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Understanding "Whiteness" and Unlearning Racism

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June 18, 2009

Contact Name: Anne Kelsey
Contact Phone: (703)528-1902 x1171

 Understanding “Whiteness” and Unlearning Racism

RACE Project provides tools for combating hate crime

June 18, 2009 - The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has produced the public education program RACE Are We So Different? to "unteach" racism. 

According to statistics compiled by the FBI, reported hate crime incidents in the U.S. have risen by more than 50 percent since 2000.  Among other factors, this trend has been attributed to the economic downturn and backlash against nonwhite immigration and, most recently, the election of President Barack Obama.

As the recent shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum tragically illustrated, racism and anti-Semitism remain stark realities in the U.S. and abroad.

The shooting, carried out by 88-year-old James Von Brunn, poses important questions for the U.S. and the world. Among them: Can racial hatred be unlearned, and racial violence prevented?

RACE provides tools to “unteach” racism. The project consists of a traveling museum exhibit (currently at the Franklin in Philadelphia), an interactive website (www.understandingRACE.org), and downloadable educational materials. RACE Teacher’s Guides are in use across the country and new curricular materials are being developed with input from experts from universities and various school systems.

A Lesson in “Whiteness”

Von Brunn decried what he described as Jewish attempts to “destroy the white gene pool.”

Yet Alan Goodman, RACE Project Co-Chair and incoming Vice President and Dean of Faculty at Hampshire College, explains:

It might surprise Von Brunn to learn that—like Jews—Italians, Irish, Russian, Polish and many other European peoples slowly gained acceptance as “white” after World War II.  However, as the white category is a mythical entity, expanding the category to allow these newly white groups had nothing to do with science and gene pools.  The RACE Project explains how whiteness emerged and, like other racial categories, has changed over time.

Whiteness is only one of many themes that the RACE Project introduces to the American public. Its comprehensive approach—combining science, history and “lived experience”—provides a new way of understanding diversity, race and racism in the past and present.

Education + Dialogue: A Preventive Approach

RACE Project Co-Chair, professor and University of California-Riverside Associate Vice Chancellor Yolanda Moses notes that the project’s position on antiracism is proactive:

Challenging misconceptions is important and necessary, but as a long-term strategy, the best and only sure way to prevent racism and racial violence is by reaching children and giving them the knowledge and tools they need to understand and respect both difference and inclusion. Imagine a generation of today’ students—tomorrow’s teachers, parents and leaders—who have been exposed to the project’s educational messages of our common human ancestry and our ability to finally create a world of human equality. We would be amazed at the amount of positive change possible in our and their lifetimes.

The next stop on the RACE exhibit tour is the California Science Center in Los Angeles. It is due to open in October of 2009. Launched in 2007, the exhibit tour was originally scheduled to conclude at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 2011, but, due to popular demand has been extended until 2014. Due to further positive response, a replica of the large exhibit (5,000 sq. feet) and smaller version of the exhibit (1500 sq. feet) are being produced and will join the tour beginning in 2010.

To learn about RACE and “unlearning” racism, please visit www.understandingRACE.org.

For a listing of tour dates near you, please visit: www.understandingrace.com/about/tour.html.

For questions, contact RACE Project Manager Jeff Martin using this form or (703) 528-1902, ext 1163.

For press kits, including photos and the RACE Project logo, please contact Anne Kelsey using this form or (703) 528-1902, ext 1171.


Founded in 1902, the American Anthropological Association is the world's largest professional organization of anthropologists and others interested in anthropology, with an average annual membership of more than 10,000. The Arlington, VA-based association represents all specialties within anthropology—cultural anthropology, biological (or physical) anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and applied anthropology.

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