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Posted on Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

6 words to describe race: U-M is first campus in U.S. to join Michele Norris' Race Card Project

By Danielle Arndt

The University of Michigan will welcome award-winning NPR journalist Michele Norris to campus Tuesday to kick off a landmark campaign of her national project on race.


Michele Norris

From NPR

Three years ago, Norris launched The Race Card Project, an innovative social-issue undertaking with a Twitter-like approach. The idea was to help foster a candid dialogue about race and America's racial history, according to her website.

Norris asked people across the country to think about their experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity, her website says. Then, she asked people to distill those thoughts into a single sentence with just six words.

"The submissions are thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, brave, teeming with anger and shimmering with hope. Some will with make you smile. Others might make you squirm," Norris wrote on her website.

And now U-M students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to become involved in the dialogue and to lead the way for other campuses nationwide.

Tuesday's kickoff marks the first partnership between the project and an American university. Norris will meet with U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and Coleman's executive officers, who each will submit their own six-word description of race. Norris also will meet with the group of students who will be circulating postcards on campus for their peers to participate in the conversation.

Cards will be distributed to students at U-M's Law School, Michigan Union, Haven Hall and the Diag on central campus, and Pierpont Commons on north campus, according to a news release.


Students make their way through the Diag on the University of Michigan campus in this 2012 file photo. NPR journalist Michele Norris will visit the Diag Tuesday and again in April as part of a partnership between U-M and her The Race Card Project.

Melanie Maxwell I

Norris will return to campus on April 18, when thousands of filled-in race cards will be displayed throughout U-M's Diag. She also will conduct a town-hall forum on race at Rackham Auditorium during her April 18 visit.

U-M's participation in the Race Card Project comes amid a semester-long exploration of race coordinated by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. The theme semester, "Understanding Race Project," examines the many notions of race through a range of public exhibits, performances, lectures, symposia and more than 130 courses in several disciplines designed to explore the concept and implications of race, the news release said.

"The Race Card Project is a compelling and novel approach to gather people's immediate reactions and attitudes about race," said Martha Jones, co-chair of both U-M's Understanding Race Project theme semester and an associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies and history.

"Bringing Michele Norris to campus connects U-M and our work educating students about race into the nonacademic social world where discourse about race might be less formal, but profoundly revealing."

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 2:51 a.m.

Strange, I keep hearing from University professors about how race is just a fabricated concept and doesn't really exist. Perhaps Michelle Norris and Mary Sue can get together with those folks and straighten it all out. In the meantime I'm sure everyone will be completely forthright when answering her race card project. If she needs expert help at that card game she can see Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton; they play it all the time.

Charley Sullivan

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

Jay, that professors may say race is a construct doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's just something that exists socially, not biologically. In the meantime, to you and others who have some assumptions about the project, to to their website, read what people write, and write your own. If nothing else, Michelle's project allows anyone to say what they want to say. If there's any censorship, it's coming from people themselves. So be a part of the solution!

A A Resident

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 9:09 p.m.

"You all do know you're racists, right?" No, but we're aware of the common tactic of labeling those with differing views as "racist", rather than presenting a solid argument for your beliefs, so the name-calling comes as no surprise.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 6:54 p.m.

Wow. Just wow. If anyone doubts that racism is still alive and well in the U.S., all they need to do is read these comments. I'm truly shocked. I would have thought Ann Arbor was better educated than this. You all do know you're racists, right?

Sam S Smith

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

Could be, it depends. Most racism against a race exists within a race itself. We are ultimately our own worst enemies! So again, I'm all for addressing racism but are we really going about it in a way that will actually and truly decrease or eliminate it? Just asking!


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Three things --- One the comments proves that America still and always need to have a discussion on race. Two -- None of the commenters will attend this event. Three -- Sad indeed.


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:51 a.m.

...and since you never went to Afghanistan, we can assume you won't be commenting on that? Same scrambled logic.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

The last "discussion on race" I attended was nothing more than being screamed at by the minorities in attendance.

