The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir by Michele Norris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book. As I read it, I couldn't help but see similarities in the story of Michele Norris' parents and my own grandparents. Her parents were the first black family to move into their neighborhood in Minnesota. Immediately houses went up for sale and "white flight" was on. Her parents were then determined to ensure that the white families who stayed in the neighborhood would not have any complaints about their Black neighbors. She says, "The Norris family led by example. Not only was the snow always shoveled; cars were sparkling clean, and children were well-mannered and well-dressed." Her parents dressed up when they ran errands, and at home, her father "let his flowers do the talking." He took great pride in his garden.
When I was growing up, I always marveled at the fact that my grandpa would wear a suit and tie and my grandma would wear a fancy blouse, skirt and heels, when they went to the bank, post office, or grocery store. They ALWAYS looked so sharp! And my grandpa's perfectly manicured yard was his pride and joy. My mom's parents were the 2nd black family on their street in Omaha, Nebraska, and after reading this book, I can't help but wonder if they were operating from the same mindset as Michele's parents.
Later in the book, she mentions how her father pushed Michele into things that were "especially prized by white society." She took art history lessons at age 10, learned gymnastics on ice, and took weekend college courses while she was still in high school. My dad's parents did the same with him and his sisters--my grandma sent them to events at the local art museum, to the movies, piano lessons, insisted they take French, etc. Again, I wonder if my grandparents were doing the same thing as Michele's parents. Sadly, they're no longer around for me to ask.
Which brings me to the last similarity. My maternal grandmother is my only remaining grandparent, and for whatever reason, she doesn't like to talk about the past. This book makes me wonder if it's too painful for her, or if she's trying to protect her family from harsh truths, just as Michele's parents did. Michele didn't learn about her father's troubled past until after he passed away, and her whole point is that it's important to discuss these things while our relatives are still here. Even if there are painful memories. The perspectives of the older generations are important contributions to the ongoing discussion of race in this country.
The book was interesting, and gave me a lot to think about. I recommend it for everyone.
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