The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


Journalist Michele Norris speaks about race in America

On Wednesday, October 1, citizens filled Carnegie Music Hall to hear well-respected and award-winning journalist Michele Norris speak about her life, career, and the way race is discussed in America.

At the beginning of her lecture Michelle Norris spoke fondly about the many “sharp left turns” her life has taken and how they have added to her wealth. Not wealth in terms of dollars and cents, but experiences.

First and foremost, in her early days as a journalist she resisted writing about the topic of race.

“I tried very hard not to be that person who talked about race,” she said to the audience, jokingly adding her increased popularity in the newsroom during Black History Month.

The lecture was at times interactive as Norris was excited to hear her quite diverse audience, noting conversationally that at certain points in her lifetime an audience so diverse would not have been possible.  Eager to hear the perspective of those who came to hear her speak, she posed the question of what comes to mind when the phrase “post-racial” is said.

“It’s hard to say that word now without a little bit of a snicker,” Norris said.

Among the answers shouted out from the audience were “denial,” “utopia,” and “over.”

Norris believes strongly that experiences, both good and bad, add to a society’s collective wealth. It is that belief that lead her to–in the 2008 election after years of resistance–explore race not only in America but very specifically in her own family.

She spoke of the way that the election of President Obama caused her family members, both conservative and liberal, to open up about experiences that had been buried for decades, like her grandmother’s stint portraying a real life Aunt Jemima for pancake demonstrations, and her beloved father memorizing every word of the constitution to be able to vote after serving his country.

Most surprising for Norris was learning in the aftermath of her father’s death that her World War II veteran father was shot by the police in Birmingham, Alabama shortly after he returned from the war.

In adding to her wealth she did not only draw from her familial anecdotes, although they were crucial in writing her memoir “The Grace of Silence.” In addition to her other work, she is the founder of the four-year-old organization “The Race Card Project.” The name of the organization is somewhat self-explanatory. People of all ages and races are asked to, in six words or less, describe their experiences surrounding race.

Norris shared some of the cards with the audience.

“Before 9/11 I was considered white,” one person wrote.

“It’s President Obama, not Mr. Obama,” wrote another.

“Hated for being a white cop,” one person lamented.

“Scared to death for my son.”

“I am both, not just one.”

“Black? White? Where are Hispanics?”

Michele Norris set out to write a book about the history of race in America, but instead wrote about her own family’s story. She did this in part for her children because she believes in, “understanding history, not wallowing in it.”

She also emphasized that in order for there to be progress, individuals should not shy away from discussing race because of fear or discomfort.

In wrapping up her talk Norris said, “ I think the goal should not be a post racist America, not a post racial America.”

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