The Grace of Silence
Michele Norris is a co–host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, National Association
of Black Journalists 2009 Journalist of the Year, contributor to The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune,
and the Los Angeles Times, and frequent guest on Meet the Press, The Chris Matthews Show, and Charlie Rose.
Her book grew out of her award-winning NPR series The York Project: Race and the ’08 Vote.
In guiding the exchanges on race that would become that radio series, Ms. Norris concluded that for her
planned book on race dialogues, she would need to turn her journalistic skills on her family as well.
As she writes in the introduction to The Grace of Silence, "I had hoped that other people would speak
candidly about race for my book, but I soon came to understand that my reporting had to begin with me.
The discussion about race within my own family was not completely honest."
The result is a brave and moving memoir that asks difficult, often unwelcomed questions about family matters
kept in "silence" from the younger generations: her mother’s experiences growing up in "the only black family
in the northern town of Alexandria," Minnesota and her maternal grandmother’s job traveling the Midwest
portraying a certain pancake-flipping corporate icon; her father’s journey from the Navy in World War II
home to segregated Birmingham, Alabama and then hastily north after a near-tragic incident kept secret
during the rest of his life; and her parents’ chilly reception as the first black family in a
South Minneapolis neighborhood in the 1960s and 70s.
The Grace of Silence makes us reflect on how our identities have been shaped by our forebears,
and even more intriguingly, by the choices they made in presenting their lives to us. In particular,
Norris’s book confronts the legacies of racism from both victims’ and perpetrators’ perspectives,
and asks what sorts of reactions to those legacies and ongoing racial conflict might model "grace."
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