The Race Card Project Presentation
On February 24, 2020, I was honored to attend a presentation from former NPR host Michelle Norris about her project she’s been working on called the “The Race Card Project.” This project has been in the making for Norris since 2010 and started to gain momentum and had a breakthrough during the 2012 U.S. Presidential elections. The Race Card Project is a website where people from all over the country and even globally in some occasions, how a six word snapshot / sentence shows the attitude, experiences, and behavior of Americans during a very memorable and iconic moment in U.S. History. Each of these six word sentences represents someone’s attempt to distill their thoughts, observations, experiences, or views about race or cultural identity. Some are funny, some you agree with, some are hard to read, and some make your fingers crawl with disgust and discomfort. It makes you stop and rethink how noticeable it is. So my main argument is that us as a society have normalized many phrases, thoughts, views, food, places, and much more and have connected it in some type of way to the history of what African Americans and other non-whites had to experience in the Americas. What Norris did was expose it, and it triggered a spark in society.
Michelle’s Norris overall objective with The Race Project was just to get people talking about race at the time this started (2010). Back then it was more of a touchy subject than it was today because as Ms. Norris said during her presentation that society had thought they’d overcome the subject of race, but she had another view towards the relationship of race and society, she saw an opportunity to shed light into darkness. The topic could be seen but it was not talked about. A big part of why society had thought we had overcome racism was because of the election of former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2008. He was the first African-American President to ever be elected in the United States. As you can imagine everyone thought racism was over, everyone all over the world had that feeling. We all felt like the human race had advanced to a better place, but there was still some stuff off about society according to Michelle Norris. That “stuff” to Norris was more of a judging point of view from the outside, a point of view that was normalized in society. That point of view puts people of color on the stop with questions asked to them, statements said to them, or even just some thoughts about people of color. Now, don’t get me wrong, us as humans have advanced in many good ways when it comes to racism and how we respond to it in the past century. But as Michelle Norris emphasized, there was still a smoke screen, and she knew we can do better than what society was at the time. Some sentences that I saw directly from her Race Card project webpage was “My name’s Jamal, but
I’m white.” or “Wow, you don’t have an accent!” and “I am Muslim, I’m not a terrorist.” and lastly, “I’m not racist, my boyfriend’s brown.” That gives you a glimpse on how much of a variety race can affect many aspects in life, and most of the time we don’t even realize or acknowledge what or how we say it is that we’re saying. Michelle Norris was looking for a voice, a voice to be heard, like many black civilist leaders in the past. Although it is a very much different way than in the past. It’s a strong emotion for Michelle Norris and many others because it still feels connected to the past shaped by Black enslavement and exploitation in slavery. It’s still connected by the way we view things, the way we process things through our mind, or even how it’s shown sometimes through many other aspects of life that we don’t even realize it. For example some entertainment such as filmography, cartoon television shows, and much more.
So what does race mean to you? What does it mean to your family? What does it mean to your friends? Could you explain it in six words? That’s what Michelle Norris wanted to know, what comes to mind when you hear the word race. To me, race is culture, culture is what makes us different, not our skin color. Culture is family, it’s your stomping grounds, it’s who you hangout with, what you believe in life, all of that is culture. Sometimes I think race is made up, but not racism, it’s truly sad but unfortunately it does happen.
Another point that Michelle Norris brought up in her presentation is stereotyping. Stereotyping in ways of how people look such as tattoos, beanies, piercings, etc. Also stereotype by the way you talk, dress, what you eat, what you watch and listen to. Sometimes our society tends to stereotype by the way we ask certain questions. In other words racial ideologies. For example, some racial ideologies that have been framed on African Americans by society over centuries and depict them as “dangerous”, “rapist”, and tend to portray them as less intelligent than they are. But Dr. Norris is trying to say that today’s racial ideologies are limiting a person to what brand shoes they can wear, the type of meal they order, what kind of music you listen to or even just by your first name. Racial Ideology in today’s world is just more hidden but once noticed it is abundantly clear. Her presentation tends to relate with many topics that we have discussed in our journey of learning about the African-American history in the United States. One way that really struck out to me was the similarities in racial profiling or pre-judging to todays society way of stereotyping. For example in our book “Freedom on My Mind” they talk about the time Henry Louis Gates Jr. a Harvard Professor was racially profiled at his home by a cop because the cop thought he was breaking into the house. The way Michelle Norris expresses her view on stereotyping sort of tends to awaken another eye in yourself and it makes you realize the truth. I remember during her presentation when she was explaining a short story about a family of color walking into a very prestigious and fancy restaurant, and as soon as the family walked a lot of people in the room seemed to pause and acknowledge them. She explained how the energy and vibe in the room instantly shifted. She said she felt like her family and herself were on display. She felt like her skin color, her ancestors’ past, her background, her culture, all of it was displayed. She felt exposed. And sadly a large part of society today tends to expose race in a hidden way.
White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martins, 2017.
Kaufmann, Eric. “Americans Are Divided by Their Views on Race, Not Race Itself.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/opinion/race-america-trump.html.
“The Race Card Project ® – Submit Your 6 Word Essay on Race.” The Race Card Project, 23 Dec. 2019, theracecardproject.com/about-the-race-card-project/.
“The Race Card Project: Six-Word Essays.” NPR, NPR, www.npr.org/series/173814508/the-race-card-project.