Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, January 7, 2013

Understanding Race Project begins with exhibit and panel discussion

Few subjects provoke as strong a visceral response as the topic of race. Beginning this week U-M will launch an examination of race through the Understanding Race Project.


More information about the Understanding Race Project.

From January through April, an extensive range of public exhibits, performances, lectures and symposia, and more than 130 courses in several disciplines will explore the concept of race and its impacts. The historical, cultural, psychological and legal interpretations of race will be examined from local, national and global perspectives.

On Wednesday, the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit "IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas" opens at the Duderstadt Center Gallery on North Campus. Gallery hours are noon-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and noon-5 p.m. on Sundays.

The exhibit showcases the story of people who share African American and Native American ancestry. For 500 years or more, African Americans and Native Americans have come together, creating shared histories, communities and ways of life. Often divided by prejudice, laws or twists of history, African-Native Americans are united by a double heritage that is truly indivisible.

On Thursday, a roundtable discussion, "Identities in Red, Black and White," will address mixed-race identities from autobiographical and storytelling perspectives and within the context of social and cultural analysis. The panelists express a mixed native identity via family and cultural ties.

Tiya Miles, professor of Afroamerican and African studies and Native American studies, will moderate the discussion. Panelists include Philip Deloria, professor of history, American culture, and Native American studies; Adesola Akinleye, dance scholar and founder of Dancing Strong; Elizabeth Atkins, a U-M alumna and Detroit-based best-selling novelist and journalist, and Robert Keith Collins, assistant professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University.

The panel discussion will be from 4-6 p.m. at the Arthur Miller Theatre on North Campus, followed by a reception and exhibit viewing at the Duderstadt Center Gallery.

The roundtable discussion is the beginning of the Understanding Race Winter 2013 Theme Semester, which is part of the project. The semester offers courses examining national and global ideas about race as well as challenges to racism. Dozens of symposia, lectures and other public events are included as part of the semester, sponsored by LSA.

An exhibit, developed by the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota, titled "Race: Are We So Different?" opens Feb. 9 at the Museum of Natural History. It will be the cornerstone for the theme semester.

Visitors will see a mosaic of photos, graphics, interactive displays and artifacts to learn about the history of the idea of race and to evoke an everyday portrait of what it means to live with race as a reference for personal identity, cultural construct and political constituency.

Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Angela Davis, educator and civil rights activist; and Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J., are among the dozens of lecturers speaking at U-M as part of the project.

"The Understanding Race Project is as broad and varied as the cultural and ethnic groups that constitute, define and sometimes divide the human family here and around the globe," said Amy Harris, co-chair of the project and director of the Museum of Natural History.

"We invite both the U-M community and the public to join the discussion to learn more about how social constructs like race have defined substantial portions of our history and continue to impact our lives today."

In November, the museum opened the "Race in This Place" exhibit featuring video conversations about race with Washtenaw County residents. The Understanding Race Project also engages community residents and organizations and involves all 10 public school districts in Washtenaw County.

The project is beginning as racial prejudice appears to be increasing in the United States, with 51 percent of Americans expressing anti-black attitudes in October 2012, compared with 48 percent in 2008, according to recent polls by The Associated Press.