Renton History Museum is entering the race conversation, and its doing it by bringing a traveling museum to Renton.
“Sorting Out Race: Examining Racial Stereotypes and Identity in Thrift Store Donations” uses popular culture with racial and ethnic imagery to open a conversation about identity and race. The exhibit was organized by the Kauffman Museum in response to questions from thrift shop and antique store operators in their community who were concerned about putting harmful stereotypes on the shelves of their stores, according to a media release.
“When we saw the exhibit we were excited about the opportunity to contribute to conversations about Renton’s diversity and Renton’s aim towards inclusivity,” said Elizabeth Stewart, director of Renton History Museum. “Sorting Out Race explores stereotypes of different races and ethnicities, but it does it in a way that’s thought-provoking and will help visitors examine their own past feelings about stereotypes.”
This is the museum’s first attempt at “looking at race and ethnicity head on,” Stewart said.
In the past, there have been collaborative exhibits with students from Renton High School that integrated their personal experiences with Renton’s story.
“In doing these projects with students, we had an opportunity to help them think about how they fit into Renton’s wider history,” Stewart said. “The projects would bring in their personal experiences. Many of them are immigrants or first generations Americans, and it was good for them to talk about their families’s background and relate that to Renton history.”
And while she described those exhibits as “powerful,” the museum is diving deeper into the race conversation with Sorting Out Races. A community advisory committee with people of different races and ethnicities helped the museum train staff and volunteers, as well as help with appropriate programming and resources for visitors.
“We’re trying to be holistic about the way we deal with the issues and provide people an opportunity to learn, and also to be in dialogue with one another,” Stewart said.
Along with Sorting Out Race, the museum will also be displaying “Renton High School Indians: The History of a Name,” an exhibit that examines the history of the school’s mascot.
Stewart explained that the name was chosen in honor of Henry Moses, a Duwamish Native American student who attended the school in the early 1900s. As a star athlete, he would often be taunted and ridiculed by other schools during games. The team decided to call themselves the Indians in honor and in solidarity with Moses.
“This exhibit looks at how it played out in different periods of history and why the team is still named the Indians and encourages people to think about whether that’s a positive thing or something they would like to see changed,” Stewart said.
“We’re really excited to contribute to city of Renton’s striving for inclusivity and positive recognition of diversity. We hope it’s going to provide a great opportunity to come in learn more and think more deeply. For us, it’s undoubtedly going to be the first of many like this. Museums are a great place for this kind of conversations; we’re a safe space, reflection and deeper conversation. That’s the role we want to play in the conversation.”
The museum will also host a variety of other programs, all revolving around the race conversation, including a community conversation about Sorting Out Race with Benita Horn, the city of Renton’s inclusion and equity consultant at 11 a.m., April 15, and a panel discussion on “Undoing Racism in Renton” at 7 p.m. on April 27. Both events are free.
Both exhibits will be open to public on Thursday, March 30 with an opening night scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.