Race Card Project Creates New Type of Conversation

Race Card Project Creates New Type of Conversation

The Associated Press

Jesse Washington, National Writer on Race and Ethnicity

She asked for just six words.

Michele Norris, the National Public Radio host, was starting a book tour for her memoir, which explored racial secrets. Sensing a change in the atmosphere after the election of the first black president, and searching for a new way to engage and listen, Norris printed 200 postcards asking people to express their thoughts on race in six words.

The first cards that trickled into her mailbox were from Norris’ friends and acquaintances. Then they started coming from strangers, from people who had not heard Norris speak, from other continents. The tour stopped; the cards did not:

“You know my race. NOT ME!”

“Chinese or American? Does it matter.”

“Oh, she’s just another white girl.”

“Waiting for race not to matter.”

Such declarations brought the Race Card Project to life.

“I thought I knew a lot about race,” says Norris, 51, an award-winning black journalist. “I realized how little I know through this project.”

Two years later, the cards have become almost a parallel career for Norris, best known for her work on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She and an assistant have catalogued more than 12,000 submissions on http://www.theracecardproject.com/. People now send them via Facebook and Twitter or type them directly into the website, leading to vibrant online discussions…

…Or the story of Arlene Lee, who posted: “Birthday present; you are black, sorta?”

On the night before Lee’s 50th birthday, she was going through the papers of her late mother, an immigrant from Peru. Lee found her mother’s real birth certificate, plus a fake one she had used to enter the United States in 1958. On the fake document, Lee’s mother had changed her race from black to white.

“My mother raised me to be white and I am, at least by self identification I guess,” Lee wrote on the Race Card Project website.

“It breaks my heart that we never had a chance to talk about it, that she didn’t feel she could trust her only child to understand and that she didn’t feel she could ever come out of hiding,” Lee wrote.

“And now, I have a new prism through which to see things.”…

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