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Florida Case Prompts Massive Responses To Race Card Project


In many ways, the trial of George Zimmerman has been a Rorschach test for America. What people saw and heard about the case was often colored by their own life circumstances, and there are lots of opinions out there, many expressed quite loudly.

This morning, we're going to return to our partnership with the Race Card Project to capture the conversations about race that happen in much quieter spaces.

For the last few years, NPR's Michele Norris has asked people to share their six-word stories about race and cultural identity. The confrontation in that Sanford, Florida neighborhood has been a running thread in the inbox of the Race Card Project since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in the winter of 2012.

Michele Norris joins us now. Good morning.

MICHELE NORRIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So what are you seeing in the way of six-word responses to the end of this trial?

NORRIS: Well, you know, I see them not just at the end of the trial, but going all the back to the beginning of this case, mothers talking about their sons, people talking about their own neighborhood and how they might react if they saw someone who they thought didn't quite fit in. There's a lot of candor, a lot of honesty, a lot of pain, and a lot of them just are almost like pure expressions of frustration.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask you about some of the specific themes you've seen. You just mentioned mothers writing in. Of course, both the victim and the shooter were young, and they were sons. But it sounds like you heard much more from mothers who looked at the plight of Trayvon Martin and wondered about the safety of their sons.

NORRIS: A lot more. Shay Hill(ph) of Canton, Ohio says: I pray for my son every day. And she says she lives in a predominantly white neighborhood, and when her son - who's now an adult - is home on break, he wants to go out for a run early in the morning, and she actually discourages him from running through her own neighborhood because she says, quote, "I'm afraid someone would see a black man in sweats and a hoodie and mistake him for a criminal."

On the other hand, I heard from mothers who looked at their own sons and said, boy, my son goes out in a hoodie, and I never have to worry. Janet Newcity(ph) of Chapel Hill, North Carolina said exactly that. Her six words were: "I don't worry about my son." She says her son is the same age as Trayvon Martin. And she says, quote, "I'm never afraid that anyone will see him as a threat. This," she says, "is what white privilege feels like."

MONTAGNE: It does sound like you're getting a lot of small essays about fear.

NORRIS: Yes, Renee. A lot of people chafing, are very uncomfortable because they themselves are the object of fear. "Lady, I don't want your purse." But also a lot of really confessional submissions from people who are uncomfortable with the fears that they have about people who don't look like them, particularly dark-skinned men. "Angry black men are so scary" - I mean, the kinds of things that people are submitting you kind of can't imagine hearing in polite conversation, but people are being very honest. Mary Ann Harmon(ph) from Portland, Oregon sent in: "videos of robberies, all wearing hoodies." And the fear in a lot of these cases, as we saw in the trial, is wrapped up in how Trayvon Martin was dressed that day. He had a hoodie on.

MONTAGNE: Right, exactly, but a hoodie is hardly unique or specific to a young black man.

NORRIS: Or to a young white man, or to someone who, you know, is an athlete. And, you know, people talked about whether or not they could wear a hoodie. A woman named Bethany Banner(ph) of Kalamazoo, you know, she had this ah-ha moment when she was out shopping one day. It starts raining. She pulls up her hoodie, and her six words were: "I'm allowed to wear a hoodie." Because she realized in that moment that no one would ever look at her, as a petite white woman, and assume that she was someone dangerous because she had this hood up over her head.

MONTAGNE: Well, it is the case, Michele, that when you started this project three years ago, it was because, in many ways, people don't want to talk about race. Seems that here, people have a lot to say.

NORRIS: That's sort of the irony of this - I did start this project because I wanted to provide a forum for people to talk about race, thinking no one wanted to talk about it. And obviously, on this case, people have a lot to say. And at least one woman was really poetic. Judy Delegal(ph), hers stuck with me. She said: "America's hooded winter must yield spring." And there's a lot of hope in that. I did hear from a lot of people who did express this desire that perhaps race would be something that would be less toxic and something that was easier for us all to deal with, and perhaps for us all to talk about.

MONTAGNE: Michele, thank you very much for joining us.

NORRIS: Good to be with you, Renee. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Michele Norris with the Race Card Project. And to see more submissions, you can go to npr.org or TheRaceCardProject.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.