How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Michele Norris's 'The Grace of Silence:' the conundrum of racism and what isn't said

Tomorrow I'll be interviewing Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, about her recently published memoir, The Grace of Silence. It's a powerful book that began as an exploration of race and the unspoken conversations surrounding it in the United States. It turned, instead, into a deeply intimate account of all that was left unsaid about race, including painful secrets, within her own family.

The book raises some uncomfortable questions, one of which arises in a passage, below, in which Norris describes leading her ill father through an airport en route home from an out-of-town hospital, and the reaction of two white women (in satin jackets, hence "satin dolls") to her black father's slurred speech:

When my dad tried to lean toward me to ask a question, his words sputtered forth like bricks tumbling from a shelf. The satin dolls found it hard to mind their own business. They stared and pointed every time Dad attempted to speak. They didn't try to hide their disparagement, one of them harrumphing loud enough for anyone to hear, "Goodness sakes, it's not even noon yet!"

After spending a lifetime trying to be a model minority - one of the few black men in his neighborhood, at his workplace, or on his daughters' school committees - my father now sat facing the condemnation of two blond scolds. They had apparently concluded that he was an early morning lush instead of a gray-haired man fighting a losing battle with a devastating disease.

Here is the conundrum of racism. You know it's there, but you can't prove it, beyond a reasonable doubt, how it colors a particular situation. Those pink satin ladies were strangers to me, so I have no idea if they would have been as quick to judge a gray-haired white man with impaired speech. However, I do know this: the fact that they were white women added mightily to my father's humiliation.


Anyone who is reading this: What experiences have you had with the conundrum of racism, as Norris eloquently presents it above?

What has been left unsaid about race, culture and ethnicity in your own family? I'm preparing questions today for tomorrow's sold-out interview at KPCC, and input from Multi-American readers is more than welcome.

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