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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

December 2, 2013 at 6:10 AM

Race project | Redefining Race: Why Skin Color Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

Before emigrating from China, Suqin Zhang didn’t think about race as often as she does in Seattle. Photo credit: Anna Erickson

Before emigrating from China, Suqin Zhang didn’t think about race as often as she does in Seattle. Photo credit: Anna Erickson

Before emigrating from China to Seattle nine years ago, Suqin Zhang didn’t think too much about race. In China, her family is 100 percent Chinese, and concepts of race didn’t exist.

Now as a member of the Racial and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) team, Zhang says the topic has been on her mind more often.

“What is race? And how are we going to define it?” Zhang says. “It’s a man-made concept, definitely. But what’s the definition of that? …We might need to change it because right now skin color doesn’t really tell the whole story.”

When I asked Zhang about the “RACE: Are we so different?” exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, she said she was drawn to a section that discussed accents. Zhang unfolded a piece of paper and read aloud a statement she had written down. It said that people shouldn’t feel like they need to mask their linguistic background, and instead should be free to speak in whatever way they feel comfortable.

Zhang said she always felt that way until she began working in customer service.

Since her position requires communication with the public, Zhang began to feel people shutting her off when she would speak because of her accent. She became stressed from these kinds of interactions and felt pressure to disguise her linguistic background. Zhang says this was a bit of a burden, but it’s also a reality depending on the type of work you’re pursuing.

Another part of exhibit that Zhang was intrigued with was a photo series by Kip Fulbeck called “The Hapa Project.” She remembered one woman’s quote under her picture that said, “I’m a person of color. I’m not half-white; I’m not half-black. I am 100 percent others.”

“So maybe ‘others’ is the way to define everyone, and if it’s the only way to define everyone then there’s no difference,” said Zhang.

Zhang hopes that this exhibition will spark conversations on race and plans on participating in upcoming workshops that will be held by the Racial and Social Justice Initiative at Seattle Center.

“The more we talk about it, the more we think about it, I think the better it will benefit the society.”

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