“Still more work to be done,” are the words of Michele Norris on race acceptance in society, a National Public Radio host and specials correspondent, who took the stage in Burt Kahn Court for the annual Black History month lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
Norris encouraged students that although we are in the 21st century, there still is more work to be done in order to reach a fully post-racial society. A society where prejudice no longer exists, and there is no discrimination or racial preferences is yet to come.
Norris has been a reporter for nearly three decades. Norris began her journalism career in print and wrote for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and the LA Times and later moved to broadcast where she became the host of “World News Tonight.” Morris is now in radio, currently a host of newsmagazine on NPR News (National Public Radio).
In the shadows of her life as a journalist, Norris wrote, “The Grace of Silence,” where she talks about her family’s experiences with race. In addition, Norris is the creator of The Race Card Project, where people worldwide provide six words about race and many continue on to share their stories.
“This project was a deeper experience that I have learned and I have brought back to my journalism,” Norris said.
Norris got the idea for her book during the 2008 presidential election with Barack Obama, when she noticed a shift in what people were talking about. Norris’ family began to open up about their racial experiences, with a potential president of color, which had never been shared before.
“The more that I gathered those stories, the more that I realized the reporting had to begin with me, that I really wanted to understand these stories, and use that as a way to understand not just my personal family history,” Morris said. “Each of those stories allowed me to understand some period of American history in a way that I never got in textbooks or all of the PBS documentaries or all the previous dinner table talks.”
In her lecture, Norris spoke of various stories she discussed in her book as well as her aim to show people the shift in American culture.
“Our parents armed us with what they thought we needed; strength, courage and a touch of indignity, but just a touch,” Morris writes in her book. “I was shaped by the advice and ammunitions bearing down on me, I have always known that. But what I did not know until I began researching this project, is that I was also shaped by the wait of my parents’ silence.”
In addition to her book, Norris’ Race Card Project has made an impact both nationally and globally. Norris said she now has at least one submission from every state in the country.
Norris started her project with 200 postcards, which she sent out to people asking them to express their thoughts about race and ethnicity in just six words. After hearing back from 30 percent of the people, she began creating more.
Currently, people send in their six words through social media, The Race Card Project website and the postcards themselves.
“[The Race Card Project] became a conversation where a lot of people were not just talking about race in the abstract, but were using the word race and talking about it and using the word I or me,” Norris said. “It took it to a place that I had never been as a journalist.”
Norris said, so far, her project is a success and is growing. Norris explained that the six words are usually just the start to a greater story.
“It allows you to see what life is like for someone who swims in the next lane,” she said. “And you might not agree with them but at least you can peer inside their window and understand what their life is like.”
Some students really liked the idea of The Race Card Project.
“I think it is a really good idea because you can hear other people’s stories through this forum where you wouldn’t normally be exposed to these ideas on a daily basis,” sophomore Tyler Gilsenan said.
“It allows you to see how other people view such a controversial topic,” sophomore Andrew Brucella said. You get to hear stories that people wouldn’t share.”
One student asked Norris what she chose for her six words.
“Still more work to be done,” Norris said that is how overtime she has chosen to express her thoughts about race and ethnicity.
“The post-racial idea is in the future but it’s not as close as everyone thinks it is,” junior Daniela Morena said. “So I think that is what she was implying when she said more work needs to be done.”