Friday, March 31, 2023

Ontario Science Center exhibit examines the science of racism

It was the fall of 1979 when Lillian Ma says negative stereotypes from the media “woke me up.”

Ma, who has a PhD in chemistry, was a research scientist at the University of Toronto when she was asked to do a welcome skit for freshmen.

She said that the skit was filmed by a TV public affairs show that incorrectly portrayed her as a foreign student.

“Every time they called foreign students, they would show the faces of Chinese students, including me,” Ma said. “And it’s terrifying because I’m a Canadian citizen … and a lot of the people featured on the show were actually Chinese Canadians or immigrants (not foreign students).”

Ma said that the incident interested him in issues of stereotyping and racism, and he eventually changed careers, becoming a lawyer in the 1990s.

Ma combined his passion for science and administrative law in developing an exhibit at the Ontario Science Center that explores racism in Canada and breaks down the mental processes that contribute to it.

The exhibition, dubbed “Behind Racism: Challenging the Way We Think,” opened in February and is a partnership between the Ontario Science Center and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, of which Ma was executive director until his retirement in 2020.

Ma was inspired by psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s 2011 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” which examined how fast and slow thinking affects decision-making.

“After reading his book, I said, ‘It seems very relevant to how racism works in people.’ It’s almost like a bad habit, and you put it into your fast-thinking mode and you work without knowing it because it becomes a habit,” Ma said. “That’s how stereotyping happens. Those with good intentions can do it.”

Ma suggested that people learn stereotypes when they are young and maintain them when they become older and dominant. “And that’s how we got systemic racism and even gender discrimination. These are things that come from negative stereotypes,” she said. “And it could be a common cause, or a mechanism, that How does this phenomenon of racism work.”

Ma said the exhibition looks at how people think. “And from that, we tried to figure out how to fix bad habits,” she said. “I aim to spark conversation.”

The exhibition, which runs until April 24 and is free to the public without a general admission ticket, “shows how the mental processes that help us think and act can lead to racism and discrimination” and “visitors”. encourages people to recognize prejudice, challenge “discrimination and appreciate our differences,” according to the Ontario Science Center, located at 770 Don Mills Rd. in North York.

Bhavleen Kaur, senior scientist at the Ontario Science Center, said the “very interactive” exhibit, which is geared for ages 10 and up, includes games and puzzles.

“You have an experience called ‘Look who’s talking?’ Where you hear someone talk and then try to figure out from a series of pictures who that might be,” she said. “You (then) question: Why did I think that person was that? Whom did I rely on for that knowledge? was it right?”

Kaur said the exhibition also looks at racism in Canada with personal stories and police hate crime data, which has sparked controversy because the data also includes hate crimes reported by white people.

“We have some feedback that says it is wrong. White people do not experience racism,” Kaur said. “It is an interesting thing to think about. …is it true that if you are non-racial white, you do not experience racism?”

The exhibition will travel to other major cities in Canada until September 2023.

“It’s only a starting point,” Kaur said of the exhibition. “It’s really up to all of us to look at ourselves and maybe make a difference.”

Story Behind the Story: When reporter Andrew Palmarchuk learned of an exhibit examining the science of racism, he wanted to learn more about its origins.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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