The Montana Race Project: Everyone Has a Story

Why six words?

As the story goes, Ernest Hemingway was once challenged by his friends to identify the fewest number of words necessary to write a complete story. He responded, “Six.”

His story: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

Legend has it, Hemingway felt it was the best story he’d ever written.

Today, the very short form writing style is studied and admired by writers and readers everywhere. There are websites devoted to the topic such as SixWordMemoirs.com and there’s the book, “Not Quite What I was Planning” in which celebrities write their life stories in six words.

Heck, even Honest Tea caps have six word memoirs.

One of my favorite Twitter feeds has the handle @sixwordstories. It includes stories that can paint an unforgettable picture. This one, in particular, haunts me:

Race 2

How We Came Up With the Montana Race Project: Everyone Has a Story

Writing in six words might seem awfully restrictive. But, it can help reveal the essence of just about anything. In the course, JRNL 201 Diversity in Media, we were discussing how sources can sometimes pass along racially charged statements without even realizing it. Part of the discussion that day included this 6-word essay from the Race Card Project:

Race 3

My students had all heard a similar line before, usually as a postscript to a racist joke or remark. We discussed whether something like the Race Card Project would work in Montana. It would be an opportunity to challenge a statement I’d heard over and over again when I first embarked upon teaching this course. The sentiment took various forms but basically boiled down to, “How can you talk about diversity in the scope of journalism when it really isn’t an issue in a state like Montana that simply isn’t diverse?”

This notion seemed to be reinforced when we received one of our first essays from a woman in Bozeman. Here’s what she wrote:

This is not an issue here. << there’s your 6 words. Why make it one?

It’s true, race is not an issue for some people in Montana. But for some it is.

Growing up mixed race in Montana, I remember almost every time I met someone new they would ask, “What nationality are you?” No one meant any harm by asking. But, they didn’t realize they were suggesting I was somehow less American than them. I realize now that if you were never asked that question in your life, you would probably never even think about race in Montana.

So, why intentionally make an issue of race when “this is not an issue here”?

Telling untold stories and seeking a multitude of voices is critical to accuracy in reporting. It is a necessary step in finding the Truth. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics calls upon journalists to, “Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.”

My students are working to answer that calling through The Montana Race Project: Everyone Has a Story. We reached out to all 16 campuses in the Montana University System as well as every tribal college in the state. We cast the net wide and received more than 100 essays in the first few days of the project. What we’re discovering is that Montanans have plenty to say about race. And, we wouldn’t have known those untold stories unless we asked. We are still accepting six word stories and would love to hear yours.

-By Kathy Weber-Bates, UM Journalism School instructor

Submit your six word story about race in Montana here: http://jour.umt.edu/student-projects/montana-race-project1/six-word-essays.php

View submissions online at https://www.facebook.com/mtraceproject

As part of the campus-wide DiverseU symposium, stories curated through the project will go on display at the University Center November 4th and 5th with a public presentation in the University Center Theater on November 5th at 3:30 p.m.

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