’s goggles, other people are also looking at you and making assumptions about your goggles.” In this way, students are able to view their identities through interaction about race with others.

Alex Kime, a senior at Skyline High School, is a SEED student facilitator. He believes working in the SEED program alongside the theme semester has helped him examine his own race in relations to others.

“As a white person, it’s my privilege to not be as affected by race as someone who’s a person of color,” Kime said. “You have to always think about your own privilege, and it’s always an act of unlearning. SEED helped me look at that.”

Student interactions with race are happening within classrooms at the University as well. According to Harris, there are approximately 130 theme semester courses being offered this semester. For Evelyn Alsultany, associate professor of American Culture, these classes offer crucial dialogue about race that need to happen on college campuses in order to make others reflect upon the changing nature of race.

“Through the theme semester, we want to shed light on the different ways of understanding this as part of a larger history of race and racism that we are still in the process of overcoming,” Alsultany said.