In the wake of talk of a “post-racial America” upon the ascendance of Barack Obama as president of the United States, Michele Norris, host of National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, set out, through original reporting, to write a book about “the hidden conversation on race” that is going on in this country. But along the way she unearthed painful family secrets - from her father’s shooting by the Birmingham police within weeks of his discharge from service in World War II to her grandmother’s peddling pancake mix as an itinerant Aunt Jemima.
In what became an intensely personal and bracing journey, Norris traveled from her childhood home in Minneapolis to her ancestral roots in the Deep South to explore “things left unsaid” by her family when she was growing up. Along the way she discovers how character is forged by both repression and revelation. She learns how silence became a form of self-protection and a means of survival for her parents - strivers determined to create a better life for their children at a time when America was beginning to experiment with racial equality - as it was for white Americans who grew up enforcing strict segregation (sometimes through violence) but who now live in a world where integration is the norm.
Extraordinary for Norris’s candor in examining her own complex racial legacy, The Grace of Silence is also informed by hundreds of interviews with ordinary Americans and wise observations about evolving attitudes toward race in America. It is concerned with assessing the truth of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s assertion that, vis-à-vis race, ours is a nation of cowards, for often what is left unsaid is more important than what is openly discussed.