Join her in an in-depth conversation at upcoming Westminster Forum
For nearly a decade, Michele Norris invited Americans to share their life experiences in six-word stories.
Norris, a veteran journalist, started The Race Card Project in 2010 during her tenure at National Public Radio (NPR), where she became the Black female host in 2002. She left NPR in 2015 to focus on the project, which invited people to submit their experiences about race in the U.S. in six-word comments.
Since 2019, Norris has been an opinion columnist at the Washington Post. She previously was an ABC News correspondent, writing at the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times before she joined NPR in 2002.
Her many honors include an Emmy (2006), Peabody (2006), and 2009 NABJ Journalist of the Year title.
Norris is a Minneapolis native and a graduate of Washburn High and the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she was a WCCO-TV reporter while still in college.
The daughter of Elizabeth, a fourth-generation Minnesotan, and Belvin Norris, Jr., an Alabama native who served in the Navy in World War II, she released her latest book, “What Americans Really Think About Race and Identity,” on January 16.
On Feb. 1, Norris will appear at the Westminster Town Hall for an in-depth conversation. In an MSR phone interview last week, Norris explained that her Westminster appearance will be more than just speaking about her book.
“I have been at Westminster before,” said Norris. “They invite all kinds of people. [I] appreciate that they make it available to people who can’t make their way downtown, so you can listen on Minnesota Public Radio.
“I appreciate that they’re willing to give me a space where we can use this project to bring people together—not just to talk but also to listen—and maybe debate and maybe spar a little bit,” continued the award-winning journalist. “We’re living in a divided moment; we have to get comfortable with sometimes being uncomfortable.
“What we’re doing in the Twin Cities is something a little bit different than what I traditionally do on the book tour,” stressed Norris. “We’re going to do a theatrical reading of a section of the book, and we’re going to invite members of the community. We’ve done this before…and it can be very powerful.”
Norris’ 500-page book is based on her Race Card Project. “In creating the book,” she said, “I wanted to include as many of the individual six-word stories as I could. It’s about a little under 1,000 stories.
“Some of them are just excellent stories, and some of them are six-word stories with backstories, and some of them are deeply reported essays. The combination of individual stories and essays that I wrote and researched and reported, and lots of photographs because I wanted the design of the book to feel like it [came] off the page into someone’s space, into their heart, maybe into their mind.”
Talking about race might be one of the most difficult things to do in America, but Norris, through her ambitious project, learned that and more.
“I thought no one wanted to talk about race… I was wrong,” reiterated Norris. “It turns out a lot of people do. They’re just trying to figure out how and where and can they do it without feeling guilty or facing some sort of [backlash].
“I learned that there are a lot of White people who are willing to talk about race beyond what I expected,” she recalled. “Race is usually something that people of color [talk] about to people of color. I didn’t expect this many White participants.
“One of the lessons for me is that our definitions of race sometimes are too narrow. We think about it in kind of a Black-White construct, a civil rights binary. A big lesson for me is that we’re having a conversation about race based on the headlines and the flashpoint in the news cycle. The conversations that people are having in their homes are sometimes tethered to that some way, but loosely, much different and much more reserved.”
Norris said she isn’t so naïve as to believe that her book will be a panacea to what ails America. “My goal in doing this work is not trying to indoctrinate anybody. I talked to a lot of people I don’t agree with. I think that you can still have a very prickly and challenging conversation with someone without yelling.
“I’m trying to hold a mirror up to society. I know I’m not going to change someone’s mind per se in that individual conversation,” stated Norris. “The goal is to collect the stories and present them in a way so that America can see itself as if it were looking into a cultural mirror.”
America today is deeply divided, said Norris. Nonetheless, “There is some value in that in figuring out the other side.
“Many people are actively invested in dividing America, and we all consume a media diet which sometimes reflects a divided America,” added Norris. “If we can provide a project where we can at least be tethered and listen to each other a little bit, we can find out ways to coexist with dignity, to reach common ground.
“We’re probably going to continue to disagree. Racism is not something that will magically go away. We’re always going to have people who see the world differently, and we’re always going to probably have a certain degree of prejudice and bias in our world. It’s been with us since the very beginning of time.”
Finally, the veteran journalist offered her own six-word story: “My final six words—do more work to be done.”
Michele Norris’ appearance at Westminster Town Hall takes place on February 1 at 6 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m., with a musical prelude by T. Mychael Rambo at 5:30 p.m. The talk begins at 6 p.m.
A book signing and a reception will be held afterward and is free and open to the public at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Marquette Ave. in Minneapolis.
Learn more and watch live at westminsterforum.org.