© Charlote ObserverJohn Mackay, CEO of Discovery Place.

Very few subjects can polarize and fracture a community like race and racism. We like to talk about diversity and being socially aware, and accepting seems to be en vogue in today's world. But without a doubt, a racial divide persists. Recently, here in our own community, issues have grabbed headlines because they've taken on racial tones and exploded into volatile controversies. Economic urgencies add pressure, causing situations to become racially tinged and in turn threatening our community's vitality, something we cannot afford and which will only deepen our disunity.

But what if our fundamental understanding of race were really only skin deep?

On Saturday, Discovery Place will open a new exhibition called RACE: Are We So Different? A project of the American Anthropological Association, the exhibition investigates race through the framework of science, exploring the crossroads of science, history, society and culture as they are all affected by the ideologies of race and racism. RACE contemplates humankind at its core, examining the countless ways we perceive ourselves as individuals, cultures and other social groups.

Contemporary science is now challenging the very concept of race. Anthropologists who have studied race and genetic composition have determined that no single gene exists that can justify categorizing ourselves according to "races." Furthermore, scientists have determined that geographical separation plays a larger role in human diversity than any other factor, and that more internal variation exists within groups than between different groups of people. Any two human beings already have extensive genetic variations to begin with, differing from one another by millions of genes. The result is that human variation exists on a continuum - we vary from tall to short, from thin to thick, from pale to dark. The conclusion that scientifically there is no accurate or natural way to divide the human species points to race as an artificial construct. It also hints at flaws in race theory that could revolutionize the way we see our species.

And yet, society's definition of race is still muddled. Though the biological basis for race is questionable, race and racism are real both socially and culturally. A multitude of people inhabit this planet, coming from every region, every economic class and every walk of life. There's no debating that we are all different, but how we define those differences remains fluid. One needs only to look at a history book and the terms we have used and later abandoned to see how our definition of race has evolved over centuries, and how we have tied racial ideology to power and hierarchy.

Discovery Place is hopeful that the exhibition RACE: Are We So Different? will contribute to building open dialogue and civil conversation about race, racism and the implications of both in Charlotte. As a science and technology center, we strive to objectively present modern scientific information in a way that enables our community to discover together. We hope people will visit and will be encouraged to think about how our ideas about race and racism influence our lives, how they affect our interactions and relationships with one another, and about how different we all really are - or are not.