Playing The Race Card


Michele Norris, Portland, Ore. YWCA Keynote

This title was the theme of Michele Norris’ keynote at the YWCA Inspire Luncheon in Portland, Ore. If you don’t know Michele Norris, she is an accomplished journalist, storyteller and co-host on All Things Considered, National Public Radio (NPR) – my favorite radio station, arguably one of the finest journalism outlets in the world.

Michele spoke about the race card. Sound risky or controversial? It wasn’t. She offered mind-blowing perspective about how race is experienced and how it shapes the world that we live in.

In 2010, Michele published a memoir about her family’s

The Race Card

racial legacy and race in the wake of the Obama presidential election. She was confident that when she went out to talk about the book, she’d be asking people to engage in a conversation about race. Something that she acknowledged is hard for people to do. She wanted to make it a bit easier for her audiences by quite literally playing the race card, by giving people a postcard and asking them to share their experiences, questions, hopes, laments or observations about race and identity – using just six words. She aimed to foster a candid dialogue about race amongst fellow Americans; it evolved into a global conversation. The Race Card Project is about dialogue and engagement.

  • People think in digestible sound bites: Replies to the question “What is Race?” which appeared on the post cards included: “What if the world was colorblind”, “Underneath we all taste like chicken”, “We can learn from one another”, “Money in hand not on counter”, “I am not a racist but …”, “My son is not half he is double”, and “I will not ruin your bloodline”.
  • Listening is the most important part of dialogue:  Stories draw us into the lives and hearts of people. Asking questions matter, listening to the replies matter more.
  • Dialogue does not have any geographic boundaries: The Race Card project started in small town in America, when Michele printed 200 postcards to share with intimate audiences while she was on tour, to spur conversation. There was a 30 percent return rate. Social media amplified the conversation and before she knew it, she was receiving honest, funny and brave responses from Ireland, Belgium and Chile, and beyond. Michele found herself eavesdropping on the conversations of race around the globe (even though this wasn’t her original expectation or intention).
  • Don’t assume that mainstream dialogue mirrors the opinions of individuals: Michele has found herself archiving people’s attitudes and cataloguing history. She has learned that the race conversation in mainstream media presents one dimension of history and that the conversations with individuals are very personal. She didn’t elaborate on the differences between the mainstream media and information shared by individuals who she spoke with however I inferred that she was referring to the fact that race is a lot more complex that what the mainstream media reports and individuals’ experiences are so vast and varied, much more profound than some people give the topic credit for.  



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