March 15, 2013

Six Words

You’ve got six words to tell me about yourself. Six. Only six. Could you do it? Even though I know myself relatively well, I’m not sure I could because I have a penchant for flowery language and on occasion: bloviating. Six words sure doesn’t leave a lot of space for bloviating.

But it leaves just enough space for. The Truth.

Now let’s spin the question a little: You’ve got six words to relate your thoughts on race. Six words. No flowers, no bloviating. Just. The Truth.

It is possible; and, in fact thousands of people are posting their six word thoughts on race via author and NPR contributor Michele Norris’ Race Card Project. The online project invites everyday people to submit their thoughts, their stories on race. These thoughts and stories are intended to act as a catalyst that stimulates conversations about race, a particularly touchy subject and sometimes sorespot in America.

Race makes us shift uneasily in our seats.
We dance around it.
Don’t talk it about in mixed company,
Or in polite circles,
Or we go all Steven Colbert ala “I don’t even see race.”
Or we say Why even bother with the conversation to begin with?

We bother about it, because if we’re being realistic, we’re all checking boxes on those What race are you demographic forms, right? We’re all something. And I’ll go so far as to suggest that we all have an opinion – at least about our own race if not about those that are different from ours.

And here’s another reason: just the act of thinking about what you really think of race, and boiling it down to six words is an excerise that forces you to masticate those unfiltered thoughts, swallow them, and then see what kind of taste they leave in your mouth.

And because if you’ve grown up in a segregated community like this one and found yourself being, as my mom would say, “the fly in the buttermilk” you know that we are different from each other.

And because you realize that your once-two-year-old child who once only recognized race as a descriptor – e.g. that man has brown skin – is now a ten-year-old who’s beginning to catch onto to the subtle and not so subtle characteristics with which adults saddle race.

So why not talk about race instead of treating it like the elephant in the room?

Fourteen months ago, I went to the Race Card Project’s website anxious, but confident in taking on the challenge of condensing flowery and deep thoughts into six words. But I learned something before my fingers reached the keyboard’s homerow. As I scanned what people had already written, I realized the reflections from people about their own race were from those who were Jewish, Native American, Middle Eastern, Bi-racial, Hispanic, Multi-racial and more.

Funny.  There I was, a black woman who’s married to a white guy, living in a neighborhood of people of every stripe and color, and who made the conscious decicion to send our bi-racial kid to the school where she is partially due to its ethnic and racial mix. I mean, hadn’t I straddled the racial divide pretty well? But reading the thoughts and stories from the rainbow of respondents nudged me in an uncomfortable way and revealed that:
I reflexively thought of race only in terms of black and white.
DUH. Nothing's black and white, especially people. Talk about shifting uneasily in my seat.

Only my laptop knew how embarrassed I was, so I submitted my six words anyway.
Without flowers or bloviating. Just. The Truth.

So...the question is: What are your six words?


  1. Divise.Ugly.Misunderstood.Hateful.Fighting.Truth

    1. Agreed.

      But if they'd let us tack on an additional six words, I'd add these:

      We fail to see its beauty.

  2. There's now way I'll have just six. And from those six, the misinterpretations others will have on those words. Not fair! My six are off the top of my head:

    dynamic, smart, sensitive, invisible, real, faithful

    Depending on who you are and how you know me, some of those words may not make sense - some may think one way if they never met me. Catch 22?

    1. Not a Catch 22 at all! I think the Six Words are about. The Truth. YOUR truth -- and as long as you don't have a problem with them, then...there's no problem. Right? :)

      At least that's my opinion.

      Also my opinion: I love your six words.

      Thanks for reading and commenting too!