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The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

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In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but she was soon disabused of her presumption when forced to confront the fact that “the conversation” in her own family had not been forthright.   Norris unearthed painful family secrets that compelled her to question her own self-understanding: from her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer weeks after his discharge from the navy at the conclusion of World War II to her maternal grandmother’s peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima to white farm women in the Midwest. In what became a profoundly personal and bracing journey into her family’s past, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore the reasons for the “things left unsaid” by her father and mother when she was growing up, the better to come to terms with her own identity. Along the way she discovered how her character was forged by both revelation and silence.   Extraordinary for Norris’s candor in examining her own racial legacy and what it means to be an American, The Grace of Silence is also informed by rigorous research in its evocation of time and place, scores of interviews with ordinary folk, and wise observations about evolving attitudes, at once encouraging and disturbing, toward race in America today. For its particularity and universality, it is powerfully moving, a tour de force.


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In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank In the wake of talk of a “postracial” America upon Barack Obama’s ascension as president of the United States, Michele Norris, cohost of National Public Radio’s flagship program All Things Considered, set out to write, through original reporting, a book about “the hidden conversation” on race that is unfolding nationwide. She would, she thought, base her book on the frank disclosures of others on the subject, but she was soon disabused of her presumption when forced to confront the fact that “the conversation” in her own family had not been forthright.   Norris unearthed painful family secrets that compelled her to question her own self-understanding: from her father’s shooting by a Birmingham police officer weeks after his discharge from the navy at the conclusion of World War II to her maternal grandmother’s peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima to white farm women in the Midwest. In what became a profoundly personal and bracing journey into her family’s past, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore the reasons for the “things left unsaid” by her father and mother when she was growing up, the better to come to terms with her own identity. Along the way she discovered how her character was forged by both revelation and silence.   Extraordinary for Norris’s candor in examining her own racial legacy and what it means to be an American, The Grace of Silence is also informed by rigorous research in its evocation of time and place, scores of interviews with ordinary folk, and wise observations about evolving attitudes, at once encouraging and disturbing, toward race in America today. For its particularity and universality, it is powerfully moving, a tour de force.

30 review for The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    This is a heartfelt memoir about Michele Norris' family and her work with covering race relations in America. I saw Michele speak at a conference, during which she discussed the Race Card Project. I was so interested in her talk that I immediately downloaded her book. I appreciated the stories about her childhood in Minnesota and the research she did trying to uncover secrets in her own family history. Recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Anderson

    Michele Norris - journalist and former host of NPR's All Things Considered, among many other accomplishments - has written a tender, loving, honest book that is for anyone who cares about the people in their lives and the future of the United States. Equal parts memoir and reflection on race in America, this book will likely open your eyes to things you never knew about. I had no idea, for example, of how the returning black veterans of WWII were treated (horribly) and how their response to the Michele Norris - journalist and former host of NPR's All Things Considered, among many other accomplishments - has written a tender, loving, honest book that is for anyone who cares about the people in their lives and the future of the United States. Equal parts memoir and reflection on race in America, this book will likely open your eyes to things you never knew about. I had no idea, for example, of how the returning black veterans of WWII were treated (horribly) and how their response to the denial of their rights and the violence they endured at the hands of police and other authorities helped lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement. Norris is a lyrical writer who weaves the story of her beloved family into the cloth of America with skill and sensitivity. I recommend this one highly.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Wow. Every American should read this book. It's so much more than it appears to be on first look. The reader expects a family memoir, and that is provided along with crucial and little-known American history. This book contains so much elegant wisdom, eloquently told. Further, it asks us to do more, to be more, to understand more. I've been listening to Michele Norris on NPR for years without knowing anything about her. You won't find much that's current about her and her work in this book, but Wow. Every American should read this book. It's so much more than it appears to be on first look. The reader expects a family memoir, and that is provided along with crucial and little-known American history. This book contains so much elegant wisdom, eloquently told. Further, it asks us to do more, to be more, to understand more. I've been listening to Michele Norris on NPR for years without knowing anything about her. You won't find much that's current about her and her work in this book, but you can find that online. What you'll find are precious gems for living well. All that said, this book will be loved by mature readers. Immature readers or those who don't accept responsibity nor have an appreciation of the give and take of all kinds of communities, including family, won't get it. But then, I don't think Michele was writing for those audiences. She has a remarkable family, full of grace, and they're still passing it down through generations. Oh that we all possessed such grace! Don't miss a word of this book. It's the sort I'll read again and give as gifts.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Lee

