The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

Michele Norris

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 0307378764

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but she was soon disabused of her presumption when forced to confront the fact that “the conversation” in her own family had not been forthright.
Norris unearthed painful family secrets that compelled her to question her own self-understanding: from her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer weeks after his discharge from the navy at the conclusion of World War II to her maternal grandmother’s peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima to white farm women in the Midwest. In what became a profoundly personal and bracing journey into her family’s past, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore the reasons for the “things left unsaid” by her father and mother when she was growing up, the better to come to terms with her own identity. Along the way she discovered how her character was forged by both revelation and silence.
Extraordinary for Norris’s candor in examining her own racial legacy and what it means to be an American, The Grace of Silence is also informed by rigorous research in its evocation of time and place, scores of interviews with ordinary folk, and wise observations about evolving attitudes, at once encouraging and disturbing, toward race in America today. For its particularity and universality, it is powerfully moving, a tour de force.

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cop who shot him. But more often than not, he would have thought he did the guy a favor by living. I’m sure of that. 10 The War at Home EVEN AFTER LEARNING ABOUT the incident at the Pythian Temple, I still don’t know exactly what role my father’s status as a veteran may have played in his shooting. I’m not even certain he was wearing a uniform at the time. Morris Beaton thinks he was wearing “sailor whites,” but he cautioned me that he’s not entirely sure. Here is what I do know. My father had

proceed by fits and starts and occasional spats and squabbles. But all of us should be willing to remain at the table even when things get uncomfortable. We need to be fearless while unburdening ourselves, even as we respect the same effort in others. There is often grace in silence. But there is always power in understanding. On a trip to New York City I took my kids to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, the centerpiece of which is a massive aircraft carrier now permanently docked in the

from you. I certainly have. Thanks for always telling me I’m capable of anything. It would be so easy to throw “almost” into that sentence. You never do. I hope this book will serve as a tribute in at least some small way to the folks who know me as “Mickey,” that protective cocoon of aunts, uncles, cousins, and loving neighbors who occupied my world in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Birmingham. Mary and Luther Johnson and the rest of the Johnson clan were abundantly generous with their time and

the ass,” the woman said. “Today someone is getting on my nerves but tomorrow I am certain to bug the hell out of somebody else. That’s just the way life works.” Mom loved that. It explained so much. She adopted that phrase and added her own coda: “Life would be pretty boring if we all got along all of the time.” In retrospect, I can see how Mom’s tough-as-nails exterior might keep people at bay, but she also has a wicked sense of humor and a laugh that commands you to join in the fun. Sometimes

the point that white officers in Birmingham in the 1940s and ’50s earned less than what they would make in the mills or the mines. They had to provide their own flashlights and pistols, and they were led by a man—Bull Conner—who was overtly racist. Does knowing more about the officers’ situation affect how we understand their actions? 13. Julia Beaton says to Norris: “I have no white American friends. I just don’t care for them. I just don’t trust them. I have always told my sons and my

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