U.S. History Through Our "Tapestry"

NY Times reporter Rachel Swarns and NPR's Michele Norris discuss race in America

Rachel Swarns' book is about the ancestry of Michelle Obama.
Photo:(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
U.S. History Through Our "Tapestry"
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U.S. History Through Our "Tapestry"


The presidency of Barack Obama has been a milestone in America’s history of race: from a country whose Founding Fathers owned slaves to a black man in the White House.

But while the Obamas are seen as the first African American “first family” - their own racial history is much more complex.

NY Times reporter Rachel Swarns details the complexity of the first lady’s ancestral history in her book, American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama.

Swarns told NPR about reaching out to the distant white relatives of Mrs. Obama.

“You can imagine what it might be like if someone were to knock on your door and say, hi, I think your family owned the first lady's family," she said.

We’ll talk with Swarns about her book and with NPR’s Michele Norris. She’s written a book about her own ancestry called The Grace of Silence. She also curates The Race Card Project, which gathers six-word submissions from people on race.

The project started during the book tour for The Grace of Silence. "I knew that people are often uncomfortable with this subject, so I thought I would make it easier by quite literally playing the race card," Norris said. She printed off postcards and asked people to share whatever they wanted about race. But they could only use six words.

The project now receives more than just postcards. People from around the world can submit their six-words on race via Twitter and the project's website, TheRaceCardProject.com.