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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

November 5, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Race project | Catching race: seeing its finest traces through dialogue

John W. Jessop, a first-generation American with a British father and Portuguese mother from the Azores, encountered race riots at his high school in the 1970s. Though he claimed he is familiar with the concept of racial discrimination, a new exhibit in Seattle is expanding his point of view.

“I thought I knew pretty much all the different ways that discrimination shows itself, but was shown (through the exhibit) the many subtle ways that minorities were discriminated against,” said Jessop, a student at Edmonds Community College  and executive officer for administrative liaison for the  student government. Jessop recently went to the Pacific Science Center’s exhibit  “Race: Are We So Different?”

After the exhibit, Jessop said he was surprised by the fact that although people in certain communities might seem to have equal rights, racial discrimination still made its way through and was able to actively work against those rights.

“I had always held onto the belief that being veteran military meant that you had equal opportunities in housing, since we all had veteran’s benefits,” Jessop said. “What I didn’t take into account was that if a person was discriminated against in where they could live — a nice neighborhood versus a not-so-nice neighborhood — they couldn’t reap the home value increases as their ‘whiter’ counterparts.”

Thus, said Jessop, minorities couldn’t increase wealth at the same rate as whites. While the  discrimination was subtle, the economic and social impacts are more extensive.

 

Exhibit feature on housing discrimination

A feature of Pacific Science Center’s RACE Exhibit shows how various housing districts used to segregate tenants based on their race. According to the exhibit, such discriminations still happen, albeit in a more subtle way. (Photo by Imana Gunawan)

Caroline M. Hartse, an anthropology professor at Olympic College in Bremerton, is more familiar with the topics of the Science Center’s exhibit. She was at the exhibit for  background observations and plans a class visit.

As a professor, she has spent most of her adult life studying topics related to the exhibit. Growing up, Hartse wondered why certain groups faced discrimination because of their religious beliefs. She then chose to go into anthropology, which led her to learn from many of the scholars featured in the exhibit.

Hartse said that although the exhibit itself did not present anything particularly new for her, studying anthropology opened her eyes to the idea of race and racial relations as a social construct. This social construct can then influence society in the smallest of ways. For example, in the past, so-called “scientific” data had been used to “prove” that the Anglo-caucasian race is superior. However, Hartse said, that data can be biased by the pre-existing belief that “whites are better,” which was a common belief throughout much of history.

Hartse identifies herself as having Norwegian and Swedish ancestry, and she grew up in a largely “white” environment. She later added that even the concept of “white” environment is itself a social construct, as there are associations to such an environment but not a definitive meaning of it.

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