    I have been wanting to read THE GRACE OF SILENCE for some time having grown up in what I call South Scandinavian Minneapolis-a Black/Chinese girl passing for white. Although Michele Norris didn't delve into growing up in South Minneapolis as much as I was hoping, I wasn't disappointed. She recorded history that made me realize there is so much I don't know. Her attention to detail has given me much to question-especially how different was it for my Chinese father, who also served in the Navy I have been wanting to read THE GRACE OF SILENCE for some time having grown up in what I call South Scandinavian Minneapolis-a Black/Chinese girl passing for white. Although Michele Norris didn't delve into growing up in South Minneapolis as much as I was hoping, I wasn't disappointed. She recorded history that made me realize there is so much I don't know. Her attention to detail has given me much to question-especially how different was it for my Chinese father, who also served in the Navy during World War II, than it was for her father? My father went to every Navy reunion he could. He was a dispatcher, why wasn't he relegated to cook? My father had two young children at home, yet he volunteered to enlist at a time when the war was almost over. What didn't my father tell me? I was born in 1948. I came of age in the 60s. I'd like to think my mother's silence was "the grace of silence"-but was it? I couldn't go to football games at other schools because there might be a race riot-but what was race? What was a riot? On television I saw people dressed in white sheets and fires burning, but what did it have to do with me? I have spent my life trying to know who I am based on race, gender, class, etc. I know myself well, yet after reading THE GRACE OF SILENCE by Michele Norris, I realize I have more to understand based on what I didn't know I didn't know. I am a writer. I believe in conjuring stories and recording them. Certainly for ourselves to gain a better understanding of who we are, but also for others because they are listening and learning and relating.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nanette Bulebosh

    Norris is about my age and, like me, grew up in the Midwest (her Minnesota to my Illinois) in a middle-class family. We're both also the youngest of three girls. Yet, in some ways, our childhoods couldn't be more different. Both my parents grew up in relative poverty and, from a young age, were well aware of the limitations of their class. But my dad never had to worry about being targeted for harassment by cops because of the color of his skin. He never had to suffer the indignity of being Norris is about my age and, like me, grew up in the Midwest (her Minnesota to my Illinois) in a middle-class family. We're both also the youngest of three girls. Yet, in some ways, our childhoods couldn't be more different. Both my parents grew up in relative poverty and, from a young age, were well aware of the limitations of their class. But my dad never had to worry about being targeted for harassment by cops because of the color of his skin. He never had to suffer the indignity of being called "boy" after serving honorably in WWII. He wasn't automatically assigned to kitchen duty when he joined the Navy. And he never had to watch neighbors avoid meeting his eyes or place a "for sale" sign after he moved into an all-white residential district. I'm sure both my parents, now in their 80s, still carry secrets that, for whatever reason, they have chosen not to share with me. But, unlike those in Norris' family, none of our family's secrets, however painful, were ever even remotely tied to race. Norris is a fine writer, and I came away from this memoir with a greater understanding of what it is like to grew up black. Far from an angry diatribe about the unfairness of discrimination, this book is, more than anything, a loving tribute to her late father, a postal worker. Despite the indignities mentioned above, Belvin Norris remained an optimistic and proud man who passed on to his children hard-working ethics. The title of this memoir is also a tribute - to her parents and the other adults of her childhood who kept silent about past indignities in part because they saw little use for sharing them with tne next generation, and in part because they had, wisely, long since forgiven the people behind those indignities. Norris has made it clear, here and in interviews about the book, that it behooves us to seek out our elders' stories before they are gone forever. There is so much to learn from their challenges and the steps they took to meet them. But she also wants us to see her appreciation of and admiration for these people's decisions to keep their past hurts to themselves. Their silence is grace personified, and it should be acknowledged. She does that here admirably.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Koren

