The Race Card Project

Michele Norris, photo courtesy of California Lectures.
Michele Norris, photo courtesy of California Lectures.

In 2010, Michele Norris, renowned journalist and author, set out to promote her first book, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir. At the same time, she wanted to “foster a wider conversation about race in America” and subsequently started what is known today as The Race Card Project.[1] Norris is noted as “one of the most trusted voices in American Journalism.”[2] Before becoming a host on NPRs All Things Considered, she worked for ABC News as a reporter in the Washington Bureau.[3] Norris was awarded an Emmy as well as a Peabody Award for her coverage of 9/11.[4] She was also named one of the “25 Most Influential Black Americans” by Essence magazine, and gained a spot on Ebony’s “Power 150 List”, as well as was awarded the “8th Outstanding Women in Marketing & Communications Award.”[5] Norris’ book is an honest examination of her personal and complex racial heritage and upbringing.

Norris’ hope with The Race Card Project was that people would share their experiences with race via postcards she had designed. She would then use the postcards to facilitate dialogue with the groups who came to discuss her book. She asked participants to think about their “questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity.”[6] From there they were encouraged to come up with six words that described their experience and understanding of race relations in America that would be written on the postcards. After the postcards were used in the group sessions they were converted into a traveling exhibit. In two years, the exhibit visited twelve museums and schools across the United States, including Syracuse University, the Brooklyn Museum, and the University of Oregon. As it travelled, Norris continued to receive postcards in the mail, as well as from individuals attending her promotional book events. The exhibit has since stopped traveling and is now accessible online. However, new postcards and comments are added regularly.

Moodle created by The University of Akron, Ohio, when the Race Card Project visited the campus.
Moodle created by The University of Akron, Ohio, when the Race Card Project visited the campus.

The voices of the Race Card Project are humorous, painful, and enlightening. They bring to life real experiences of people affected by continued racism in America today. By allowing everyone to have a voice, and a spot on the wall Norris has illuminated many diverse and striking opinions about race relations. She opens the door, allowing people a safe space to share their experiences. For example, Rose Collins writes, “appreciate difference or repeat the past,” and Scarlet Louis-Jean says, “my unique identities should be revered,” Keyona says, “I’m more than just a color,” and Chima Ordu writes, “did you just clutch your purse?”[7] The six words shared by these four individuals provide a candid look into how racism shapes the daily lives of people across the country. These reflections, as well as the thousands of responses shown on the wall, show the varying degrees of understanding and acceptance of race in America. This is what makes the project so engaging; the real, honest, candid, and sometimes uncomfortable comments and experiences.

Norris openly admits the voices of the project are varied: “Some will with make you smile. Others might make you squirm. And there are a few that might make you wonder why they deserve a place on the website’s Race Card Wall.”[8] It is this element that truly makes the project fascinating, and a little unsettling. The goal of the project is valid, as Norris is an authority on race in America. However, as discussed, the project gives a voice to everyone, like Bob from Boise, Idaho. He writes “prejudice and racism, a two-way street.”[9] This comment evokes the notion of reverse or white racism, the argument that aspects of African Americans’ fight for equality are somehow hurting white Americans. The question becomes, does Bob deserve a spot on the wall, and is his voice valid? Additionally, we see a card from Heather Nichols that says “dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, blonde.”[10] Is being blonde the same as being black in America? Are these stories really the same, and do they deserve equal attention?

Photo courtesy of Adrian Kinloch, the creative designer for The Race Card Project.
Photo courtesy of Adrian Kinloch, the creative designer for The Race Card Project.

Norris’s goals for the Race Card Project are noble. It sets out to cross borders and get more people engaged in this very important conversation. Norris has a deep understanding of the issues, and is looking to create a safe space for people to be able to share and discuss. But is an online forum the right place for these conversations? Can people have open and honest dialogue when there is no real face on the other side? Can there be thoughtful and engaging conversation in this type of environment? It also begs the questions, is everyone’s opinion valid? Does every person get a voice when it comes to racism in America?

[1] NPR, Michele Norris, last modified 2015, http://www.npr.org/people/2100974/michele-norris

[2] Michele Norris, The Grace of Silence: The Power of Words, last modified unknown, http://michele-norris.com/about-michele/

[3] NPR, Michele Norris, last modified 2015, http://www.npr.org/people/2100974/michele-norris

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] The Race Card project, last modified 2015, http://theracecardproject.com/about-the-race-card-project/

[7] The Race Card project, last modified 2015, http://theracecardproject.com/the-race-card-project-wall/

[8] The Race Card project, last modified 2015, http://theracecardproject.com/about-the-race-card-project/

[9] The Race Card project, last modified 2015, http://theracecardproject.com/prejudice-racism-two-way-street/

[10] The Race Card project, last modified 2015, http://theracecardproject.com/dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb-blonde/

4 thoughts on “The Race Card Project

  1. Wow, from what I can see briefly browsing the website, this is a really cool project. And after going through dialogue training on Friday, I can see using them/recreating them as part of dialogue facilitation. I do think we need to keep in mind the questions you pose at the end of your blog post Melissa. They are good questions and good things to discuss in class.

  2. This sounds like a powerful way to really listen to the voices of those affected by racism. So often in museums and in the media we hear the statistics and the stories from history, but rarely do we get a personal, contemporary perspective on the meaning of race. I do wonder why Norris chose six words instead of asking participants to write one or two sentences. Six words just seems so limiting. I wonder what her reasoning was,

  3. This is a really fascinating project! To answer one of your questions though, Melissa, I think that this kind of conversations should be had face-to-face. While online forums provide some comfort hiding behind a screen, I do not feel that I allows for open, honest, and comprehensive communication.

  4. I think that social media and online discussions about race are not very effective because people need to feel like they are in a safe environment to share their opinions. We need ground rules for dialogue and I believe we cannot use the comments shared during these conversations in a public way that identifies who said what. Museum professionals should consider the safety and honest opinions of their visitors when advertising their programs. Online exhibits and discussions about race do not seem effective or beneficial because they lack the personal connection and can lead to people facing backlash about their comments if they are viewed online.

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