Where do you sit in the cafeteria?

Part of Exhibition: Race: Are We So Different?



of an Exhibit

by Wendy Pollock

Published on May 04, 2007

  • Description:

    This compelling area of the Race exhibition clearly derives its authenticity from the insights and involvement of the high school students with whom it was developed – and the invitation to visitors to contribute their own reflections. The form of the exhibition itself pulls a visitor into the experience of choosing where to sit in a school cafeteria – an experience that will resonate with anyone who has been a teenager. At the end of the table is a video of young people speaking about their own experiences with stereotyped expectations and interactions around racial identity. The 8-minute video was produced by students at St. Paul’s Central High. (Captioning makes it easy to read from a distance.) At the end is a box of cards and pencils and an invitation to respond to the question “How does race affect you at school?” Visitors can add their cards to a binder with plastic sleeves – and read what others have written. The materials and size of the writing surface, and perhaps the fact that visitors have control of whether or not their comments are added, seem to encourage thoughtful response. I’ve seen the exhibit on two occasions, and on both it was surrounded by people sitting and standing, talking and writing, completely absorbed.

Latest Comments (1)

An groundbreaking exhibit

by Daniel Spock - January 29, 2009

I have to admit I was pretty skeptical about this exhibit at first. I know several of the people who worked on getting it together and I could sense how hard it was, how much they were struggling to get it done right. Well, the result was brilliant. Rules were broken in similar fashion to those rules noted by Kathy McLean about the exhibit “Massive Change”, long, wordy labels and a pretty abstract subject: that race is isn’t a biological reality so much as it is a social construct. It blurred the lines between history, science and social science to great effect. (One of my big hobbyhorses these days is that the traditional disciplinary boundaries inhibit originality and relevance in the contemporary museum.) And visitors were really engrossed — I believe because the issue of race is so relevant, is such a powerful force in our world today. Growing up in the Boston area in the heat of the 1970’s bussing crisis, the cafeteria example was such an elegant way of bringing this home to people.

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