- Associated Press - Saturday, December 1, 2012

She asked for just six words.

Michele Norris, the National Public Radio host, was starting a book tour for her memoir, which explored racial secrets. Sensing a change in the atmosphere after the election of the first black president, and searching for a new way to engage and listen, Norris printed 200 postcards asking people to express their thoughts on race in six words.

The first cards that trickled into her mailbox were from Norris‘ friends and acquaintances. Then they started coming from strangers, from people who had not heard Norris speak, from other continents. The tour stopped; the cards did not:

“You know my race. NOT ME!”

“Chinese or American? Does it matter.”

“Oh, she’s just another white girl.”

“Waiting for race not to matter.”

Such declarations brought the Race Card Project to life.

“I thought I knew a lot about race,” says Norris, 51, an award-winning black journalist. “I realized how little I know through this project.”

Two years later, the cards have become almost a parallel career for Norris, best known for her work on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She and an assistant have catalogued more than 12,000 submissions on http://www.theracecardproject.com. People now send them via Facebook and Twitter or type them directly into the website, leading to vibrant online discussions.

Many cannot resist accompanying their Race Cards with explanations, stories and personal experiences. Norris, in turn, feels compelled to contact them, listen to their stories, and archive this new conversation about race.

The discussion is inseparable from this moment, when the page of America’s racial history is in mid-turn. Part of Norris‘ inspiration came from a series of NPR interviews on race during Barack Obama’s ascent. His reelection has reenergized Norris‘ multiracial community of six-word poets:

“Black babies cost less to adopt.”

“Never a Nazi, just a German.”

“Money on counter, not in hand.”

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