Busting Racism

In 2018, staff at a large midwest children’s museum began working on an exhibit to spark conversation about race among families. Preliminary research revealed that museums were eager for such an exhibit, and many relevant tools existed to inform the project. When the pandemic hit and staff were laid off, a new idea formed: develop the exhibit on race with other underemployed museum staff, and center BIPOC voices.

Throughout the summer of 2020, six laid-off museum workers prepared the groundwork and recruited participants on social media, where I stumbled upon the group in August. The group understood that unless museums are for a specific minority group, most of them center whiteness, have a majority white staff, and serve predominantly white visitors. BIPOC communities often feel unwelcome and excluded. I was drawn to the concept for a number of reasons: I have experienced racism, have been studying Japanese American mixed-race and disability history for 15 years, and witnessed the recent surge in hate crimes in the U.S.

In early September 2020, I attended a virtual Q&A session with nearly 100 others, including several Minnesotans. Participants comprised a spectrum of people, from an anthropology major working in fashion to a STEM educator. Some wanted to use their museum experience; others had spent their lives and careers surrounded by white supremacy and wanted to support equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Currently we have a core group of eight who have met weekly for 14 months — four members are from the midwest, two are on the east coast, one is on the west coast, and one is in Aruba. We also settled on a name for our group: Free- thinking Abolitionists Interpreting Racism (FAIR) Collective.

We continue to meet as a team as well as in subgroups for design, education, exhibit development, content research, and funding. Because of the pandemic, I have seen more of the collective members than I have of my friends and much of my family, and we have become close. I have mostly worked in exhibit development and content research, looking at existing exhibits that discuss race or similar issues and compiled lists of materials on race and racism — books, podcasts, and websites — as resources for teachers and guardians.

We have created over 600 themes, topics, and sample components. Our early topics included bias in education, health care, and law enforcement, and sample components included a maze that explores racism against different groups and a whack-a-mole game to teach children about bias and how to overcome it.

Eventually we settled on a scalable, interactive, traveling exhibit on and around a school bus for families of five- to twelve-year-olds.

The exhibit will be child-led and focus on their curiosity because we believe children see and understand much more than adults think they do. We will provide a space to discuss uncomfortable topics that caregivers might not at home.

We want children to identify and interpret their biases, understand racism by focusing on inequality, and learn to see and call out racism in their families and communities. I am in awe of what we have accomplished so far and hope that our exhibit will make a difference.

Selena Moon (she/her) is a factchecker for Minnesota Women’s Press.