Rochester Museum & Science Center is challenging the community to reflect on how racist media influences people’s lives through a new permanent exhibition.
“Objectively Racist: How Objects and Images Perpetuate Racism … And What We Can Do To Change It” includes images, product packaging, knick-knacks and other objects that perpetuate individual, institutional and structural racism, RMSC officials said. Community member Doug Belton Sr. loaned the objects to the museum for display with the intention of donating to the museum’s collection.
“I was hopeful my collection would be helpful to others and, perhaps, even inspire people to push for better race relations,” Belton said in a statement. “It was my belief this kind of material needed to be made available to the entire community and expanded on by objective historians.”
Belton first gained interest in working with RMSC when he attended a program in connection with the “Take It Down! Organizing Against Racism” exhibit presented by the Take It Down Planning Committee in partnership with RMSC.
“I believe only by understanding history, some of which we may want to forget, are we able to continue to grow and become the best we all can be: dignified and honorable,” Belton said.
Following the American Civil War, many states and towns passed laws that legalized racial segregation and reinforced the social, economic, political, cultural and educational oppression of African Americans, RMSC officials noted. Racist images were a part of the “Jim Crow” era, and many of those images continue to play a part in American culture and influence beliefs and practices today.
“Identifying and understanding a problem empowers us to address it in a meaningful way,” said Kathryn Murano Santos, senior director for collections & exhibits at RMSC. “It’s critical that we talk about racism, be truthful about our history and discuss how racism continues to manifest and oppress people of color in both obvious and subtle ways.”
Museums, Murano Santos added, are uniquely positioned to help people make those connections because they hold evidence of racism in their collections.
Presentations associated with the Take It Down Planning Committee will be held on Feb. 8 at the Central Church of Christ on South Plymouth Avenue and Feb. 22 at the FIGHT Village Community Room on Ward Street.
“I hope people who see these objects can take away an idea of how things used to be and that they have a better understanding of each other instead of demonizing one race or the other so we can all move forward,” Belton said.