On February 26th, award-winning journalist Michele Norris graced Messiah College’s campus to present the Keynote Lecture of this year’s Humanities Symposium. Norris is also the creator of the “Race Card Project,” an undertaking which Norris takes the time to flesh out in more detail. (See below.)
Michele Norris quickly claimed the attention of the audience with her conversational tone, humorous anecdotes, and eloquent questions. In a little over an hour, she described her personal journey from a journalist adamantly opposed to talking about race to one of America’s leading participants in the race discussion. Some of the strongest moments of her lecture occurred when she spoke intimately about her family — more particularly, her family secrets. She tells the story of how her father, a service man pursuing the right to vote, was shot by a policeman. She reveals how her grandmother had once been employed as a “traveling Aunt Jemima,” — a job which Norris explained relegated her grandmother to the portrayal of a slave woman. Norris also related to the audience her own story of how she herself learned these family secrets, and the “shifts” they caused within her, inspiring her to become more outspoken about the topic of race.
It all began when she printed 200 “race cards” and distributed them to the public. She asked for the recipients to record their thoughts and feelings on race in only six words. Slowly they began to flood in, inspiring her not only to distribute more but to assemble them all on one website. Norris describes the race cards as one big “conversation” that is easily heard if you read them one after the other — which is exactly what Norris did. Some examples of content she shared included: “Black babies cost less to adopt,” “Lady I don’t want your purse,” “White: not allowed to be proud,” and her self-proclaimed favorite: “Underneath we all taste like chicken.” Her uninterrupted reading wrapped up her lecture in a powerful climax which unlocked multiple perspectives on race and gave plenty of food for thought. Norris explained that the Race Card Project not only allows a safe medium for a conversation which is so often discouraged in our society, but that it allows people to listen to one another. She professed that it takes “true courage” to listen, ESPECIALLY if you don’t agree.
Her lecture was powerful and poignant, and ended on an informal and easygoing note characteristic of Norris as she declared: “If you have questions, I’d love to hear them – or we can all go have cookies!”