Inside the Museum

Race: Conversations with the Future

Dec 29 2017

Candace Bey is one of the Museum’s gallery engagement associates for Race: Are We So Different? In this blog post, she reflects on the thoughtful interactions she has had with our young visitors.

I spend my days listening. People ask me simple things like “Where’s the bathroom?” and muse about what the Museum should offer next. They also ask deeper questions about the content of Race. Sometimes we come to a conclusion, sometimes we are left with more things to ponder. The most common and strangest question I get is: “Are the kids really getting it? But are they really getting it?”

Candace at work in the Race gallery. All photographs by CHM staff

Hundreds of children stream through the Museum’s doors every day, whether on a field trip or with their families and friends, and most of my most insightful conversations have been with them. Kids are the most likely to try every interactive and wonder aloud. They are curious and process information collectively. They are open to different perspectives and constantly digesting their experiences. Damien, a student from LaGrange, and I had a great back-and-forth about the assumptions we make about people through their voices and the effects those choices have on others. A sixth grader who visited with her family for her birthday shared her thoughts on the curiosities of segregated lunch tables. Carol, a high school student from Lincolnshire, talked about what she would add to the exhibition and discussions on American history as a whole, and she shared with me her stories on racism in her own life. Through these students and their peers, I get a glimpse into the mind of the next generation. This perspective is unique and I cherish it, so I want to share what I’ve seen: the future is in good hands.

The exhibition begins with a large floor map that invites visitors to think about their ancestral origins.

The youth who visit CHM come from across Chicago and its surrounding suburbs and represent all of the rich cultures that make up our country. They are very much alike in that they all come with curiosity. They see how race plays out in their own lives and are eager to talk about it. They want to be heard. As adults, we sometimes underestimate them: we deem conversations about race and politics as too much for them and assume they won’t engage. We decide that it is a task best left for us to solve and that they can worry about it when they’re older. But the truth is they are already worried, and they are already working, and we need to be around to hear them.

Two young visitors discover how genes are passed down through generations.

Museums are institutions of learning. I see them as places that can fill the gaps of formal education. There are only so many hours in a school day and only so many topics our teachers can cover within them. Museums can enhance learning, and Race: Are We So Different? is doing just that. It provides the space for kids to share their perspectives and offers the knowledge to guide their thoughts toward productive solutions. So when visitors come in and ask if the kids are getting it, I tell them “Of course they are.” The real question is: are we listening?

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