In the last three years, I have not been racially focused. I suppose, then, that it should come as no surprise to me that I had never heard of The Race Card Project until yesterday. And then yesterday I became mildly obsessed with it. And with it’s creator Michele Norris. If scheduling will allow, I just might finally make the return to my alma mater for the final events in April. I am so thrilled that this is happening in Ann Arbor, and I look forward to the “results.” How do college students feel and/or think about race in 2013. Will these race cards be vastly different from those of older generations? Are they full of dismay, anxiety, and cowardice? Or are they the boldly outspoken, “color blind” generation we’ve been waiting for? I’d place my money on the former. No offense to the Millennials, I just don’t think we’ve come that far. Yet.
U-M first university to participate in innovative Race Card Project
In the last three years, thousands of people across the U.S. have participated in the Race Card Project, an innovative social-issue undertaking created by award-winning journalist Michele Norris. The project gathers participants’ six-word descriptions of their view of race written on postcards or online forms. Based on the range, quality and number of collected responses, the Twitter-like approach to such a weighty topic is inspiring a deeper and revealing conversation.
On Tuesday, March 12, Norris (photo left) arrives in Ann Arbor to meet with students, faculty and staff in a formal kick-off of the Race Card Project at the University of Michigan, marking the first partnership between the project and an American university. Cards will be distributed to students at U-M’s Law School, Michigan Union, Haven Hall, and Diag on central campus, and Pierpont Commons on north campus.
“Despite all the talk about America’s consternation or cowardice when it comes to talking about race, I seemed to have found auditorium after auditorium full of people who were more than willing to unburden themselves on this prickly topic,” said Norris, who returns to campus April 18 when thousands of expected filled-in race cards will be displayed on U-M’s iconic Diag. On that day, she will also conduct a town-hall forum on race at Rackham Auditorium.
U-M’s participation in the Race Card Project comes amid a semester-long exploration of race coordinated by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. The theme semester, “Understanding Race Project,” examines the many notions of race through an extensive range of public exhibits, performances, lectures, symposia and more than 130 courses in several disciplines designed to explore the concept and implications of race.
For more information on U-M’s theme semester, please visit: https://www.lsa.umich.edu/themesemester/aboutthemesemesters/understandingraceproject
“The Race Card Project is a compelling and novel approach to gather people’s immediate reactions and attitudes about race,” said Martha Jones, co-chair of U-M’s Understanding Race Project theme semester, and associate professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and History. “Bringing Michele Norris to campus connects U-M and our work educating students about race into the nonacademic, social world where discourse about race might be less formal, but profoundly revealing,” said Jones, who is also co-chair of the Program on Race, Law and History at U-M’s Law School.
During her upcoming two-day visit to campus, Norris will host a Race Card dialogue with U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and her executive officers, who will submit their own six-word descriptions on race, ethnicity and cultural identity. In addition, she will meet with students, who are circulating the postcards on campus.
U-Mich Race Card Project Events
- Tuesday, March 12, 2013. 10:30 – 11:30 AM. A Race Card Dialogue with President Mary Sue Coleman and Michele Norris. Press opportunity to follow.
- Monday, April 15 – Friday, April 19. Race Card Installation in Shapiro Undergraduate Library.
- Thursday, April 18, 2013. 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM. Race Card Installation on the Diag.
- Thursday, April 18, 2013. 4:00 – 6:00 PM. Reading and Race Card Town Hall with Michele Norris. Rackham Auditorium.
- Friday, April 19, 2013. 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM. A Race Card Dialogue with Michele Norris. Arthur Miller Theater. North Campus. Hosted by CEDO, the Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach.
- Friday, April 19, 2013. 1:00 – 3:00 PM. A Race Card dialogue with Michele Norris. Alumni Center.
- Friday, April 19, 2013. 4:00 – 6:00 PM. A Race Card dialogue with Michele Norris. Law School South Hall. Sponsored by the Michigan Law Program in Race, Law & History.
Norris is currently National Public Radio guest host and special correspondent. She is a former news correspondent for ABC NEWS, and a frequent guest on “Meet the Press” and “Chris Matthews Show.”
In 2009, the National Association of Black Journalists named Norris Journalist of the Year. During her career, she co-hosted NPR’s Democratic presidential candidate debates, covered Republican and Democratic conventions, and moderated a series of conversations with voters on the intersection of race and politics.
Race and identity are the focus of Norris’ personal account, “The Grace of Silence: A Memoir,” published in 2010. In the book, she delves into family secrets that raise questions about her racial legacy.
More on Norris and The Race Card Project:
Michele Norris to Return to NPR in New RoleBy BRIAN STELTER
…Ms. Norris left her position (as host for NPR) in October 2011 when her husband, Broderick Johnson, joined President Obama’s re-election campaign as a senior adviser. At that time she thought she’d return to “All Things Considered” after the campaign. But then, during her leave of absence, she poured herself into The Race Card Project, something she had started while on a book tour in 2010 to spur conversations about race.
The project invited participants to distill their thoughts about race to six words and submit them on postcards or on social networking Web sites. “I asked people to think about their experiences, their observations, their triumphs, their laments,” she said. To date she has received more than 12,000 submissions, conveying messages like these:
— “My skin makes my life easier.”
— “Waiting for race not to matter.”
— “Don’t vote for that black guy.”
— “I am a conservative, not racist!”
— “Who do you mean by ‘they?’“
— “Underneath, we all taste like chicken.”
“At some point I realized I couldn’t walk away from it,” Ms. Norris said in a telephone interview Thursday, describing how she “accidentally tripped into this next chapter of my career.”
But hosting “All Things Considered” is “all-encompassing,” Ms. Norris said, and she wouldn’t have had enough time to devote to follow-up interviews with the respondents and features about race. So she and Ms. Smith conceived a new role for her that will include Web and radio segments related to The Race Card Project; profiles and in-depth segments about politics, the kind she has produced for years; and guest-hosting opportunities.