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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 7, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Race project | Exhibit might not answer all questions, but it gets you thinking

Picture of Daniel Wershow at RACE exhibit

Retired attorney Daniel Wershow visits the “RACE: Are We
So Different” exhibit at the Pacific Science Center.
(Photo by Jimmy Lovaas)

Daniel Wershow is a retired Seattle-area attorney and a student of history. He’s also an example of how complex race is.

Wershow, whom some would  categorize as white, grew up in a predominantly white Chicago suburb in the 1950s and ’60s.

“I believe when I was in high school there were perhaps two people who wouldn’t… be classified as white,” Wershow said. “Maybe four.”

As for his own ancestry, Wershow said he’s not sure how he would have categorized himself growing up.

“I don’t know what I would have said,” Wershow said. “Jewish? White? I’d probably say I was American.”

He said he would have called himself American because his race isn’t exactly clear even to him. What’s more, he posed an important question:

“What is the answer based on?” Wershow said.

“All four of my grandparents came from what at the time was the czar’s empire. None of them spoke English. Their identity cards, if they were issued in the beginning of the 20th century, would have said Yahudi. So they (Russia) considered Jew a race.

“(But) the Russians didn’t consider us Russians. The Poles didn’t consider us Polish. The Ukranians didn’t consider us Ukranian.”

They were just Jews.

“But that’s a big question,” Wershow said. “Who is a Jew and is Jewish a race? Jews ask that same question.”

It’s a complex question.

And while Wershow’s recent visit to the RACE exhibit at the Pacific Science Center may not have brought him closer to answering that question, he said it did confirm a lot of what he already knew.

Wershow said he’s studied American history extensively, particularly the 20 years leading up to the Civil War. Accordingly, he said he was familiar with a lot of the historical aspects of the exhibit.

But he also said he enjoyed exploring the more contemporary pieces. In particular, he was fascinated by an interactive display that has the listener try to identify a speaker’s race by their speech.

Wershow said he wasn’t sure how the experience of visiting the exhibition would impact his views on race or how it might affect his life. But he said it was a good experience.

“It’s immediate,” Wershow said. “It’s happening right now – this exhibit. So, therefore, I think more about race and I might think more about race later as time goes on.”

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