    The author examines race relations comparing her coming of age in the 70's and her father's coming of age in the 40's. She grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and her father grew up in the south. I enjoyed her bio. It was somewhat unusual in that she grew up in a middle class neighborhood and didnt seem to have financial problems. Her father's story centers more around his time in the service and the fact that he was shot in the leg by a policeman after his duty in WWII. This really throws her for The author examines race relations comparing her coming of age in the 70's and her father's coming of age in the 40's. She grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and her father grew up in the south. I enjoyed her bio. It was somewhat unusual in that she grew up in a middle class neighborhood and didnt seem to have financial problems. Her father's story centers more around his time in the service and the fact that he was shot in the leg by a policeman after his duty in WWII. This really throws her for a loop and she feels a need to investigate what actually happened. I thought it was a good story but would have liked her to focus more on her own story than her father's.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    I read this book in a rush--skimmed it, really--when the person who was supposed to interview Michele Norris (National Public Radio, "All Things Considered") fell ill and I replaced her. It's not a great book, but Michele Norris is charming and articulate and I've been a fan for a long time. She was even better in person. The book is a memoir about her own family and the stories they never told her about their own experiences with race and racism in America--a silence she thinks common to I read this book in a rush--skimmed it, really--when the person who was supposed to interview Michele Norris (National Public Radio, "All Things Considered") fell ill and I replaced her. It's not a great book, but Michele Norris is charming and articulate and I've been a fan for a long time. She was even better in person. The book is a memoir about her own family and the stories they never told her about their own experiences with race and racism in America--a silence she thinks common to families (not only on the subject of race). The "grace," she says, was in trying to protect her from the pain and anger they experienced, always keeping things positive and up-beat in her family so she would feel none of the constraints of discrimination. She admits she benefited from this but regrets that she learned her family's stories so late in life and urges others to encourage their elders to tell their stories. It's an interesting and relatively engaging book but not a great book. It resonated with me particularly because of Sheehan's work on his grandfather's story and yes, because I love Michele Norris. We hit it off personally and the interview was good and fun for the audience and me as well as for Michele (she said). The scheduled interviewer who fell ill criticized the book for "lacking context" -- focusing on the family story without really placing it in a broader historical context. That's more-or-less true, but not a huge short-coming, I think. And she did more contextualization in her talk and interview, particularly in how the election of Obama precipitated the conversation within her own family and others.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This book DOES read like a novel in many ways, as other reviewers have mentioned. I think what particularly appealed to me about this memoir was the many insights she offered about a significant era in our civil rights history, one that (as Ms. Norris observes) is often overlooked. The veterans of WWII DID set the stage for future successes and paid a painful price in the process. I love the family and history mix...It may not appeal as much to those who weren't a part of the sixties and the This book DOES read like a novel in many ways, as other reviewers have mentioned. I think what particularly appealed to me about this memoir was the many insights she offered about a significant era in our civil rights history, one that (as Ms. Norris observes) is often overlooked. The veterans of WWII DID set the stage for future successes and paid a painful price in the process. I love the family and history mix...It may not appeal as much to those who weren't a part of the sixties and the struggles of that time, but it SHOULD be known by younger generations as well. I am one of those she mentions who is guilty of focusing on slavery and its immediate afermath and then skipping right to the sixties. I've taught both of those time periods for years while neglecting this middle piece. Thank you, Michele, for teaching me more! She includes some tough observations about the ramifications of these earlier changes on today's culture as well. Michele Norris is an accomplished reporter -- I've known that for years -- but I had no idea how very astute she truly is until now!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    A refreshingly candid story of an African American family in MN, their roots in America, and particular the father's experiences coming from Birmingham, AL. There are various contrasts interwoven throughout: north/south, black/white, diverse cultural values within both white and black communities. And the author tells her story with pacing and drama to keep it a story, and not simple a monologue. The reader feels like he knows what it is like to be Michelle Norris, to know her parents and their A refreshingly candid story of an African American family in MN, their roots in America, and particular the father's experiences coming from Birmingham, AL. There are various contrasts interwoven throughout: north/south, black/white, diverse cultural values within both white and black communities. And the author tells her story with pacing and drama to keep it a story, and not simple a monologue. The reader feels like he knows what it is like to be Michelle Norris, to know her parents and their stories too. As the title suggests, there is grace in silence--not the silence of cover-up or denial--but in a silence of being willing to let past hurts go, to recognize hurt on the part of all parties, to give the right to bitter recriminations. There is grace (redemption) in the silence of forgiveness, but the author also notes that there is power in knowledge and understanding. Therefore, it is important to hear the stories, gain a richer perspective, and be ready to forgive.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    I haven't read a memoir in awhile and this was a good one. I learned more about my own neighborhood, how black WWII veterans served our country, but were treated with so much disrespect and racism. We still live in a divided country and I think this book can help start a conversation. From the book, "But all of us should be willing to remain at the table even when things get uncomfortable. We need to be fearless while unburdening ourselves, even as we respect the same effort in others. There is I haven't read a memoir in awhile and this was a good one. I learned more about my own neighborhood, how black WWII veterans served our country, but were treated with so much disrespect and racism. We still live in a divided country and I think this book can help start a conversation. From the book, "But all of us should be willing to remain at the table even when things get uncomfortable. We need to be fearless while unburdening ourselves, even as we respect the same effort in others. There is often grace in silence. But there is always power in understanding."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lois Duncan

    I seem to be the only one posting here who was not enthralled with this book. The author may well be a marvelous woman, I don't think she's that good a writer. This account wandered all over the place, as if she'd never made an outline. She addressed an important subject, but could have made it much more interesting to read about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    An interesting read about racial issues 1943-1948 Though this book has many interesting thoughts on race in America, I was disappointed as I was expecting something more of a memoir of the author' life. Instead the author reflects primarily on two issues. Firstly she discusses the image of Quaker Oats' Aunt Jemima figure whom her grandmother was hired to represent in the Midwest. Secondly she presents extensive research around incidences of police violence toward black (especially veterans) from An interesting read about racial issues 1943-1948 Though this book has many interesting thoughts on race in America, I was disappointed as I was expecting something more of a memoir of the author' life. Instead the author reflects primarily on two issues. Firstly she discusses the image of Quaker Oats' Aunt Jemima figure whom her grandmother was hired to represent in the Midwest. Secondly she presents extensive research around incidences of police violence toward black (especially veterans) from 1943-1948. I'm glad I persevered through the book, because I did walk away feeling like I understand some black issues better, but it was not really a "memoir" so much as a documentary with a lot of reflective thought. Most of the experience narrated is not the author's own and very little is presented in line of stories from the author's own life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rowan

