Known as one of the hosts of NPR's All Things Considered, Michele Norris is a journalist who has also written for the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post. She set out to write about her family after learning, almost by accident, that her father had been shot in the leg by police as a newly returned Veteran from WWII. Her father had never told anyone in his family, not even his wife. He died without every discussing what had happened. Michele tried to find out more about the incident by asking her family members from her father's generation, but she kept running into a wall of silence. Being a journalist, of course this only made her more persistent. The result is this fascinating memoir about her family's development through the 20th century. This is history that is often left out of the history books. Norris explores racial identities through family stories revealed through layers of silence and resistance, gradually coming to understand the perspectives of parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents who would much rather not talk about the past. So many of the experiences they endured were painful and confusing due to the racism that infuses our country. It is as if, by continually pushing forward and striving towards their dreams for their children, they hoped to leave the past behind completely. But it is in our exploration of what has come before that we can truly know ourselves. Michele does us all a tremendous service by eloquently bridging the gaps in our collective memory.
Norris has a blog where she is posting more about American history and the complexity of race in our society. She has started something she calls the "Race Card Project", inviting readers to submit their own ideas about race in six word statements. You can read them here, and submit your own ideas if you like. Find a Teacher's Guide to the book here on her website.
Watch and listen to Michele discuss her family stories here on YouTube. I warn you, it is so intriguing you will not be able to let the story go until you read it all! Here are more reviews from the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor, as well as reviews on GoodReads.