Thinking about race
Our staff writers say a museum exhibit got them thinking about why we make judgments and stereotypes based on race.
We recently checked out RACE: Are We So Different? at the California Science Center. Our staff writers say the exhibit got them thinking about why we make judgments and stereotypes based on race.
I loved that the exhibit was based on the idea that race is not something you can determine by looking at someone’s genes. It is a concept created by society during the era of European exploration. The Europeans felt that a different skin color justified selling people into slavery.
A lot of people ask me what race I am when they meet me because they think I’m white but I look a little Middle Eastern because I’m tan. I say I’m half Persian (my dad is from Iran). They say, “Really? I thought you were white.” It surprises me because I don’t think of myself as white. I think of myself as half-Iranian and part Armenian. The exhibit made me think about why people ask that. There is no reason for somebody to ask you about your race.
There was a quiz that showed the names of different countries. Visitors would choose if they thought people from those countries were white or non-white or if they were unsure. People thought of “white” as mostly people from European countries. I did too. I was surprised I was making the same judgments that people place upon me. Everyone does it, even without knowing, even me.
By Chantelle Moghadam, 15, Viewpoint School (Calabasas)
Visiting this exhibit reaffirmed to me how bad discriminating based on race is. The part of the exhibit on American Indians made me feel really bad for them. Sports teams have given themselves Indian mascots, such as the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins. These teams make Indians seem aggressive and ruthless when in fact they’re peaceful. This section of the exhibit ends with American Indians proclaiming in a video, “I am not a mascot.” Before seeing this exhibit, I fell for the stereotype. I now feel bad for thinking that way.
Growing up as a Mexican American in Los Angeles, I’ve noticed that people discriminate against my race, and I’m tired of it. One time I was walking to class when I overheard a boy ask his friend, “What is the difference between an elevator and a Mexican?” The other said he didn’t know. The boy told him, “One can raise a child.” This isn’t true because my family works hard every day to put food on the table and to support my two brothers and I. I was mad but I didn’t have the courage to tell him what he said was wrong.
People shouldn’t be judged on their race, they should be judged on their own characteristics, such as being nice or hardworking.
By Alex Quintana, 17, Warren HS (Downey)
I went in with an open mind. One part of the exhibit was about how we make assumptions based on what people look like. There was an activity with pictures of six men and six women. I pressed a button and listened to someone talk and had to figure out who the voice belonged to. There was one woman who had a Jamaican accent. I guessed she was black, but she turned out to be white. (I only guessed three right.)
The exhibit showed me that people make assumptions about race when they don’t know the person. It made me more aware. Sometimes I make assumptions about people based on the way they talk. Once I was talking to someone on the phone who I hadn’t met. As he talked I was wondering if he was white or black. When I met him, I was surprised to see he was Asian. I felt embarrassed that I assumed his race by the way he talked. I shouldn’t assume so quickly. I should get to know more about the person.
—By Caitlin Bryan, 17, Valley Alternative Magnet School (Van Nuys)
When I read that African Americans and Hispanics are highly underrepresented in colleges and workplaces even though affirmative action was created almost 50 years ago, it seemed like it wasn’t working. Affirmative action gives preference to minorities to ensure diversity in the workplace and college.
One quote I read said that affirmative action sends the message that there is something wrong with certain races and that they need more help getting into colleges. That’s how I’ve felt at my school, which is mostly white, especially this year since I’m a senior and applying to colleges. Affirmative action makes me feel like I’m below my white classmates because I’ll be getting the benefit of it when I apply to some colleges.
After going to the exhibit, I feel that affirmative action shouldn’t be race based, but should include other factors that can be a disadvantage, like income and where you went to school. I’m African American, attend a private school and my dad is a doctor, so I don’t think I should get the benefits of affirmative action. I think someone who is white and is from a low-income family and doesn’t go to a private school deserves the advantage much more than I do. I have a college counselor I can meet with every week and SAT tutors. If someone doesn’t have these things, that isn’t their fault.
By Casey Peeks, 18, Marlborough School
The RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit is at the California Science Center until Dec. 31, 2009. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with free admission. Parking is $8.
The Science Center is two miles from downtown at 39th Street and Figueroa. For more info (323) 724-3623 or californiasciencecenter.org.