In her debut memoir, veteran journalist and All Things Considered co-host Norris deftly explores the “unprecedented, hidden and robust conversation about race” now taking place throughout the United States.
In the wake of Barack Obama’s election, the author found that middle-class black families were more willing to open “the window to [their] painful past.” Throughout her childhood, her family had resolutely encouraged her to achieve fulfillment by focusing on the future and ignoring racial slights. They didn’t discuss the civil-rights struggle or the humiliating reality of segregation, even though in 1961—the year of her birth—her family was one of the first black families to move into a previously all-white Minneapolis neighborhood. Following up a casual remark by her uncle, Norris discovered that her deceased father had been shot just two weeks after his discharge from the Navy, when he had been jailed on a false charge of robbery. Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., he moved north shortly after the incident and never discussed it with his wife or children. The author was able to track down relatives of the friend and piece together what occurred, and she learned that her father was probably a participant in one of the marches led by returning veterans who refused to accept second-class citizenship. By exploring her father’s past, Norris uncovers the hidden origins of the civil-rights movement and how it still shapes the lives of Americans today. While giving homage to her beloved father, the author rejects the comforting myth that we currently live in a post-racial society. “Our continuing national conversation on race will no doubt proceed by fits and starts,” she writes. “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.”