If you were asked to sum up your thoughts about race in six words, could you do it?
Eight years ago, Michele Norris, former host of NPR’s All Things Considered, asked people attending the book tour for her 2010 memoir, The Grace of Silence, to do just that.
The exercise was meant as a conversation starter, a way to engage people on the uncomfortable subject by having them write their thoughts on postcards and then share them with others—directly and online. But Norris’ Race Card Project has become much more.
Businesses, churches, and other institutions have used it to facilitate uneasy discussions around race.
The idea is even more relevant today. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say racism remains a problem in the United States, according to a recent NBC poll. In fact, almost half of those polled say they believe race relations are getting worse.
In addition to helping start difficult conversations, the postcards and their backstories also serve as a sort of time capsule, marking specific events: The first Black president, Black Lives Matter, the Muslim ban, understanding of White fragility, and the most openly racist president in recent history.
“I think it has great value over time,” said Norris, who now heads up a program called The Bridge at Aspen Institute, which focuses on race, identity, and inclusion. “I’ve done a lot of high-order research. What I would give to have an archive like this to better understand the lived experience of race and identity from the 1930s, or 1940s, 1960s, or even the 1970s, which wasn’t that long ago.”
“And this project, this crazy project that started on the third floor of my house, I think will provide a unique window for people who are trying to understand the moment that we’re living in right now,” she says.