    Michele Norris, Co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” dives into the stories about race that her family talked about and the ones left unspoken, examining how it’s shaped her own identity. I really enjoyed how she examines and shares both her family’s stories as well as the larger context in which they took place. She offers generosity and kindness in her understanding of people’s motives and in her interviews with folks. Great as an audiobook—Norris reads her story herself and is obviously Michele Norris, Co-host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” dives into the stories about race that her family talked about and the ones left unspoken, examining how it’s shaped her own identity. I really enjoyed how she examines and shares both her family’s stories as well as the larger context in which they took place. She offers generosity and kindness in her understanding of people’s motives and in her interviews with folks. Great as an audiobook—Norris reads her story herself and is obviously a professional at radio.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    Michele Norris, NPR journalist and host, offered an compelling personal narrative that used her own family and her experiences growing up in South Minneapolis to explore the dimensions and complexity of race in the US. Through deeply personal investigation of her own family's history, she uncovered the stories that her family chose to push deep into memory. By exploring the events and narratives that were hidden, she interrogated the impact of silence - both the pain and the grace.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Abbey

    I was lucky enough to see Michele Norris speak at my college, and I’m finally getting to her memoir. It is a heartbreaking and heartwarming family history that I’m sure many people can relate too on different levels, and that others can learn so much from. She shows how much America has changed and how much it has not.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Caelan

