AIF Blog

Let’s Talk about Race

Mar 11, 2015
CATEGORY: Society, U.S.A.

The Race Card Project

The US Justice Department’s recent findings of widespread racial discrimination in Ferguson, Missouri’s police force and court system may seem like a straightforward condemnation of deeply embedded racist practices, but the department’s same-day announcement that it would not bring civil rights charges against the white officer who killed Michael Brown shows how nuanced and complex the issue of racism can be.
 
These kinds of complexities have been explored for the last four-plus years in The Race Card Project, an ongoing initiative by NPR correspondent Michele Norris to gather people’s thoughts about race through six-word essays. The Race Card Project was featured at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival as a performance, called “Say What?” in which Festival speakers took turns reading dozens of the submitted six-word cards, followed by a discussion about their content and race in general.
 
Norris, who has received tens of thousands of six-word stories from all over the world, said that The Race Card Project has allowed people to “express their stories, their thoughts, their trials, their laments, their histories, their memories, their desires, their truths — all expressed in six words.”
 
Noting the candor with which people are able to express themselves through the “race cards,” Norris called the project “a conversation about race that is out there, but you generally don’t get a chance to hear it.”
 
Participant Anne-Marie Slaughter, a public policy expert, added that the Race Card Project allows people to voice what’s no longer acceptable to say, but what many people still might be thinking. 
 
“What’s so powerful about this project is that the words have been silenced, but the feelings haven’t,” said Slaughter, who grew up in Virginia hearing racist slurs.
 
The panel discussed how stereotypes and racial prejudices persist even within racial or ethnic groups, how the election of the nation’s first black president has advanced (or not) the conversation on race, and what responsibility people in general bear for addressing racism.
 
Slaughter, whose ancestors owned slaves, said she feels a responsibility to help make reparations, and that having a national conversation about race is a start. 
 
“The problem is not just law and tax policy and big things that we individually cannot control,” noted author and columnist Anand Giridharadas. “We are all implicated in this; good people are implicated in this too.”
 
Listen to a sampling of race cards read by Festival speakers below. The full session can be found here.
 
 

 

Posted by Catherine Lutz