Book Review: The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris

Technically, this is an audio book review. I highly recommend listening to this one if you can. You will recognize her voice if you have listened to All Things Considered on NPR between 2002 and 2011, when she was one of the hosts. In this, her first book, she applies her award-winning journalistic skill and engaging storytelling toward uncovering the sometimes-uncomfortable truths in her own family. As a memoir, she takes us on this journey of discovery and shares with us her inner emotions along with the facts.

Ms. Norris originally set out to write about the changing conversations around race in the Obama era, but changed course when she realized there was so much to learn, hear and talk about within her own family. As a fifth-generation Minnesotan on her mother’s side with paternal family in Alabama, her exploration takes us both north and south. She questions and shares with us her and her family members’ life experiences and perspectives from the lens of what it means to be black in America for her own family.

Those of you here in Minnesota will recognize many of the landmarks she references, which I found fun, having lived here now for over 20 years. It is such an interesting read on many levels.

If you want to take this a step further, check out her Race Card Project, which she started as a way to get people to think about and share their own thoughts on race and identity. It is a very candid collection and a fascinating read. The opinions truly run the gamut. This means you might have to take a deep breath before reading these, because it is likely that you will find some that you don’t agree with. Some may be triggering if you’ve experienced racism or ethnic-isms, as some of the attitudes might align with those who’ve harmed you.

One of the things that strikes me as I read these is that so many people struggle with their identity. There exists a theme of experiencing having an external identity being given to you or an attempt to fit you into a box, contrasting with an internal identity that is often more complex than the external expectation. Perhaps I see that because I can relate. Go ahead and check it out and you may discover what resonates with you.

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