Sorting Out Race
Thift Store Donations and Racial Identity
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Newton's Et Cetera Shop thrift store receives all kinds of donations for resale, both nearly new items and genuine antiques. Time and time again, certain donations raised questions and concerns among staff due to their depiction of racial images and stereotypes. Should the items be put out for resale? Or should they be "sorted out" of the resale market? With the help of a KHC Humanities grant, a museum exhibition was created using the objects as a starting point for conversations about racial stereotypes and injustice.

Sorting Out Race: Examining Racial Identity and Stereotypes in Thrift Store Donations is a new exhibition at the Kauffman Museum in North Newton. Using the Et Cetera Shop's collection, the exhibition features 85 objects -- including children's storybooks, tourist figurines, and sports mascots -- that prompt a dialogue about current and past racial stereotypes. Museum staff also captured community reactions to the objects in videotaped interviews as another avenue for conversation and reflection.

Museum Director Annette LeZotte and Assistant Curator Jake Harris examine objects collected for the Sorting Out Race exhibition. Photo by Ashley Bergner/Newton Kansan.

Kauffman Museum Director Annette LeZotte hopes that Sorting Out Race will enhance museums' role as places of social change. She told the Newton Kansan, "Instead of merely serving as places to preserve history, museums can help start a critical discourse on social justice and confront issues in society."

Sorting Out Race: Examining Racial Identity and Stereotypes in Thrift Store Donations is on display through May 24, 2015. Public programs offer additional opportunities to discuss themes addressed in the exhibition. On March 22, Beverly Rogers of Ottawa University discusses "Stereotypes and Realities of the 21st Century Indian in the United States." Robert E. Weems of Wichita State University presents "Defining the 'Other': A History of Racial Stereotypes" on April 19. On May 24, Annette LeZotte and Rachel Pannabecker share community reactions and interactions with the exhibit.

Sorting Out Race is supported by a KHC Humanities grant. Grants for interpretive exhibitions that foster community dialogue are available. Contact Murl Riedel, director of grants, for more information.