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I read this because I loved Michele Norris' coverage of the role race played in the last presidential election. She along with another colleague interviewed a ton of people from diverse backgrounds in Pennsylvania and got them to have some very honest dialogues about their attitudes and experiences about race and racism in America. I was expecting more of that in this book, an affirmation that we are NOT a post-racial, multicultural happy-go-lucky meritocracy. What I read was much nuanced... Ms. I read this because I loved Michele Norris' coverage of the role race played in the last presidential election. She along with another colleague interviewed a ton of people from diverse backgrounds in Pennsylvania and got them to have some very honest dialogues about their attitudes and experiences about race and racism in America. I was expecting more of that in this book, an affirmation that we are NOT a post-racial, multicultural happy-go-lucky meritocracy. What I read was much nuanced... Ms. Norris delves into her family's history to find some well-kept secrets about her father and grandmother. Her father upon returning from his service in the Navy was shot by a white police officer. It was clear that the police were looking to start an altercation with her father, his brother and a neighborhood friend. She looks beyond her father's experience, only revealed to her after his death, to the common experience of Black men returning from military service in WWII being the target of racially-charged violence largely at the hands of police. The story of one man in particular being attacked after getting off a bus ride and being beaten until he went blind in one eye still haunts me. Orson Welles found out about this particular incident and called for this police officer to be brought to justice, and it ultimately cost him his radio career to stand up on this issue. The violence from white people was a response to Black men, many war veterans, trying to get the right to vote. Her grandmother worked for a short time as a representative of Aunt Jemima's pancake syrup and dressed as the character, to travel around and do pancake demonstrations. This was another well-kept family secret, and does not gel with what Ms. Norris knew of her grandmother, as a strong and spiritual woman. It must have been very difficult for her grandmother to have needed the job so badly and to have had so few employment opportunities that she had to return to the (mostly white) town where she grew up and be seen in such a costume. To have worked so hard to dispel negative stereotypes and then to find yourself caught up in it all. While, I appreciated greatly learning about this time in our country's history, I could not quite understand or accept her overall theme or message. That her father chose to keep this incident secret from her, to protect her from anger or disillusionment about equal opportunity in America. And that his choice, silence, was one made from grace. I don't quite understand because it is as if she is claiming that to be angry and vocal about racism in America is to be lacking in grace, and this is the road better not traversed. I disagree with that sentiment, and a part of me thinks that Ms. Norris doesn't agree entirely either. Why else would she choose to share the story of her father being shot with the world?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    The Grace of Silence is a moving family memoir about one woman’s journey as she digs into her family’s past and discovers much more than she had ever imagined. After Barack Obama’s historic win of the presidential nomination in 2008, NPR correspondent Michele Norris decided to take a deeper look into her African American family to see how they ended up where they are today. Once Norris started looking into it, she found her family had many secrets in their past and that maybe the best thing they The Grace of Silence is a moving family memoir about one woman’s journey as she digs into her family’s past and discovers much more than she had ever imagined. After Barack Obama’s historic win of the presidential nomination in 2008, NPR correspondent Michele Norris decided to take a deeper look into her African American family to see how they ended up where they are today. Once Norris started looking into it, she found her family had many secrets in their past and that maybe the best thing they had done to move the family forward was to have a “grace of silence.” This book was chosen as the fall Diversity Book Club choice for this fall at the college I work at. I vastly enjoyed reading it and talking about it at our book club meetings. I’m hoping the club continues this spring with another book. I was only able to make two out of the four book club meetings, but it was great thought provoking discussion. This was a great book – and definitely in the top books I read in 2016. This book had MANY great quotes and points of discussion. Here are just a few: “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 grey-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, 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.” This passage generated a lot of conversation. What is a model minority? I had never heard the term before, but we discussed how a minority, especially living in a community where they are not with other minorities, will feel the need to overcompensate and show that they are a great person and don’t fall into your preconceived notions of race. In this situation, Norris was helping her father who was very sick with cancer get onto an airplane and he wasn’t doing well. She wondered how race colored the reactions of the white ladies in the airport. Along these lines was another great quote: “Even then I knew the answer. Blacks often feel the dispiriting burden of being perceived willy-nilly as representing an entire race. The idea made my head hurt and it still does if I dwell on it too much. To this day I have to tamp down anxiety when I step on a stage or into a studio. The notion that I can lift up others through stellar work or stall their progress by falling short has been drummed into me since childhood.” Michele Norris discovered her grandmother was an “Aunt Jemima.” She dressed up as the maple syrup and pancake character Aunt Jemima and traveled around the Midwest making and selling pancakes. While some family members were proud of her as she was a “star” others were ashamed as she was representing a caricuture. I love this quote. “I respect Grandma Ione for having taken a job, despite being haunted by stigma, and having used it to lift her family up. We judge Aunt Jemima and ourselves by what we see reflected in the mirror in her history.” Norris does a great job of explaining that history in this chapter. “Mom and Dad were obsessive about looking clean and stylish and sophisticated because they lived in a society that perpetuated the notion that black people, in the main, were none of these things.” Her parents were “blockbusters” and were the first black family to move into a white neighborhood in Minneapolis. They overcompensated by always appearing stylish when outside and being the first family to have their snow shoveled. Norris’s father was originally from Birmingham Alabama. Through her research, she discovered he had a past that was very much unlike the rather she knew growing up, something he had never discussed. He had been shot by a police officer just after the end of WWII. “In the mid-1940’s, Birmingham, Alabama, was a place where even the best-dressed black man might have too