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Week of April 22, 2013

Town hall expands conversation on race

National Public Radio journalist Michele Norris, whose Race Card Project encourages individuals to offer six words capturing their thoughts on race, expanded that conversation in a town hall meeting April 18 at Rackham Auditorium.

Thousands nationwide have submitted their six-word views to The Race Card Project website, founded by Norris in 2010. U-M is the first university in the country to participate in the project, with a series of programs this week.

Michele Norris speaks at a town hall meeting that was part of Race Card Project events at U-M. Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography. Below: Earlier on April 18, Norris joined others on the Diag to view an exhibit of six-word descriptions about race. The exhibit is part of the Race Card Project. Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

The town hall meeting opened with several U-M staff and faculty members stepping to microphones on stage to read submissions from around the country.

They include: “Colors run together, why don’t people,” “Please stop saying I am articulate,” “Do articulate whites also impress you?” “Six words will never be enough,” “I will not ruin your bloodline,” “I’m a girl not a fantasy,” and “You can’t say that anymore, grandma.”

Norris then invited audience members to offer their six words and say more.

Aliza Hirani of Dallas, Texas, and of Pakistani background said, “It’s really frustrating when you say you’re from Texas and to be told, ‘You’re not from there.’ Asking what my heritage is is better than challenging if I’m American. I’m OK with the question. The issue for me is more of a denial of my answer.”

Annemarie Toebosch, lecturer III and director of Dutch studies, offered her six words centered on her country’s history: “I’m Dutch and brought slaves here.” Toebosch said she and others of Dutch heritage are trying to end a Christmas tradition in her country in which some of Santa’s helpers are portrayed in blackface.

“That’s the beauty of the Race Card Project. You have an opportunity to talk with each other,” Norris said, gesturing among town hall participants.

Madeline Gonzalez of Ann Arbor said she was concerned about how prejudice would affect her 8-year-old son, Julian, who is half Dominican and half black. Gonzalez says she liked the six-word message she heard read from the stage earlier, “I am not half, I’m double.”

Norris said the project’s partnership with the university “has been one of the greatest honors of my life. It’s been humbling, heartening, satisfying and inspiring.”

Earlier Thursday, Norris and U-M organizers of Race Card Project activities on campus visited a Race Card Project exhibit on the Diag.

Kadija Deen, an alumna and graduate law clerk in Student Legal Services, stopped to fill out a card.

“I was active in IGR (U-M Intergroup Relations) as an undergrad, so it’s a topic that is close to my heart. I think that it’s an important discussion,” she said.


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