Top Cat

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.



Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 12:36 a.m.

@ Macabre Sunset, re: "It's too bad someone so motivated and successful has become such a whiner." Gee, I missed that part. Please cite a few whines from her, if you would. The only whining associated with this subject that I've read are from the laughable, "Pity The Poor White Guy" demographic, and they have sure been piling it on thick!

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 4:09 a.m.

It's kind of neat that most of us typing away here are poor white guys. I didn't know we were the majority of newspaper readers! If so that says a lot....


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 11:30 p.m.

@ Tim Hornton, re: "This silly arguement (sic) is over except for the simpletons out there that can't get real jobs so jump on the activist bandwagon." And @ jerrydog, re: "What will these people do for a living if they were not race baiters?" Like many commenters here, you stereotype and pigeonhole Michelle Norris as an unsuccessful whiner who wants to blame others for her lowly station in life. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. A journalist with ABC's Washington Bureau for ten years, she then moved to NPR in 2002. She won both an Emmy and a Peabody for her coverage of 9/11, and she's been up for a Pulitzer four times. I'll stop there, but of course she has done much, much more than that. And is probably a lot more motivated and successful than most of the whiners commenting here.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 11:29 a.m.

Michelle Norris seems to be taking a page out of William Randolph Hearst's playbook, using his classic Spanish-American War strategy. He sent Fredrick Remington to Cuba to file reports and pictures of the war, leading to this exchange. W. R. Hearst, New York Journal, N.Y.: "Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return. "Remington." "Remington, Havana: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war. "W. R. Hearst." When there is no news or conflict to report, create some.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

It's too bad someone so motivated and successful has become such a whiner.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 10:57 p.m.

Six words, eh? OK. (Bull Snort) X (Three) = 6


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 9:05 p.m.

What will these people do for a living if they were not race baiters? I cannot think of a much more overused or annoying topic these days.

Macabre Sunset

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

Here's mine: We all possess diversity of essence.

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:48 a.m.

Two down voters said we don't. :( When will the discrimination end!


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

There are mountains of evidence that black people still suffer from covert and overt discrimination. This is irrefutable. Pretending it has subsided and thinking they somehow get special privelages is wrong. We've never really given them anything or tried to right past wrongs. We do not live in a post-racial country. It is naive to thing we do.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 10:07 p.m.

We've never really given them anything or tried to right past wrongs Unbelievable - we are all given freedom by those who died for it, a free education, a bill of rights, a Constitution, free health care, free cell phones, government housing, welfare, unemployment insurance, and a host of other government programs. What more do you want? We're destroying the country financially and taking the work ethic from those who are given all of this stuff that you claim they are not getting. Guess what? It's not working................

Unusual Suspect

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 11:15 p.m.

"We've never really given them anything or tried to right past wrongs" You mean other than the more than 140,000 Union soldiers - mostly all white - who died fighting to rid the country of slavery? It's so easy to forget that little detail.

A A Resident

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 7:42 p.m.

Radlib2, it is not only naive, but flat-out misinformed to think that the US and its citizens have never tried to right past wrongs.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

This event is nothing more than a white guilt convention.

A A Resident

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

A couple of interesting facts: The first documented legal black slave owner in what is now the US was a black man. Beyond that, it was legal action initiated by him which set the precedent for slavery being legal here, and for what followed. What was the source of African slaves who were shipped to the New World? They were primarily purchased from black African slave traders who captured and sold them. Africans enslaving other Africans had already been going on centuries. Plenty of blame to go around. It wasn't all just evil white people.

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:43 a.m.

Billy, I thought the major distinction was that we freed our slaves --> and then went to Africa and freed theirs. Sadly, it still exists today, despite the West's attempts to extinguish it. You are misunderstanding the entire 3/5's thing (which is normal I'm afraid). The slaves were counted for purposes of political representation (even though they couldn't vote) and that was what the argument was about. States with more slaves would gain more political power and that would only benefit the slave holders. Who knows if there would have been a civil war if slaves were counted as a whole person and the South gained that additional representation in Congress?


