Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Silence of Grace

H L Mencken defined hope as a pathological belief in what is impossible. That may be the case for Michele Norris, author of THE GRACE OF SILENCE.

Michele Norris is a pretty girl (younger than my daughter, so I can safely call her a girl without denigrating her). She is an enormously talented investigative journalist of two decades, a woman of faith, and the recipient of an electrical engineering degree. Norris is also black, black and beautiful! I raised a “daddy girl” and Michele Norris fits the description,capturing my heart with her between-the-lines undying devotion and love for her father.

She purposed to write a definitive book about racism, a subject in which I am deeply interested. It is a subject I am not sure will ever be resolved. After some thought, as well as meeting dead-ends to meaningful questions she had regarding family issues that helped form her, she ended up writing a personal memoir of her immediate family.

Author Toni Morrison described this volume as “an insightful, elegant rendering of how the history of an American family illuminates the history of our country.” Morrison could have added that Norris illuminates ways in which racism has expressed itself, and continues to express itself, in America.

Racism has been an interest for me throughout my adult years, especially because I continue to see it in the institutions of our society. I was raised in an integrated northern community that enjoyed outwardly acceptable black-white relations but enjoyed anti-semitic intolerances.

I endured the insulting bonds of segregation in the Old South, before and after Martin Luther King, in my early years as a pastor. I still identify strongly with the feelings of the Civil Rights Movement and I have enjoyed some wonderful minority friendships, Afro-American,Hispanic, et al. I live purposefully, intentionally pursuing a global vision, while remaining aware of the prejudices even among white Caucasians that grapple with ethnic and national differences.

When I saw Ms. Norris and a colleague leading a racism conference on C-Span and she mentioned her book, I immediately sought to obtain her book at the library. It came last week and I have now read it. Her title intrigued me, THE GRACE OF SILENCE. and only at the end did I more fully understand her insight.

Her father found grace in not burdening her with the problems and prejudices of his earlier experience. I perceive that he chose to instill in her that drive to pursue her own dreams rather than add unnecessary garbage for her to process. “There is grace in silence,” she suggests, “and power to be had from listening to that which, more often than not, was left unsaid” (174).

As the book flap says, Norris traveled from her childhood home in South Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in North Alabama 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.

A very warm and readable family memoir that also lends understanding to both sides of a highly sensitive issue in American life. She expresses herself with consummate skill; she writes with Christian grace, and seasons it with a sprinkling of elegance.

Recognizing my own reservations about how far we have progressed with integration and civil rights legislation, I will leave you with this quote: All the talk of a post racial America betrays an all too glib eagerness to put in remission a four-hundred -year-old cancerous social disease. We can’t let it rest until we attend to its symptoms in ourselves and others. Jimmy Carter talking about white voter discomfiture with Barrack Obama’s race; Eric Holder suggesting that Americans are more often than not cowards in their refusal to address the subject candidly; Harry Reid surmising that Obama’s advantages are his skin tone and lack of a ‘Negro’ dialect: all have been subject to immediate and loud public censure by people more interested in excoriating them for daring to bring up the subject of race than willing to examine whether their statements bore hard truths (168).

From Warner’s World,
I recommend Michele Norris for your reading _ The Silence of Grace (NY, Pantheon, 2010).

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