Toronto’s new ‘Behind Racism’ exhibit uses science to unearth roots of racism

Long before coming up with the new ‘Behind Racism: Challenging the way we think’ exhibit at the Ontario Science Center and becoming a lawyer, Lilian Ma was a research scientist — concentrating on the question, how?

“How does [racism] develop in a person, how does it get into children and then they grow up and keep on it and as they grow old they pass it on to other people,” Ma said in an interview with CTV News Toronto Wednesday.

The free exhibit, done in conjunction with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, focuses on the mental processes that contribute to racism and discrimination. It aims to challenge bias and prejudice in people’s daily lives — to help build more awareness and help unearth the roots of racism.

Ontario Science Center Researcher programmer Walter Stoddard is one of the key developers of the interactive activities in the exhibit.

One activity, for example, looks at how quickly a person selects a good or bad cat or dog, revealing a possible bias, to help teach what bias is.

“My hope is, in understanding the wonder of the human mind, [viewers] also understand what happens when it is unobserved, when you’re not paying attention. The bias comes into play, and when bias comes into play, you make mistakes,” Stoddard said.

The activities left some visitors surprised. One plays a voice then reveals the face behind it.

“I think that everyone’s brain automatically associates accents with races or gender but it’s really not the same when you know who’s talking,” high school student Eloise Styck said.

‘Behind Racism: Challenging the way we think,’ Ontario Science Center (Beth Macdonell/CTV News Toronto)

University student Mino Rafidinarivo said getting inside people’s heads and showing new perspectives is needed.

“Because some don’t believe racism is a real thing.”

“What’s behind racism leads us to think about how the entire system is being built, our social system, our economic system,” Ma said.

The exhibit runs until April 24, before going to Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax.

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