A new exhibit entitled “RACE: Are we so different?” at the Putnam Museum in Davenport already has entered water cooler talk around the Quad Cities.
Heads of area businesses, colleges and nonprofit organizations who toured the exhibit March 28 not only shared how much they were moved by the exhibit’s many findings about discrimination, income inequality and white privilege but committed to at least start conversations on diversity at their workplaces.
Kent Pilcher, Tri-Chair of the Q2030 Regional Action Plan and President of Estes Construction, joined dozens of community leaders involved with Q2030, the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Regional Opportunities Council during the recent tour. He took away from the exhibit just how alike people really are.
“A lot of the dialogue promoted nationally by the media says why we are different than why we’re alike, and that really pushes us apart,” he said. “Would an exhibit like this bring us together, and can we be better as a community thinking more alike than differently?”
Eastern Iowa Community Colleges Chancellor Don Doucette echoed Pilcher’s comments. “This exhibit begins with the wonderful perspective that we all came from the same place,” Doucette said. But, the chancellor added, conversations about race ought to begin with awareness of America’s “original sin” – slavery.
Discriminatory housing practices over the years opened the eyes of Dee Bruemmer, retired Scott County Administrator and former Davenport Public Works Director. Among the traveling exhibit’s many content-rich displays is one showing that until the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act outlawed the practice of redlining, blacks were twice as likely to be turned down for a home mortgage loan than whites. Segregated neighborhoods resulted, and Chicago still to this day is one of the most segregated cities in the United States.
“It’s sad how housing policy has seriously affected the outcome of people’s lives and caused minorities to be in a higher percent of poverty than they should,” said Bruemmer, champion of the Q2030 Mississippi River Workgroup. “How do you overcome that?”
Another display broke down the origin of racism as a tool created by people in power to justify privilege and oppression. “We created artificial ways to divide ourselves,” said Joe Slavens, Chamber Board Chairman and Northwest Bank and Trust Company President, reacting to the exhibit.
After touring the exhibit, guests were asked to share their feelings in a few words. Among them were “humbled,” “anger,” “sadness,” “bewildered” and “hope.”
Slavens, who also serves as a Q2030 Tri-Chair, said the “RACE” exhibit is important for the Quad Cities because it “provides a scientific, safe environment within which to discuss emotionally charged issues.”
Q2030 and Chamber leaders are focused on making the Quad Cities more welcoming and inclusive because it will help create opportunities for all residents as well as attract and retain more talent in the region.
Sherry Ristau, president and CEO of Quad Cities Community Foundation and member of the Q2030 Advisory Council and Steering Committee, said this exhibit could not come at a more important time.
“This is a pivotal time for us,” she said. “The RACE exhibit validates and pushes us to see a million different colors of talent and economic prosperity.”
The “RACE” exhibit runs through May 27 and is included in the museum’s general admission. Go to putnam.org/race for more information.