It happens most frequently when I’m in a restaurant. As I look up at the waitperson, he or she is looking into my face with a look of wonder and will oftentimes say: Your eyes are so different! Where did you get those blue eyes?
Here in America, I’m racially identified as an African American, many of whom have brown eyes. Unless you’re in a room with my family or looking at our family pictures, you will miss the ethnic origin or tribal affiliations of my ancestors — a scattering of African and Native Americans and European whites — until you look directly into my blue eyes.
Research reveals that blue eye color arose in Romania 6,000 to 10,000 years ago when a genetic mutation turned off the ability to produce brown eyes. People with blue eyes are most common in Ireland, the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe. As multiple generations migrated from Africa to Europe to America, they sometimes picked up blue eyes along the way.
That insight and so much more are explored in a thoughtful exhibit at the Pacific Science Center through Jan. 5. The exhibit provides context on issues such as linguistic profiling — how we make assumptions about people when we can hear them but can’t see them.
The exhibit also illustrates the social, economic and political forces that have changed the concept of race in the U.S. Census. In the exhibit you see a detailed graphic from the first census in 1790, where three categories of identification were offered — Indian, slave and white — to the 2000 census, the first in which people were allowed to officially acknowledge all the sources of their ancestry by selecting more than one racial category. Almost 7 million chose more than a single race factor that year.
And because the exhibit encourages guests to investigate and discuss the science, history and everyday impact of race, we’re launching this blog to help facilitate that conversation.
Students from the Department of Communication at the University of Washington will share the personal reflections of exhibit-goers as well as tap into the conversations taking place across the community. Stories will also examine and highlight how race affects our daily lives, from the tensions faced by a community when a Native American mascot is removed from a team to a more personal sharing from two siblings within a family who are viewed as racially different.
In conjunction with the exhibit’s run through early January, the City of Seattle’s Race and Justice Initiative will host more than 150 conversations among people from businesses, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, neighborhood associations, government agencies and other groups from the community.
“These groups will come together to discuss and craft a vision for racial equity and identify how we can work together to achieve it,” according to Diana Falchuk, Outreach Specialist with the Race and Social Justice Initiative. Interviews from group representatives participating in these conversations will also be featured in this blog.
We invite you to see the exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, read the stories here on our blog, contact one of our partners to have your voice heard, and return to our blog to see the conversation as a whole.
Carole Carmichael, Assistant Managing Editor/Community Engagement