Story of a Mixed-Race Teacher Recalled by the Exhibit

After seeing the Race Exhibit at Pacific Science Center, Amber Wolfe Wollam shared some of her stories and thoughts on race. She remembered that in the second grade, she was tested for a gifted program. She didn’t get it.

“My mother always thought, [since] we were living in the east coast, that the only reason I didn’t get in because I was a kid of color, and there weren’t many kids of color,” said Wollam.

However, Wollam, a 40-year-old private school teacher from Seattle, has always been optimistic. She has never felt offended when she’s been asked, “What are you?

To her, sometimes it was even fun to be “miscellaneous race.” She doesn’t mind answering the question, which many people find offensive. She laughed after she told me her favorite answer.

“I’m half black and half white, like our president,” said Wollam.

Instead of feeling offended, Wollam thought sometimes she might have made people feel uncomfortable. She was always curious to know more about others’ races. She also has a feeling that people who look mixed wouldn’t mind being asked “that question” by somebody else who is mixed. But the fact is, some of them do.

But no matter what, Wollam is very proud of being able to say that her dad is black and her mum is white. She also thinks that the exhibit has successfully challenged hers in some ways, just like what its poster says.

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Perspective of a Chinese-American Educator

Annie Zhou thinks “Race: Are We So Different?” has made her realize race is a global issue.
Photo by Ting Ting Chu.

Annie Zhou, a Chinese-American educator from International District in Seattle, thinks the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different” didn’t challenge her a lot. Instead, it has given her a deeper view of race through a scientific lens.

Zhou volunteers with the community as a facilitator for groups that are going to visit this race exhibit. She, nevertheless, didn’t visit it just because of this.

Currently Zhou is working at a high school. As a school counselor and an educator, she thinks talking about both race and equity is important. She said she saw it “played out” in school as well as the larger society.

I talked with Zhou when she was half-way through this exhibit. She didn’t think her thoughts were challenged a lot. That’s because she studied race in college, where she was a psychology major and sociology minor. She has already been engaging in this dialogue since she was in college. So, that kind of information was not new to her at all.

“Myself, I’m pretty clear what I’m racially and culturally,” said Zhou, who identified herself as a Chinese-American. However, she said lots of people, even Chinese and Asians, found it hard to believe that she was really a Chinese. “…They think I look Filipino.”

However, when it comes to friends, colleagues and strangers of other colors, they just all see her as Asian.

“But China is a big country…It’s a huge area of land, so, even people in China can’t believe, within their own country, that there are so much variation,” said Zhou.

Overall, though this race exhibit wasn’t full of surprises for Zhou, it did affect her in this ways: it has made her realize “race is an issue around the world.”

 

The Exhibit that Makes a Teacher Think More

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Poster of RACE: Are We So Different?

As it says on its poster, the exhibit, RACE: Are We So Different, tries to challenge visitors’ perspectives by leading them to look at race through a scientific lens. However, the seventh-grade teacher, whom I interviewed, doesn’t think she has changed her mind. Instead, she has “ thought more about the aspects of the exhibit that were particularly meaningful” to her.

“I’m looking at [the exhibit] through the lens of bringing my seventh-grade students here,” said Tamara Bunnell, 45, who is from Seattle, “so I have [my] individual reaction to it and also I’m sort of thinking of a larger theme about how do I break this down for my students.” As a teacher, she is also thinking of collaborating with science teachers in her school so as to include information that learned from the exhibit into her class.

Interested in the “generational components” in the exhibit, Bunnell said it was fascinating to see how race was constructed and the way the science community was in both 1800’s and now.

Other than that, in a follow-up email Bunnell also told me she has compared it with the film that showed a group of high school students discussing race in their lunchroom. “While I was inspired by how open and observant all those students were about race, I was disheartened by the extent to which their lives and lunch-sitting choices still seem bound and limited by racial identity, and how their experiences aren’t all that different from those of the various adults featured in the other films in the exhibit.”

Bunnell admitted that she had an assumption about people’s race before seeing this exhibit. The exhibit, nevertheless, has made her realize how easily she still “[accepts] and [falls] back on the typical racial identifiers we’ve been offered historically” and think about what that actually means for the “racial dialogue going on in this country and the larger world” and us.

“Actually I don’t know fully what my ancestry is,“ Bunnell answered when I asked if she has any trouble identifying her race or ancestry. Instead she would answer either “White” or “Caucasian” because she knows most of her heritage is European. Being very aware of her facial features, she said, “I look white. I’m very aware that I look white and even if I were to find out some of my heritage was different it wouldn’t change my primary identity or that people treat me as white.”

Overall, Bunnell said she could “envision a positive time in the future where [racial categories] no longer exist to limit us, and how we work with and see ourselves and others.” But the thing is, she still doesn’t know how to get “there.”

What is More Than a Race: A Mixed Race

                    Video by Team Mixed Show on Youtube

Throughout the week after visiting “RACE: Are We So Different?” I’ve been thinking about groups of people that would possibly have trouble identifying their races. The multiracial group, which is mixed race, then came to my mind immediately. I did some research on it and found the video above.

“So, what are you?”

Looking back to my past, I’ve never been asked this kind of offensive questions. I mean, why would I? Most people would just assume that I’m an Asian the first time they saw me, just like how they assume those “Asian-looking” mixed race people are.

Yet, there might be much more than just a race.

The Hapa Project in the exhibit says it all. The project was created by artist Kip Fullbeck, who has photographed more than 1200 people that identified themselves as “hapa.” The participants were also asked to handwrite their answers to the question “what are you?” after being photographed.

While I was looking at the photos and their responses, I realized they were all naked, without make-up and facial expressions. It’s because, “This is also about starting with as blank a slate as possible. Every way we present ourselves visually, from our style to our glasses to our jewelry to our expression, is a way of identifying ourselves culturally and socially. And I wanted people to just be who they were at their base, to be as much as possible at their essence,” as Kip stated in an interview he did with Discover Nikkei.

Even though I’ve never asked any of my mixed race friends the question above, I felt ashamed after the visit. I realized I’ve never actually spent time understanding them and their cultures. If you’ve already visited the exhibit, and took a look of the Hapa Project, did it change the way you think of the multiracial group? And if you have been asking your mixed friends that question, did you really try to understand “what” they and their cultures are before asking?