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Mace & Crown | April 26, 2017

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Michele Norris Discusses Race Through 'The Race Card Project'

T.J. Thompson
Staff Writer

Race is a tough topic for Americans to discuss. What better place to turn than to a voice that has been trusted on public radio for more than a decade?

Michele Norris was just the person to discuss race in America Thursday night as a speaker in the President’s Lecture Series. Norris hosted NPR’s “All Things Considered” for more than a decade.

The conversation Thursday night was blunt and candid. Norris made the story personal. In the journey to write a book about how America talks about race, she began with her family.

“When I would visit my relatives, they were having an interesting conversation about race as well. There are members of my family who are deeply conservative and yet when they saw him behind that desk in the oval office, something shifted and they started to share their stories,” Norris said while discussing the 2008 election with then Sen. Barack Obama running for president.

Her mother was from Minnesota and father from Alabama. Norris said her father was shot by a police officer as a young World War II veteran in Alabama. He was studying the U.S. Constitution so he could take the voting exam.

Norris’ father never told that story and she used her investigative skills as a journalist to discover this piece of her past. She was then able to share it with her mother who did not know this either.

Stories like this have led Norris to search for other ways in which Americans discuss race relations. She began “The Race Card Project” in 2010 as a way to open dialogue on race.

“Think about the word race, what pops into your mind? Distill that down to one sentence. Make things interesting and try to take that sentence down to six words,” Norris said.

“The Race Card Project” began literally on post cards. Since her mother was a former postal worker, she was delighted to learn Michele was utilizing snail mail.

Norris claimed she received approximately 30 percent of her initial mailing back. As she said in her lecture Thursday night, that is an amazing response for a direct mail campaign.

Based upon the initial response, Norris carried “The Race Card Project” online. She was then able to gain more information about participants’ six-word essays. Norris added an extra line to the online responses, “Anything else?”

With that new line, Norris explained the project amassed new artifacts in conjunction with the six-word stories. They would receive photos and backstories to the final six words.

Norris wants to create a dialogue in a divided America. She has provided a dialogue through which Americans can talk and listen to each other. This is a space where all can feel safe sharing their thoughts.

One lesson Norris has learned through “The Race Card Project” is that race is just one part of the identity through which people experience society. This identity can come about based upon an accent a person has or the work one performs.

Michele Norris was an excellent selection in carrying on the President’s Lecture Series. Her talk on race covered a topic many find tough to discuss in an engaging way through “The Race Card Project.”