step off the sidewalk if a white person – regardless of class – was heading in his direction.” Norris discovered that prejudice ran both ways in Birmingham in the current climate. She talked to a relative who said, “I don’t talk about this, and I barely know why I’m talking about this now. I am not a prejudiced person, but I do not trust American white people. When you have seen people treated that way and hurt and the shooting and the bombing and the constant disrespect, it bothers me. It really bothers me to this day.” These thoughts actually went through the family and even the grandkids “hate white people.” Norris then says “Many people of color wanted to move the country forward, wanted to convince white people, by moral suasion, no longer to hate and subjugate black American, while the themselves secretly clung to festering, old grudges, the better to foster communal solidarity.” I thought this entire passage was very relevant for today: “Race is often seen as a black issue in America. When any institution puts together a panel or symposium or committee on race or diversity, you can be sure that it will focus on reaching out to, hearing from, or being more inclusive of people of color. Reluctance among whites to talk about race and discomfort when doing so are usually seen as the chief obstacles to progress.” Less explored is the legacy of distrust black parents pass on to their children. Many of us are advised by our elders to beware of whites. Race is the black boy who has not been told to be on guard in all encounters with white police officers. This advice comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes severe. Sometimes it’s subtle.” A section of the book tells the horrific story of the blinding of an African American veteran after his return from WWII. He suffered from the same problem that Norris’s father did, returning after fighting a war to discover that extreme prejudice that still existed in our country. As Orson Welles stated, “What does it cost to be a Negro? In Aiken, South Carolina, it cost a man his eyes.” “Eric Holdor, soon to become the attorney general, told me that all day he harbored thoughts of his father, an immigrant from Barbados who fiercely loved the United States and fought in the war but who, on his way home, had to stand for hours on end during his train ride, while German prisoners of war, all white men, sat comfortably in cushioned seats.” The Grace of Silence in an important book that takes a very thoughtful look into life as an African American in the United States today and the history behind it. Many, many topics we discussed that happened in the 1940’s we realized are not too different sadly than current days. I feel like I can’t adequately describe this book, but it was one of the best books I read in 2016 and is a book that everyone in the United States should read. Book Source: Purchased from Amazon.com This review was first posted on my blog at: http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/2017/...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, has written more than a memoir in The Grace of Silence. It's a family history and a family mystery combined, set against the evils of Jim Crow Alabama post World War II and subtler forms of racism in Minnesota. Norris's discovery that her father had been shot by a white policeman comes as a shock. It was never mentioned during his lifetime. The more she probes the mystery, the more complex the issue becomes. She decides ultimately that many Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, has written more than a memoir in The Grace of Silence. It's a family history and a family mystery combined, set against the evils of Jim Crow Alabama post World War II and subtler forms of racism in Minnesota. Norris's discovery that her father had been shot by a white policeman comes as a shock. It was never mentioned during his lifetime. The more she probes the mystery, the more complex the issue becomes. She decides ultimately that many in that generation chose to deal with their troubles by keeping them unspoken. She also found her father's war records stashed in the back of a closet. While he had been happy to join the War effort, she found that, like most other servicemen of color, he'd been restricted to kitchen and cleaning duties. In her interviews about the shooting incident, she finds more than she expected. While racism is still rampant in this country, the problem, Norris feels, has shifted, becoming more difficult to address. Segregation created separate neighborhoods, but they held people from a wide variety of professional fields, educational background, and income levels. With the coming of integration, the best and brightest, or at least the luckiest, moved out, taking their positive influence with them. Over time, the old neighborhoods changed. The old school that Norris's father attended in Alabama, that had been so lovingly tended and produced so many future leaders, now lies trashed in a derelict neighborhood. The most interesting point she makes in the book is how little we really know about our parents and grandparents, particularly if they came from that group who simply tried to maintain "the grace of silence" about the troubles they'd faced in the Depression, the war, and myriad personal challenges. She recommends her readers talk to aging relatives before the chance to know the real story has passed. Her suggestion that we ask "Can you tell me more about that?" might bring up some very interesting conversations. This is a fascinating book, well-told and universal in its appeal.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This book was the selection for the first Minneapolis Reads this fall, and I hoped to learn a lot about the racial history of Minneapolis through reading it. Instead, I took a tour of Michele Norris' racial family history, which plays out mostly in other places. The book's cover says it reveals family secrets from her grandmother playing an itinerant Aunt Jemima to her father's shooting by a Birmingham police officer. In point of fact, those are really the only two incidents the book This book was the selection for the first Minneapolis Reads this fall, and I hoped to learn a lot about the racial history of Minneapolis through reading it. Instead, I took a tour of Michele Norris' racial family history, which plays out mostly in other places. The book's cover says it reveals family secrets from her grandmother playing an itinerant Aunt Jemima to her father's shooting by a Birmingham police officer. In point of fact, those are really the only two incidents the book addresses--Aunt Jemima 20%, Birmingham police shooting 80%. The story of her father's shooting in Birmingham right after returning from service in World War II, which is most of the book, is a fascinating story, and really helped me flesh out some gaps in my understanding of American racial history. But her journalist's writing style is sometimes a little heavy-handed for a memoir, and like Bossypants it wasn't personal the way I like memoirs to be. She was only personal when she wrote about her reactions to other people's stories. If I were Michele Norris' editor, I would have her structure this book differently by spending the early chapters of the book focusing on anecdotes from her own life before going into Aunt Jemima and the shooting. Even one more anchoring story would have helped the book feel more balanced. That being said, I really liked this book and learned a lot from it, and would happily recommend it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laura (booksnob)