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 12:28 a.m.

I don't think you understand the word "dehumanization." Human rights abuse isn't dehumanization. It might be inhumane, cruel, and wrong...but it's not dehumanizing. Inhumane =/= Dehumanizing Dehumanizing is lowering the value of another less than that of a human. American slavery was an ethnic slavery...roman slavery was dictated by subjugation or birth. In roman times, if you were conquered you weren't looked at like you were less than were looked at like you were a defeated enemy. In american were looked at like you were subhuman...a lesser 'race' even. That was the justification FOR you being a slave....because you were less than human. The justification in OTHER forms of slavery would be that you were beaten or captured, and THAT is why you are a slave. Or because you were BORN of a slave.....Sins of the Father. That is the difference....and it places the american slave trade as a unique blemish in the history of our planet.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 11:57 p.m.

I think the East African slave trade was equal to any dehumanization going on in the US, in fact, I'd go so far as to say it was much more dehumanizing. In the US the slaves were very expensive, and owners weren't about to damage their property any more than necessary. In East Africa slaves were abundant, and Arab slave traders didn't mind losing a few in the name of expediency. The East African slave trade still exists, as it also does in Liberia - land of the freed slaves from the US.

Macabre Sunset

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

Funny, I wouldn't think "other" types of slavery were any more humanizing. I wonder how these humanized slaves would answer if we could ask them how they feel about being enslaved.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 9:38 p.m.

"Billy, what makes you think that Africans were enslaved based on their race alone?" Oh I don't know...maybe the tons of literature and even laws of this country that supports that know 2/5ths a man and all that garbage... This isn't really even debatable....there was a dehumanization that occurred with african slaves brought to america that did NOT occur with other forms of slavery. That is something unique to the chattel slavery that occurred during the founding of this country.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 8:57 p.m.

"Article V TRADE AND EXCHANGE Section 1. Under this article is included the sale or exchange of slaves, cattle, arms, and all commodities." That's long after our Civil War and emancipation, and it's still a legitimate law in certain places around the world. And it had been in effect long before America had even been visited by Europeans. That example is verbatim from Moro Sulu Code. UM's digital library has the full book, including the exact codes - 'Studies in Moro History, Law and Religion'

A A Resident

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

Billy, what makes you think that Africans were enslaved based on their race alone? As a practical matter, it was an area where modern weapons were in short supply to defend themselves, and the slavery infrastructure was already in place. Imagine the risk and effort it would have taken to source slaves in France.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

"Africans enslaving other Africans had already been going on centuries." However that type of slavery was due to conquest...they weren't dehumanized and enslaved based upon their race alone....which is pretty much what happened once they crossed the ocean. That's the major distinction between the slavery of America and the slavery of the Old World.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

Six words? The slavery card. Still an excuse.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:11 p.m.

It's sad that just the statement that race will be discussed as an issue brings on such anger. Slavery and genocide started with the birth of this country over 500 years ago. Yes, I know the colonies didn't officially organize into a country until after our Revolution against England, but the slavery and genocide were already alive and well in the colonies. The Constitution embedded slavery as an official part of our country. It cannot be healed in 50 years. In 2005, I saw a sign on a diner in Georgia, "NO MEXICANS". The attitudes about race are still an open sore in this country.

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 3:04 a.m.

A tribe of people in the West African country of Mauritania just came forward recently to tell the world that they are still being treated as slaves to this very day... but if the elite media wants to focus on a race card project, be my guest.

A A Resident

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

Wrong, Gramma. Slavery is as old as recorded human history. Slavery in the colonies had been sanctioned by Britain, but as s soon as we became self-governing, serious efforts began to abolish it. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts had already outlawed it by 1783, and several other states had enacted plans to gradually phase it out. In total, it only existed in the US for about 85 years before it became illegal in all states.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:56 p.m.

