Why is ECHO hosting an exhibit on race?
ECHO educates guests about the Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunities for Stewardship of the Lake Champlain Basin. Humans not only interact with the natural environment, but also with one another. Race influences how we perceive ourselves and others, and is the basis for pride and identity, but also oppression and racism. These dynamics affect the social climate of our town, state and nation. By focusing on human cultures and the history of race in the United States, RACE: Are We So Different? will change the way you see yourself and others.
Burlington has become increasingly diverse in the last twenty years. There are over 90 languages and dialects spoken in Vermont, and 1 in 4 people moving to Burlington is a person of color. Burlington is also an official refugee resettlement city. In hosting RACE, ECHO is joining an ongoing community conversation about race and racism in a state that is traditionally perceived to be "white".
Where did RACE: Are We So Different? come from?
RACE: Are We So Different? was developed by the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota. It is the first national exhibition to tell stories about race from biological, cultural, and historical points of view. Combining these perspectives offers an unprecedented look at race and racism in the United States. Other science centers and museums that have hosted Race include the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and the Boston Museum of Science, among others.
Who is the exhibit appropriate for?
RACE: Are We So Different? is appropriate for visitors of all ages. Due to its a high volume of reading panels, it is most suited for middle school age and up. However, we encourage parents to use the exhibit to talk about race with younger children, too. Conversation guides for parents are available here and the exhibit includes a resource room with children's books and toys focused on race.
What is race, anyway?
Throughout history, both scholars and the general public have been lead to view human races as natural and separate divisions within the species based on visible physical differences like skin color, hair texture or nose shape. Within the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Today, contemporary scientific understanding of human variation challenges "racial" differences. There are, in fact, no genetic markers for race, and it is clear that all humans share a common ancestor. Race is a human invention, borne of social, economic and political factors. From the beginning, the idea of race was tied to power and hierarchy among people, with one group being viewed as superior and and others as inferior. Though science has debunked a biological basis for race and many notions of hierarchy have been removed, the legacy of this social construct continues to shape the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world.
Why do humans have different skin colors?
Skin color is an evolutionary adaptation to life under the sun. Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun helps convert vitamin D, essential to humans, into a form that allows us to absorb calcium. Ultraviolet radiation also destroys folate, a vitamin necessary for healthy fetal development. Skin color is a way for human bodies to regulate the amount of UVR that we take in. Skin color helps regulate the destruction of folic acid and the creation of vitamin D. Dark skin blocks out folate-damaging UVR, which is a necessary adaptation in regions where there is an abundance of sunlight. Light skin, on the other hand, allows UVR to enter to convert vitamin D. Light skin is more prevalent in areas where there is a limited amount of sunlight, and humans must maximize absorption.