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'RACE' visitors talk about presidential race

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - A new exhibit called ''RACE: Are We So Different?'' opened at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center May 17. The exhibit explores the complex issue of race and racism in America - and intersected a week when race was the topic du jour in the race between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

On May 14, Clinton won a landslide 65 to 28 percent victory over Obama in West Virginia - where two out of 10 voters said they would not vote for a ''black'' man and eight in 10 voters said race was an issue for them.

Three visitors at the RACE exhibit were asked: How do you think the issue of race is playing out in the race to the White House?

''I think that race is certainly an active factor and component of this election. I think the way the media is addressing the issue between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the fact that she has not acknowledged the lead candidate for the Democratic Party is a clear indication of the race issue in this country. I also think it's an important critical and symbolic time in the history of the country, but I think the meaning of Obama's lead has not been fully realized by the people in this country - what it really means for a black man in 2008 to attain that type of leadership - and I think that needs to be acknowledged, and I do believe race is a real fact. There's no doubt about it.

''The fact that there could still be a discussion as to whether the superdelegates will support Obama and the public vote, I find that very questionable, especially after the Bush and Gore situation several years ago - just the fact that it's even being discussed. I think it's an extraordinary time in the history of the country.''

- Marcia Z. Bonitto, Filipino, Affirmative Action administrator, Office of the Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection

''I think it's pretty interesting in terms of the candidates in and of themselves - there's a woman and an African-American, and a Caucasian - and how politics are playing out in this whole presidential candidacy process. I think it's really putting America in a different light. In some regard, it shows we're still not ready for either a woman or an African-American president. In some respects, I think it's also raising the bar across the country in terms of embracing diversity, different perspectives and different cultures, and, finally, I think it's not about black and white; it's about what you can do for the country, how you can bring the country to another level, raising expectations of people for one another versus the same old mentality of 'this is my land.'

''I haven't watched too much of the race, but the few times I have I think the media is playing a bigger role than the candidates in determining what the issues are. I think some of the coverage you could say has a bit of favoritism, one way or another depending on the candidate and the views of that station. It would be great to see the Democrats win because it will mean we selected either a woman or an African-American.''

- Richard Sebastian, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation council member

''Well, I think all those guys [the candidates] should see this exhibit! You go into the exhibit and there's a whole area on skin and what is skin and what makes us different, and then you see, well, we aren't so different underneath all these different people. The folks in both Obama's camp and Hillary's camp need to understand that. Hillary's got all these guys who are blue collar and white saying if she loses they're not going to vote for a black man, and Obama's people are saying if he loses, they're not going to vote for a woman. Well, you know what? They need to be coming together.

''Maybe there are some lessons they can learn about this, and maybe they can begin to see that the differences aren't as important as the similarities.

''I know there are contradictions in what I'm saying. The best comparison I know is in the plant world: the sassafras plant. The sassafras plant is the only plant I know that has three very different shaped leaves all growing and developing very well together, thank you very much, and producing a plant that is a healing plant. We drink the tea from this plant and it heals us. So there are a lot of messages there.''

- Trudie Lamb Richmond, Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, director of public programs at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center