"Slavery and genocide started with the birth of this country over 500 years ago." That's awfully shortsighted.....slavery and genocide existed LONG before this country did...

Tim Hornton

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

How about six letters for this waste of time and money... Stupid. We have a black President. This silly arguement is over except for the simpletons out there that can't get real jobs so jump on the activist bandwagon. This comment will probably get deleted lol.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

Race card project:reverse racism. Can be said in less than six words.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:23 p.m.

Are these paid visits/meetings?


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

This isn't anything new for Ann Arbor by any stretch. When Michigan voters rejected affirmative action, Mary Sue Coleman immediately announced her intentions to keep it going at U/M. AAPS has been spending a lot of money trying to close the achievement gap. One of the top priorities on Patricia Green's agenda is to close the discipline gap. Recently, Dr. Carmen Green was appointed to a new position to find racial inequities regarding health care. My father and his entire family were placed in internment camps during WWII. And while the lessons from that time are important to me, I don't believe it would justify me blaming current generations and throwing those injustices in peoples faces. I would rather focus on what I can do to make this a better place for all people, regardless of race. Want a six word sentence?....And now for something completely different.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 10:01 p.m.

And don't forget white people are also refered to in derogatory terms too.............we just don't make a big deal of it.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 7:22 p.m.

I personally know teens of Asian descent in A2 who have had teachers and other students make negative comments about their appearance and heritege." ......Which makes them like EVERYONE else.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 5:13 p.m.

I have also NOW heard students make negative comments about another students heritage/ethnicity.........thing is, it's by students of that SAME ethnicity. Go figure?


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

Squidlover, Race is not only about black folks. It's also about the attitudes that allowed the Japanese descent citizens to be placed in concentration camps. There are still many people in this country who refer to those of Asian descent as "chinks" and "slant eyes" and other derogatory terms. I personally know teens of Asian descent in A2 who have had teachers and other students make negative comments about their appearance and heritege. That's Now, not 50 years ago.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

the conclusion at the end of the symposium will be white people are still racist.

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 4:21 a.m.

I still find that odd considering that this and other Western countries are the only ones that allow mass immigration from the rest of the world. Aren't we really (by definition) the least racist?

Silly Sally

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

oops, my keyboard stuck

Silly Sally

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

And Mary Sue Coleman will ask, What more can I and UM do to proove that I am not?


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

Oh but we'll ALWAYS be know...cause we're white...


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

THERE IS ONLY ONE RACE, HUMAN That's six words for ya.... Now when you're done trying to further and encourage the ignorance of "race" and pigeon holing of people in this world could we have a realistic dialog about HOW WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER?


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

Right on Billy, as a father of a mixed race child I aways enter human when asked for his race. But sometimes I wonder if he would be better off if I put down his minority status.

Sam S Smith

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.


A A Resident

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

I have a hard time seeing value in stirring the pot. Are some people afraid that problems with race will just fade away (as I believe they are), unless they keep reopening old wounds?

Silly Sally

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

"reopening old wounds" is like picking at a scab. we've been doing this with race, and teaching one race that they deserve privileges due to their race, and building "attutitude". Look at the City of Detroit City Council. They blame everyone but themselves, or their former mayor.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

"unless they keep reopening old wounds?" Sins of the Father. That's the whole problem. We don't operate under that archaic rule here in America......except when it comes to american chattel slavery. We'll allow it for that...but nothing else. The problem with Sins of the father is that it's illogical to hold someone accountable for the actions of another that they had no control over. Especially if those actions occurred BEFORE said person was even born. As a rather non-racist white person (oh I'm still logically biased...don't get me wrong) it makes you mad when you are treated de facto like you're a racist JUST because of your skin color. I won't go as far as to say that racism feels the same as a black man being followed around a store because he's black....but it can't be that far from it. And consequently I was a teenager that wore trench I was followed around stores ALLLLLLLLL the time too (and I don't steal...ever).

