Towards Greater Understanding: Museum of Us Tour

Last month a handful of participants from the partnership churches came together for a tour of the “Race: Are we really so different?” exhibit hosted by the San Diego Partnership at the San Diego Museum of Us. The tour as well as the activities put together by the museum proved to be insightful and impactful for all that participated – below is an article about the experience written by Nancy Shimamoto, a member of partnership church, Pioneer Ocean View.

The day started blustery and cold; unwelcoming weather for a trip to Balboa Park with our Partnership Church members and friends. But by noon, blue skies emerged, and we convened in the Park from all areas of San Diego. I found the last close-in parking space, just steps from the Museum! It was going to be a beautiful day, after all!

We had twenty-four justice-seekers attend our group tour, and more people than had signed up! Almost every Partnership Church was represented, with members of diverse backgrounds and ages. As the Rev Dr Art Cribbs, Senior Pastor at Christian Fellowship said, “The diversity of our congregations helped to deepen and define the experience. Our differences provided tangible evidence of our value as human beings. Not all people are born “equally” in a society that places preferences and priorities based on race, gender, and income. However, beneath shallow materialistic disparities and differences, people share an immeasurable wealth of common resources and attributes.”

We began our tour with an introduction from Morgan Owen, Associate Director of Public Engagement at the Museum of Us. She is a bouncy, energetic, and VERY informative representative of the Museum, who led us through a unique adaptation of Monopoly – “Sociopoly”, created by professor of sociology, Michael M. Jessup.” Morgan adapted the game to more closely mimic contemporary society, allowing us to experience how some societal classes fail due to institutional racism, causing insurmountable and irreversible financial harm. She posed thoughtful questions of “equity versus equality” and asked, “Can our community change the rules for the betterment of all?” Morgan prompted us to confront the striking parallels between the game’s fictional regulations and the realities of our society.

To learn more about sociological teachings involved in the game, click here: Sociopoly.

By the rules of Sociopoly, Penguins get the most money and, of course, are the Bankers. Unbeknown to us, depending on the token we randomly chose, we received smaller sums of money than the Banker. Beverly Edwards, who played at my table, was the “dog” who received only a fraction of the money doled out to other players. While others amassed property, she kept passing on those opportunities, until she exasperatedly said “I can’t afford property! I can’t even afford food!” While I burst out laughing, I soon felt shame for reacting in such a non-caring way. The rules of the game were clearly not in her favor.

Nancy Regas of The Table UCC La Mesa said she “lost control with each round,” and became “protective of myself.” She added, “It was an excellent way to learn, experience, and brainstorm possibilities, like “what if?” I have a feeling she was also a “dog.”

Given the opportunity to change the rules for the collective good, Dan Collins of POV said his group had some great ideas on how to level the playing field. “Don’t automatically collect $200 when you pass GO each banker has to return $200 to the pot!” Others said no one can pay to avoid going to JAIL, and no taxes on UTILITIES should ever be charged. I sat there paralyzed by the momentous complications of redistributing wealth fairly. It was a seemingly impossible dilemma.

Sherry Day, also from The Table, said “… I wished we had more time to think about the Monopoly game and how we could make changes day to day to make things more equitable. Everyone had great comments and some, honestly, were above my scope of the problem. I was impressed with the group and more conversation would be great.”

As we moved on to tour the exhibit upstairs, Morgan pointed out that the Museum of Us is in renovation, including the “Race: Are we so Different?” exhibit, which is over a decade old. Over time, they have made improvements to eliminate racial stereotypes and use those previous missteps as evidence of how our observations on racial differences have (hopefully) improved. They pay particular attention to the land rights of the Kumeyaay tribe of indigenous people. Sherry Day noted “It is interesting to see how the museum exhibits show where we have been and need to go to “rub” out the inequity of history and portrayal of ethnic groups.”

Many of the original descriptive panels are in small print, which is challenging to read among a throng of people. However, they hold important history and sociology lessons and are worthy of attention. The added photos and quotes of “Hapa” individuals (Asian and mixed ethnicities) are interesting and provocative, as is the Inter+Face Project. Based on sculptured busts developed in 1915 when the Museum of Man first opened, it asked students to portray themselves as they see fit versus someone else depicting them according to their perspective or initiatives.

The new Race exhibit will be completed in 2025 when I suggest we all return for another in-depth look. While the exhibit needs a makeover, it still provides a captivating opportunity to view ourselves through a different lens, enriching our understanding of identity and perspective.

As Rev Cribbs said, “The diversity of humanity is on full display for visitors to experience without judgment at multiple intersections of civilizations. The progression of humanity’s tolerance for differences is plotted throughout the Museum of Us. Sharing the tour enhanced awareness and appreciation of the diversity among the six San Diego United Church of Christ partnership congregations.”

I thank Rev Cribbs for sharing his perspective on our visit to the Museum of Us, along with many other participants.

I encourage you to visit online or in person, now and in the future. I promise you will come away with a new appreciation for the human race.

Thank you also to Morgan Owen, Associate Director of Public Engagement, for her expertise and guidance during our tour, and for editing this article. She also treated our group to complimentary access to the Museum. Be sure to look her up when you visit!

And finally, a huge thank you to Partnership for Racial Justice Group members Carol Rainey and Carla Mathison who worked for months to arrange our tour. They met with Morgan Owen multiple times and made sure our needs were addressed. You did a great job, Carla and Carol!! Thank you.


Nancy Shimamoto

Pioneer Ocean View – United Church of Christ

Partnership for Racial Justice

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