Chicago History Museum Presents RACE: ARE WE SO DIFFERENT? Review – an exhibit confronting race issues in the US

Editor’s Note:  Read related interviews in the George Floyd: In Memoriam roundup.

Chicago History Museum RACE: ARE WE SO DIFFERENT? Review
Hands-on Interactive: An interactive game about the traits people share yields surprising results that challenge visitors to reconsider the ways in which they categorize people. Photo courtesy of the American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota

RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit is at the Chicago History Museum

The Chicago History Museum brings to Chicago the traveling exhibition RACE: Are We So Different? This exhibition makes us take a look at the history, science and social experiences of race and racism in the United States. “RACE will offer Museum visitors a chance to explore the science and history of a concept that has had and continues to have a real and devastating impact in people’s lives, throughout the nation and in our own city.” said Joy Bivins, director of curatorial affairs at the Chicago History Museum.

History, Science and Race

This exhibition has been developed by the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota and it is made up of artifacts, historic and contemporary photography, multimedia components, and interactive activities. RACE is structured in three sections, each of them focusing on a different approach: history, science and race in contemporary life.

Chicago History Museum RACE: ARE WE SO DIFFERENT? Review
Self-Identification: "What are you?" asks artist Kip in his photographic installation, The Hapa Project. As they encounter a multiplicity of answers, visitors reflect on the sharp contrast between common conceptions of race and the fluidity of personal identity. Photos courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota
Chicago History Museum RACE: ARE WE SO DIFFERENT? Review
Skin Color: A young visitor adds her skin tone to an ever-changing palette assembled from visitors' contributions. Photo courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota

The science of race

As we enter the exhibition area, the first thing we see is a panel with the question “Why talk about race?” On the same panel, there is an embedded screen showing a 5-minute introductory video on race and racism. In this first space, the public is exposed to the science of race and we discover that the relationship between bones and races is not that clearly established and that is mainly because race is a recent human invention. We also find out about the journey of genes and why people have such a variety of skin colors. One of the interactive activities here is called The Colors We Are. For this activity, you put your hand under a camera that scans your skin and then you can see your skin shade appear as a color on a screen and compare it with the shades of other visitors.

History of race in the US

Next, we get to explore the History of race in the United States and how this concept has been used politically and scientifically to justify the unequal treatment of people. In this area we find a very interesting activity. Who’s Talking? Makes us listen different people talking and then match their voices with people in photos on a screen. It is interesting to see the results and it´s even more interesting when several visitors join and express their assumptions before the connections are revealed. As all the activities in this exhibit, this is especially interesting to do with children.

Chicago History Museum RACE: ARE WE SO DIFFERENT? Review
Child & Guardian: A resource center at the heart of the exhibit welcomes small children with books, games and other activities. Photo courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota

Race in contemporary life

In the last section, the exhibit focuses on Race in Contemporary Life. The contemporary experience of race and racism is approached from different angles like: youth, education, schools, medicine and how health is affected by race and the US Census among others. One of the first things we see entering this area is a device that measures your blood pressure and information on the most vulnerable groups of people to blood pressure related health problems.

We continue with the section dedicated to youth and education and here we find a video featuring students from St. Paul, Minnesota’s Central High School relating their views of racial identity and how they differ from those of their parents. But there are also school desks to sit and read about this topic and school lockers revealing interesting insights.

Chicago History Museum RACE: ARE WE SO DIFFERENT? Review
Family Participation: Together, a family discovers that assumptions can be misleading as they listen to voices and try to match them with pictures of the speakers. Photo courtesy of American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota

Evolution of the concept of race

While exploring this area, one of the last things we will see is a big panel called An exploration of the United States Census. It is actually a photography illustrating people of different races showing how the concept of race has changed through the years from the US Census point of view. It is interesting to see how at different times in the American history, the conception of race and the names assigned to each racial group have morphed due to social, economic and political forces.


Thru July 15, 2018

Museum hours
Monday 9:30 am - 4:30 pm
Tuesday 9:30 am - 7:30 pm
Wednesday – Saturday 9:30 am - 4:30 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL


$16 adults
$14 seniors/students
Free for children 12 years and younger
For more information visit the
Chicago History Museum website

Laura Buciuman
Laura Buciuman Photo by Casey Mitchell

About the Author

Laura Buciuman is currently a Marketing Assistant at the Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago. Open-minded and curious, with a major in journalism and philosophy (North University, Romania) and two Master Degrees, one in English and Spanish for specific and business purposes (Alicante University, Spain) and another in International Tourism (EOI Business School, Spain), Laura is passionate about writing, storytelling, traveling, arts and culture. She has already lived in four different countries and visited many others and enjoys discovering different cultures. Reading, gastronomy, latin dances and yoga are some of her hobbies.

Editor's Note:  Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Laura Buciuman

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