Silly Sally

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

This makes for a great marriage, NPR and UM- both are just obsessed with race and racial issues. Both institutions see everything thing and everybody through a racial prism instead of as individuals. NPR just loves to relive protest marches from 50 years ago, or try to make white people feel guilty for transgressions of the ancestors of some. Much of it can have the opposite effect. "Affirmative Action" has punished younger white people for the past 40 years and only builds resentment, not tolerance. Children of rich black families get an affirmative action bonus, even at UM, over the children of a poor white family. The worst thing that UM and NPR and authors like this do is remind people that there are racial preferences and this is so unfair to the qualified and gifted "people of color" who will do just fine without racial preferences. They do not like to be thought of as "you are only here because of Affirmative Action" they rather be accepted for their own abilities and skills.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 9:59 p.m.

you are right on not so silly sally...........


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

I can't wait until 2050 when caucasion people become the minority. I wonder how they will be discussed/treated? Will there be set-asides, quotas, and preferential treatment or will we still be dividing the folks with race? Our country did a bad thing with slavery but it still treats all people much better and way fairer than others. This continual churning of the race card is not good for this country. I am quite frankly disappointed that people fo color have not empowered themselves and thrown off the chains of race that their leadership has put on them. Still victims after all of these years.....................

Jay Thomas

Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 4:40 a.m.

racerx... How would you like to do college admissions then? Maybe a lottery? Because right now things like grades and test scores are what gets you in. Regarding your prison statistics... the prisons in Africa are filled to capacity (without a white person in sight). Is that because of racism also?


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

racerx - there you go right into the minority victim response. It's like it is an auto-repsonse that I would receive when someone is on vacation. I find it hard to believe that you do not feel that the United States is the best place in the world to live from every aspect. There are many people of color, hispanics, and japanese who some how have figured out how to leave the injustices behind, while many wallow in it one generation after another. How can this be good for moving forward and improving race relations in this country. Don't you think that the 95% plus in this country who are not racist get tired fo hearing this? (I picked that number from the sky) You want to make thigs better? Get over it and persevere. Quit blaming others. I grew up poor, alcoholic divorced family, worked hard, paid for my own schooling, and managed to have a good life. And yes I have hear the complaints about racism and unfirness my entire life............It's getting old and tired

Tyrone Shoelaces

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

"nearly 40% of the jail population is African Americans, but they only make up about 13% of the population" Well, when you commit most of the crimes, you will fill most of the prisons.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

Ok here we go: "take responsibility for your own actions" "don't blame us for our ancestors" "racism against whites is socially acceptable"


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

I always hear people saying whites will be a minority in 2050. It makes it sound like here will be more "people of color" than whites. This is not the case. Blacks will make up about the same % of the population, latinos and others a larger %, and whites will still be the largest single group. That might not even happen, as populations get more educated and well-off they have less children.

Sam S Smith

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

Yes, there is a race problem. But I wonder if we are dealing with properly or are we making it worse?


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

Always spoke by people who aren't the minorities. Try recent events where nearly every Arab-American were seen as suspects during 9-11. Attempt to reason facts that nearly 40% of the jail population is African Americans, but they only make up about 13% of the population. Or try to wonder why white own businesses will do anything not to throw out Hispanic workers at their meat packing plants for fear of going out of business. Or ask any Japanese Americans who were rounded up on the West Coast after Pearl Harbor and placed in "camps". How about Congressman John Lewis who recently "celebrated" being beaten, attack by police dogs and mobs for marching across the Petty Bridge in the south. Yup. There's no need to EVER talk about race relations in the Good O'le USA. Naw. We don't have a race problem. Look we recently elected a African American man as president, twice. But he still has to deal with a congress mainly made up of white males that will do anything to keep his agenda going forward to help all Americans. Nope. We don't have a race problem in America. Good grief. Just try asking UM why it hasn't ever met a goal of 10% African American enrollment.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

"This continual churning of the race card is not good for this country." 100% behind you on that statement.