    Every family keeps secrets that are hidden from the next generation. Whether intentional or not, some secrets are stories that never get told. These stories may explain or define who we are but stay hidden beneath layers of memory. Michele Norris started out writing a book to explore hidden conversations about race and what she found were painful secrets her parents kept hidden from their children. This is Michele's journey to unearth the secrets of her past and find meaning and grace in her Every family keeps secrets that are hidden from the next generation. Whether intentional or not, some secrets are stories that never get told. These stories may explain or define who we are but stay hidden beneath layers of memory. Michele Norris started out writing a book to explore hidden conversations about race and what she found were painful secrets her parents kept hidden from their children. This is Michele's journey to unearth the secrets of her past and find meaning and grace in her parent's choice to remain silent. First Michele introduces us to her family and her life growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She then tells her grandmother's story and investigates her job as a traveling Aunt Jemima in the Midwest. Then Norris travels south to Alabama to learn why her father, a World War II veteran, was shot weeks after he arrived home by a white police officer in Birmingham. Have you ever traced your family roots? Have you sat down with the elder generation of your family to ask questions? Each of us has a family story to tell and a generation of memories that make us who we are. After reading The Grace of Silence, I thought about the secrets my family has, the ones I've heard, the secrets I've told and the secrets I myself still keep. And I thought about race. To read my entire book review please visit my book blog at http://www.booksnob-booksnob.blogspot...

  21. 5 out of 5

    K2 -----

    I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of this book and the way she told her family's story about race in America. I do not know her work on NPR as I quit listening years ago, but she is a talented writer and skilled journalist. As Obama rose to become the first African American president she began examining race in America in a new light and wanted to understand how it played a role in her own family's life. Her parents were both hard working postal workers who were proud and encouraged their daughters I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of this book and the way she told her family's story about race in America. I do not know her work on NPR as I quit listening years ago, but she is a talented writer and skilled journalist. As Obama rose to become the first African American president she began examining race in America in a new light and wanted to understand how it played a role in her own family's life. Her parents were both hard working postal workers who were proud and encouraged their daughters to work hard and be the best they could be. Her father's roots were in Birmingham a community she visited each summer to be with her grandparents. Her dad served in WWII and had high hopes that the acceptance of African Americans, in the service, would give them a more equal footing when they were discharged. Brutally her father learned this was not the case in his home town and headed up north to make a better life for himself and his future family. Norris has a great way of personalizing the race conflict during this time but also the lingering anger that remains in the hearts of many blacks and whites who live in the South and beyond. I have read many books about race relations and I found this a worthwhile read that takes you there and makes you think about it long after the book has been digested. I think this would make a great book club book. Well done!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jocie

