The shade of your skin has about as much to do with your character as the social security number you're assigned, yet it's often a primary factor in how others perceive you.
The merit of such racial assumptions comes up against hard scientific evidence in a traveling exhibition on display at Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. Called "Race: Are We So Different?" it reveals, through cutting-edge science, what race is and what it is not. It also examines racial ideas and practices in contemporary American life and looks at the history of race, a notion of sorting people by physical differences that's only a few hundred years old, according to the American Anthropological Association.
"Race is a deeply personally issue, but one in which we all relate in one way or another. This exhibition is an opportunity to explore the science, history and shared experiences through hands-on, immersive explorations," says Chevy Humphrey, president and CEO of Arizona Science Center.
Highlights of those interactive experiences include:
• "Who's Talking?" an activity in which visitors match voices to photos of people.
• "The Colors We Are," a station where visitors scan their skin and watch the shade appear on a screen with dozens of other visitors' skin colors.
• An exploration of the United States Census that demonstrates how ideas about race morph over time according to social, economic and political forces.
• A look at race and medicine through a study of high blood pressure and the people who suffer from it.
• A video in which high schoolers share their views on racial identity and how their opinions differ from those of their parents.
The exhibit also includes artifacts and historic and contemporary photographs.
"Through science, ‘Race' will give guests an opportunity to explore their own views on race and racism," says Humphrey.
The exhibition is part of the Race Project, an initiative developed by the American Anthropological Association with funding from the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation to develop a public education program about race.
It is open through Jan. 2, 2011, in Phoenix. After that, it will move to Boston and 12 other cities, including the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., through 2013.