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Discovery Center Takes Scientific Look at Race

There are many different ways to identify a person, from economic status to differences in skin color. The “Race: Are We So Different” exhibit at the Discovery Center takes a scientific look at the history, genetics and politics that have developed around the classification system that we call race. KSMU’s Matthew Barnes reports.

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Television monitors, interactive displays and information booths are spread around three floors of the Discovery Center for the exhibit which takes a more scientific approach to understanding differences in race. Charlotte McCoy is coordinator of the exhibit.

“There is a lot of history to it that I don’t think people really understood or remember. You might have only been taught a certain amount in school so this exhibit focuses a lot on the history. It started with the Europeans and the whole Census,” said McCoy.

Part of the exhibit displays how society developed and handled race from the start of European exploration until today, and what factors went into classifying a person’s race.  Skin-tone and hair were some standard ways of classifying someone, but at times it would be arbitrary traits like the ability to digest milk, according to Peter Nielebock, a staff member of the Discovery Center.

“Though it’s called race, I would call it more labeling,” said Nielebock.

The exhibit also focuses on genetic aspects of what makes people different and the disparities in     health that other cultures may have, according to McCoy.

 “[we’re] Investigating can you really tell race by the bones. Can you tell race by your blood. Again looking at the color of your skin, taking your blood pressure,” say McCoy.

African-Americans have the highest rate of hypertension among those of African descent worldwide, while Nigerians have the lowest. According to Nielebock most differences in health could be attributed more to regional factors than race.

“People who may look alike, even within the body, there are so many differences. Because of the different environment that they are growing up, the different culture, the different geographical locations. We’ve got [the] same background but over years we have different adaption,” said Nielebock.

“I guess the bottom line is that there is science behind everything we do so there is science behind race,” said McCoy.

The exhibit runs at the Discovery center until mid-September. For more information about the exhibit, visit understandingrace.org. For KSMU, News I’m Matthew Barnes.