    ‘The Wisdom of Love’ would be another appropriate title- her parents let go of bitterness and worked hard to show people they were intelligent, hard workers. I believe this allowed their children to move on from the atrocities of the past and become more fully integrated into their country. This was a bit of a painful read- I was not aware of the extent of prejudice in our country. I was also surprised and hurt to find out that there are people who hate me because I am white. This brought up some ‘The Wisdom of Love’ would be another appropriate title- her parents let go of bitterness and worked hard to show people they were intelligent, hard workers. I believe this allowed their children to move on from the atrocities of the past and become more fully integrated into their country. This was a bit of a painful read- I was not aware of the extent of prejudice in our country. I was also surprised and hurt to find out that there are people who hate me because I am white. This brought up some interesting questions to my mind- should you judge people based on your encounters with other people of the same race/culture/religion? Is it fair for me to resent someone who hates me because they were abused by white people, and the vast majority of whites in their area growing up? I think you should judge people based on their own behavior, not on race, country of origin, etc. I think I am good at being impartial in that aspect, but I am not sure! She makes a very valid point that it is difficult to know what people really feel about racism in America because it is such a taboo topic.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Michele Norris, the cohost of NPR's All Things Considered, writes about the lack of honest conversation about race in the United States. Before interviewing others on the subject, she comes to realize that her own family had not been open on the subject. Norris discovered that her father had been shot by a white Birmingham police officer just a few weeks after his discharge from the Navy after serving in World War II. He never mentioned the episode to either his wife or his daughter, but shortly Michele Norris, the cohost of NPR's All Things Considered, writes about the lack of honest conversation about race in the United States. Before interviewing others on the subject, she comes to realize that her own family had not been open on the subject. Norris discovered that her father had been shot by a white Birmingham police officer just a few weeks after his discharge from the Navy after serving in World War II. He never mentioned the episode to either his wife or his daughter, but shortly after the incident he moved from Alabama to Minnesota. Norris also uncovered the story that her maternal grandmother toured the Midwest dressed as Aunt Jemima demonstrating the wonders of pancake mix. After reading this book, I think that the most thought-provoking question Norris asks is "What's been more corrosive to the dialogue on race in America over the last half century or so, things said or unsaid?" Her answer is that the conversations about race should begin at our own dinner tables with our families and then extend to our friends and associates. I have to agree.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Interesting memoir/racial relations commentary hybrid. It’s fascinating how (NPR host) Michele Norris weaves her quest to learn more about her parents’ past with the changing state of racial relations during her lifetime. This book is pretty short and the prose somewhat bland (clichés abound) but it is definitely a unique take on the topic, including some heretofore unknown pieces of American History, or at least unknown to me. Norris’s parents were amazing, not only in a general sense, but in Interesting memoir/racial relations commentary hybrid. It’s fascinating how (NPR host) Michele Norris weaves her quest to learn more about her parents’ past with the changing state of racial relations during her lifetime. This book is pretty short and the prose somewhat bland (clichés abound) but it is definitely a unique take on the topic, including some heretofore unknown pieces of American History, or at least unknown to me. Norris’s parents were amazing, not only in a general sense, but in context of the things going on around them. White, black, no matter the race they were incredibly strong and steadfast and it’s not surprising Michele Norris ended up successful. But it was a volatile time and they (especially the father) had been through some pretty heady crap and they were still the ultimate definition of a role model. Or, at least the father was. The message she is trying to convey about race I didn’t feel was fully fleshed out and didn’t come together in any kind of conclusion, although perhaps that’s the point. Still, an enjoyable and fast read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Michele Norris (she of the beautiful voice and great reporting on npr) has written a truthful, heartfelt account of her family history, which in many ways illustrates living issues of race in the 20th and early 21st centuries. She bravely explores this topic down to the bone, trying to meet the white police officer who shot her father in Birmingham, Alabama just days after his honorable discharge from the WWII navy, for example-- an incident her father had never told her about. She explores the Michele Norris (she of the beautiful voice and great reporting on npr) has written a truthful, heartfelt account of her family history, which in many ways illustrates living issues of race in the 20th and early 21st centuries. She bravely explores this topic down to the bone, trying to meet the white police officer who shot her father in Birmingham, Alabama just days after his honorable discharge from the WWII navy, for example-- an incident her father had never told her about. She explores the reasons behind so much silence in her family and others, finding both tales of humiliation and grace. I love the way she makes note of the word 'rise' in black culture-- the always striving to 'rise above', to transcend obstacles, overcome hatred, rise above indignities, do better academically, to always rise... I admire the author and her book, and think every American would benefit from reading it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I really enjoyed this book, although in the 2nd half I felt like she wandered away from the memoir part a little bit and explored the black military and post-military experience of the 1940s a bit more than was warranted. I enjoyed that part because 1. I did a project for a college symposium about the military as an intitution and in MY lifetime and experience have always felt that the military had better racial integration than the US as a whole. So I was interested to learn a little bit about I really enjoyed this book, although in the 2nd half I felt like she wandered away from the memoir part a little bit and explored the black military and post-military experience of the 1940s a bit more than was warranted. I enjoyed that part because 1. I did a project for a college symposium about the military as an intitution and in MY lifetime and experience have always felt that the military had better racial integration than the US as a whole. So I was interested to learn a little bit about how/why that got started. 2. My dad was born in Alabama in 1942, so the Alabama she described is (kind of) the one he grew up in (although he was in a rural area, not B'ham.) It helped me understand the way he feels about race a little bit more. .....but she did move a little too far from memoir from me in that area. Overall, an enjoyable read which exposed me to things I haven't experienced in my life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    This memoir is beautifully written and a wonderful ode to Norris's father. However, the author does not explore as much national dialogue on race as I had hoped. Although the dust jacket introduces the book as Norris' exploration of dialogue on race due to the Obama presidency, most of the text touches only on race in relation to her own family events. There is little dialogue explored in direct relation to Obama's presidency or other major sociological concerns of 2011. Since those topics were This memoir is beautifully written and a wonderful ode to Norris's father. However, the author does not explore as much national dialogue on race as I had hoped. Although the dust jacket introduces the book as Norris' exploration of dialogue on race due to the Obama presidency, most of the text touches only on race in relation to her own family events. There is little dialogue explored in direct relation to Obama's presidency or other major sociological concerns of 2011. Since those topics were what I had hoped to read about, the book was somewhat disappointing. On the other hand, the author does present a helpful perspective on how to engage racial dialogue, particularly within families. Furthermore, it is a light, poignant and enjoyable read. Whether to buy or not will depend on your interests as a reader.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    This is a beautifully written and heartfelt memoir exploring racial issues in this country and how they affected the author and her family. Norris, an NPR journalist and an African American woman born and raised in Minneapolis, began her book as a documentary about the racial dialog surrounding Barack Obama's election campaign. In the course of her writing she learned about the indignities and injustices her father, a post WWII veteran, suffered in the late 1940's in his hometown of Birmingham This is a beautifully written and heartfelt memoir exploring racial issues in this country and how they affected the author and her family. Norris, an NPR journalist and an African American woman born and raised in Minneapolis, began her book as a documentary about the racial dialog surrounding Barack Obama's election campaign. In the course of her writing she learned about the indignities and injustices her father, a post WWII veteran, suffered in the late 1940's in his hometown of Birmingham AL. Consequently her book evolved into the story of her family as well as an historical chronicle of race relations in the US. I most highly recommend this book although much of it is difficult to read as it personalizes the shameful treatment of Blacks which is woven into the fabric of this country's history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    Michelle's story of her family's past history and her life growing up in Minnesota was enlightening. It was not what I expected - it was more about the history of her family's struggles and triumphs over racism than it was about the direction of US Sentiment, post-Obama, which is what I expected after reading the jacket. Many of her father's struggles were hidden from her growing up; like harassment from the police and being shot in Alabama. He enlisted to fight during WWII but was relegated to Michelle's story of her family's past history and her life growing up in Minnesota was enlightening. It was not what I expected - it was more about the history of her family's struggles and triumphs over racism than it was about the direction of US Sentiment, post-Obama, which is what I expected after reading the jacket. Many of her father's struggles were hidden from her growing up; like harassment from the police and being shot in Alabama. He enlisted to fight during WWII but was relegated to the kitchen like most African-American soldiers. When her family moved into a middle class neighborhood in Minnesota, none of the neighbors would speak to them; and most put their houses on the market and moved. She had extremely resilient and strong parents who hid some of the past in an effort to portray to Michelle that she was capable of doing anything.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Olsen

    I found this book compelling because (1) I didn't know that Michele Norris grew up in south Minneapolis, only a few miles from my house, and it was fascinating to read about her experience in that neighborhood; and (2) I learned a lot about post-WWII Birmingham, AL, where her father came from. I had no idea that there was a rash of murders of black veterans in the late 1940s in the South. It was interesting to learn about how Michele discovered some things that had happened in her family's past I found this book compelling because (1) I didn't know that Michele Norris grew up in south Minneapolis, only a few miles from my house, and it was fascinating to read about her experience in that neighborhood; and (2) I learned a lot about post-WWII Birmingham, AL, where her father came from. I had no idea that there was a rash of murders of black veterans in the late 1940s in the South. It was interesting to learn about how Michele discovered some things that had happened in her family's past that no one spoke of but that reflected the times/culture. For her research, Michele interviewed both whites and blacks involved in a shooting involving her father after he returned from serving in WWII. The book is both about her family and more broadly about how difficult conversations about race are. A solid read.

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