Every family has secrets, some more sensitive than others. In the early stages of writing a book about race in the Obama era, Michele Norris, cohost of NPR’s All Things Considered, uncovered a couple of doozies. It turned out that her father, a Minneapolis postman, had been shot by an Alabama cop in an elevator for “resisting arrest” not long after returning home from World War II. She also learned that her grandmother—a stylish lady whose braids sat on her head “crownlike, as in Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits”—had spent years donning the stereotypical garb and patois of a black mammy to sell Aunt Jemima pancake mix for Quaker Oats. Stunned by these revelations, Norris scrapped the Obama project to explicate her family’s hidden history. In the resulting warm and candid memoir, The Grace of Silence, she urges readers to do the same. “How well do you know the people who raised you?” she writes. “They might take their tales to their graves if you don’t invite them to share their stories and wisdom.”
This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.