A new way to talk about race

NPR’s Michele Norris discusses The Race Card Project

April 27, 2016

What can a person say about race in only six words? Quite a bit, according to Michele Norris, NPR host and founder of The Race Card Project, who led a discussion with CU Denver students, faculty and alumni on race, culture and identity.

Horrell Norris and Kantor
A reception was held prior to Michele Norris’ presentation. From left: Dorothy Horrell, Michele Norris and Rebecca Kantor.

The event, which included a reception, presentation and Q&A, was cohosted by the School of Education & Human Development, College of Arts and Media, School of Public Affairs, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, CU Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus, and Denver Public Safety Youth Programs, City and County of Denver.

Prior to Norris’s presentation, CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell spoke on the university’s commitment to diversity and about CU Denver’s unique position, as a public urban research university, to examine issues of diversity and inclusion.

“One of the great discoveries I’ve made since arriving at CU Denver is the remarkable commitment to addressing issues of great significance within our community and within our larger society,” said Horrell.

The Race Card Project

Norris began The Race Card Project in 2010 as a way to circumvent the politics and theatrics that often accompany discussions of race and provide a window into real, and often hidden, conversations about race. The project asks individuals to share six words encompassing their thoughts, experiences and feelings on race and identity. More than 50,000 submissions have been archived on theracecardproject.com, which provides a forum for discussion.

“The archive allows you to understand the lived experience around race in the country,” said Norris. “This crazy project where I’ve asked people to share their six-word stories taps a root that goes deep beneath the surface to those things we know people talk about but don’t share out loud.”

“Black babies cost less to adopt”

Submissions Norris has received contain anger, joy, disappointment, humor, hope and every other emotion or sentiment imaginable. However Norris sees each of them as providing insight into the way people perceive American identity, personal identity and race.

Michelle Norris
NPR host and special correspondent Michele Norris discussed The Race Card Project with CU Denver students, alumni and faculty.

Norris recalled that one submission that she found particularly shocking, “Black babies cost less to adopt.” She decided to follow up on the submission for a potential segment on NPR. The author, a white woman from Louisiana who adopted a black child, explained that during the adoption process she encountered a fee structure that varied based on the race of the child.

Norris and her colleagues at NPR researched the claim and found it to be true in many states. It was an enlightening moment for Norris.

“Those six words say so much about our country and our values system, and it is just six words,” said Norris.”

“Still more work to be done”

Norris continues to receive postcard and web submissions for The Race Card Project. Attendees from CU Denver were given cards on which to submit their own thoughts on race—giving them the opportunity to add to the stories that have come from individuals across the nation and from 60 countries.

With tens of thousands of entries waiting to be archived, Norris sees the project as a mosaic of experiences and stories that can help bridge perspectives and help people understand one another. She hopes to see the project expand, and potentially create a curriculum that can be utilized in schools.

Perhaps what she has learned from the experience are best summed up through her own six words: Still more work to be done.

“We may wish for the finish line, but there’s so much that we have to do and we can do,” Norris said.