Devin Bathish encounters the same daily challenges as most Flint residents, but not many of his neighbors experience the same challenges he does.
As one in a small percentage of local Arab American citizens, he often faces cultural and racial barriers that can impact virtually every aspect of life. What’s even more problematic for Bathish and many others of color is they’re often excluded from discussions about the exact burdens that weigh them down.
“I think there are a lot of conversations that go unnoticed, particularly when we focus on things that happen in our city,” says Bathish, executive director of the Arab American Heritage Council.
Whether the topic is Flint’s ongoing recovery from a water emergency or economic renewal in its neighborhoods, he says race is a variable that often determines how feedback is measured among residents of color versus their white peers.
Opening Aug. 4 at the Sloan Museum’s Flint Cultural Center location, RACE: Are We So Different? will invite an honest dialogue about the subject. Presented by the University of Michigan-Flint in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the showcase will examine a topic many residents find relevant in Genesee County.
“We’re all impacted differently because of the identities we carry with us,” says Bathish.
Even social and gender status between members of the same race and culture can influence perspectives, he says, comparing a single man’s experience at the height of the water crisis to that of a mother with children – both struggled, but the mom likely struggled more.
“Many of us don’t experience what other people experience, and if we’re going to be an inclusive community we have to learn about those perspectives,” Bathish says.
Supported by a $52,625 Community Foundation of Greater Flint grant, the RACE exhibition is free to the public on Mondays and Saturdays. Additional funding for RACE is provided through University of Michigan-Flint’s “Flint Truth and Action Partnership Project,” with funding from W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
The exhibition is open through Dec. 2.
“At Sloan Museum, we’re committed to providing opportunities for families and individuals to have meaningful learning experiences in the community – going beyond what’s possible in the classroom, with interactive exhibits and thought-provoking conversations,” says Sloan Museum Executive Director Todd Slisher. “We’re honored to present our visitors with an opportunity to explore race and racism and tackle an issue that’s important to our community and our country.”
RACE addresses its central topic from research vantage points in three sections of the exhibit – science, history and everyday experience.
The science theme tells visitors humans are more alike than any other living species, and that genetics don’t support the concept of race.
The history theme explores ideas about race that have existed and changed through time, and discusses how economic interests, popular culture, science, politics, and power struggles have influenced America’s treatment of race.
The everyday experience discussion delves into interactions in schools, neighborhoods, health care, sports, entertainment, and other settings.
The exhibition coincides with the Community Foundation’s 30th anniversary year theme, “Celebrating our common humanity.”
“Through the exhibit, we hope to engage people from all racial, ethnic, religious and identity groups in a genuine effort to increase understanding, communication, caring and respect for one another,” says Isaiah Oliver, Community Foundation president and CEO.
Through his support of RACE Oliver hopes to help open minds in his hometown Flint, which he has called one of the most segregated cities in America.
RACE is the first in a series of events the Community Foundation and University of Michigan-Flint will host to promote open dialogue and discussions that promote healing and understanding. University of Michigan-Flint’s community events will include presentations by faculty, students, and local residents.
“UM-Flint is proud to partner with the Sloan Museum, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to bring this important exhibit to Flint,” says Susan E. Borrego, chancellor. “We can combat racism through education, open and honest conversation, and compassion for others. This exhibit helps us begin the conversations we need to be having in our community and beyond.”
While events and forums related to the ongoing exhibition will take place in various locations, Bathish says Sloan Museum is the right setting for bringing a crucial topic to the public’s attention.
“I think it’s a perfect place because it makes it tangible to most people,” he says. “Seeing is believing.”
General admission to RACE: Are We So Different? is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for youth ages 2-11, and free for museum members. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.