Exploring Race; Exploring Identity

In the winter of 2010, as National Public Radio host and special correspondent Michele Norris began to travel the country to promote her family memoir The Grace of Silence, she had an idea: to engage the audience at her readings, she handed out postcards. "Race cards," she called them. As she describes it: "I asked people to think about their experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, or observations about race and identity. Then, I asked that they take those thoughts and distill them to just one sentence that had only six words."

In the three years since she began asking people to share their thoughts about race, ethnicity, and cultural identity, more than 30,000 submissions have poured in from the web, by mail, by hand, and via Twitter. This fall, the University of Oregon is conducting its own version of the Race Card Project, with Norris's help.

The UO's Race Card Project was launched one Sunday last fall, when I got an e-mail from Vice President for Student Affairs Robin Holmes. "Did you read the article in the paper this morning about Michele Norris and the Race Card Project?" she asked. "We should bring that here!" Within minutes, Mia Tuan, then director of the Center on Diversity and Community (CoDaC), also e-mailed, and the planning began. We reached out to Norris, and she quickly agreed to come to the UO and invite the campus community to engage in her project.

As I've spoken with people about their six-word stories, I've been inspired by the depth of thought they have put into crafting their submissions. At a recent CoDaC staff meeting, we shared our stories: "It doesn't matter. Until it matters" was one. "I don't exist for your curiosity" and "I am the daughter of oppressors" were others. The stories are powerful. But the lived experience, the backstories—they add such richness to the conversations.

I've come up with a few submissions of my own, some so personal that I hesitate to share; but I do, because every time, somebody finds a connection with his or her own experiences and the conversation about race is both eased and deepened. One of my stories, "Race isn't only about other people," seems to resonate for many. On a majority white campus, too often conversations about race are framed as being about people of color. Norris's project encourages us to think beyond that perspective.

—By Rita Radostitz '81, MS '04

To view more six-word stories or submit your own, as well as to learn more about the UO's year-long Explore Identity project, visit wwww.ExploreIdentity.uoregon.edu.