The Power of Listening
By: Olivia Hope
Reputable journalist, Michele Norris, introduces an intriguing memoir, The Grace of Silence. She shares her argument within her story which is simple yet influential: there is power and benefit to listening to someone else’s story; we talk too much. There is a world of enlightening ideas in the minds of Black people that are easily available yet impossible to reveal unless we become more accepting and selfless. Michele Norris is an important figure in today’s society because she speaks the truth, is not afraid to listen and creates a magnitude of positivity that spreads within as well as outside of her community to the rest of the world. She grew up sheltered from the harsh unknown because her family thought that was the best way to protect her; there was one significant milestone which helped her family unravel the rocky, twisted past and give Michele Norris the truth behind her race and its ties to the world. During her powerful talk to students, staff and the community on February 24th 2020, Michele speaks to her audience and conveys that everyone has the capability of listening, being an influence to others and most importantly has the ability to be kind and hear people out without judging. This world is large and there are many people with different opinions on what is right and wrong, but if we take a moment to realize we are one, this world we call home can shift in the direction of welcomeness to all and kindness to those near and far.
I believe everyone can agree that Michele Norris’ purpose was to spread awareness of a crucial message: we need to listen more. She is a very reputable source because she is African American and she grew up in times that were not all perfect and still to this day are not. Michele Norris not only wrote her book, but after that continued to convey her message through The Race Card Project. She invited others all around the world to share their stories because she was brave enough to tell hers. The directions were to share a story about race with six words on a postcard which she sent out. A lot of people in society want to have a conversation about race, but need a path to be guided on for it to be reasonable and appropriate. The Race Card Project turned out to be an overwhelmingly huge success, she had every race sharing their stories, it revealed that behind the perfect picture is a story that may be unfathomable and surprising to everyone. A couple sent in a postcard which detailed, “Married a white girl, now what?” The picture of them was perfect, but things got complicated. Once the couple got married, they had different opinions on what to have, even the littlest things like which scent to have in the house differed from their culture they were used to.
As I was listening to her talk, my mind was going to a million different places, but the one thought that kept prominent in my head was how this world would be today if Black people did not put up a fight for their individual and equal rights. This is so significant to our understanding of African American history because every single move, opinion, protest and action led to the world that exists today. In the Race Card Project, a postcard was sent in with the family picture which says, “Two white dads, three black kids.” This family would’ve never been possible in the past yet it still raises problems in the present. In class we read the position paper, “The Basis of Black Power,” SNCC (1993) reveals a quote, “Any White person who comes into the movement has the concepts in his mind about Black people, if only subconsciously. He cannot escape them because the whole society has geared his subconscious in that direction.” Unfortunately although we have come a long way in race and discimination, there is still an overall misconception that Black people don’t have the wealth of knowledge White people do and aren’t given the equal chance to be listened to. Michele Norris’ message about listening can help this problem in so many ways; everyone has a story, not only White people, there is no difference between races that should affect the treatment of one another.
Michele Norris would go from Minneapolis to Alabama to spend time with her family, but when Obama was elected her family actually opened up to her on her visits back home. When she was in Alabama, her uncle was in a particularly bad mood and exclaimed, “You know your father was shot!” One evening in the month of february, year 1946, her father had just gotten back from serving as a cook/stewart, the navy had recruited from the largest black Birmingham high school. When he and his partners had returned, they thought they would have democracy at home which wasn’t the case, they were not allowed to vote. Her father along with many other African Americans had to know the constitution in order to get the privilege to vote. He would spend hours in buildings late at night and carried around a pocket constitution to quit his family. There was a clothing shortage when he returned back from war because of the large numbers so her father would have to wear his uniform. When White people saw Black people in the same uniform they were not okay with that, according ott them they were not equal. A police officer pulled a gun out on him and his brother, fortunately his neighbor got in the way of the shot, but the bullet skimmed his leg and he was left with a limp. Her uncle explained, “The generations before you know about the shot but your generation stopped and it was silent.” This is a particular narrative of silence that runs through her family. After her father’s story, her grandmother revealed a secret as well, she was a traveling aunt jemima. In the book, “Racism in American Popular Media from Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito,” Behnken & Smithers (2015) explain,“Advertisers learned quickly that racism helped sell products, so featuring a mammy figure like Aunt Jemima on a box of ready-to make pancake mix made sense to advertisers.” She would dress up in a scarf and hoot skirt to go teach people how to use pancake mix. Black people did not usually travel so she would use harp language to try to prove that she was educated. She took the stage that was available to her and carried the flag and carried it forward, she earned money the way she could to support her own family.
Even with the harsh reality of being a Black man, Michele Norris’ father was still very patriotic which made her grow up with a love for the country. He would drape himself in the flag, he loved a country that didn’t love him back, that is the definition of grace. Her parents wanted her to soar in a country and that would be the best present she could give to them, they didn’t want to lay her down and put rocks in her pocket. Michele Norris’ talk is something the whole word should listen to. If every single person would listen to one another, no matter the color of their skin, and value black voices, could we eventually get to no/little dicsrimination in the world? Michele Norris (2018) is so prevalent that she was honored to give a commencement speech and spoke the wise words, “So yes, much has changed in 40 years. You are a generation that has grown up with integration. The color lines that once seemed like they were a hundred miles long and a hundred miles wide have seemingly fallen to create opportunities across the board for all kinds of people who were once marginalized.” Words allow us to open up and find each other, accepting one another for who they are can have a significant impact that could greatly further our progress in unity. A lot has changed in this world and if we continue to listen to each other and accept one another for who they are, 40 years from now this world will have made more progress than ever before.
1.) Behnken, B. D., & Smithers, G. D. (2015). American Popular Media from Aunt Jemima to the Frito Bandito . Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
2.) Norris , Michele. “2018 Commencement Address – Michele Norris .” College of the Holy Cross, 25 May 2018, crossworks.holycross.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=commence_address.
3.) Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee Position Paper: The Basis of Black Power . (1993). Retrieved May 5, 2020, from http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manifestos/SNCC_black_power.html