The Race Card Project events on Feb. 11 were a day of reflection on race and identity as Michele Norris spoke and led dialogue that centered on a simple six-word sentence.
Norris is a reporter for National Public Radio (NPR) and started the Race Card Project in 2010 to facilitate discussions in America and later throughout the world about race. Tuesday night at The Grand Theatre, she spoke of her experience as an African American journalist and the offer from NPR to talk about race.
“I didn’t want to be the girl talking about race,” says Norris. Instead she wanted to be a journalist that reported on politics and religion.
But unintended consequences have led her on a journey that has had a huge impact on the American people and also the world. This was her theme for her speech – the surprises that appear in life and how she responded to them.
The Race Card Project was started by Norris with the intent to get people talking about race.
“Think about the word ‘race’ and see if you can take what enters your mind and put it in a sentence,” she says.
At first, she received cards that were what she termed “rainbows and butterflies” but then people started getting much deeper than that. Many voiced the struggle of being multi-racial or white privileged. There were many cards that could be termed offensive or hateful.
Norris’ own race card read, “Fooled them all, not done yet” as her response to how she was treated for having a slight speech impediment. She later changed it to a more fitting phrase, “Still more work to be done.”
Norris also talked about her new book “The Grace of Silence” and her journey discovering more about her heritage and stories from her family that had been swept under the table.
She spoke of her grandmother, who did Aunt Jemima pancake demonstrations for a large portion of her life in the 1940s and ’50s. Dressed up in slave-like attire, with a big skirt and hair done up in a bandana, she traveled the Midwest teaching farm women the benefits of pre-made pancake mix. Although the Aunt Jemima television commercials portrayed Aunt Jemima as uneducated, her grandmother made it a point to be refined and distinguished.
Even though certain races are stereotyped, there are those who rise above what society believes them to be.
Norris pointed out that many try to shy away from the topic of race – that it makes them feel uncomfortable.
“One of the reasons race is difficult to talk about is because we say it is difficult to talk about,” she says.
The Race Card Project is a way for people to open up about their feelings about their identity and also participate in conversations about race with others. Talking, and more importantly, listening to others helps people to come to an understanding.
“We aren’t going to agree with each other but at least we’ll understand each other,” says Norris. “The most important thing any of us can do is listen.”