Monday, July 25, 2005
The NY Times has a story
on a rise in interest in using DNA tests to trace family lineage by some African Americans in the US.
According to the story: "The DNA tests are fueling the biggest surge in African-American genealogy since Alex Haley's 1976 novel, "Roots," inspired a generation to try to trace their ancestors back to Africa. For those who have spent decades poring over plantation records that did not list slaves by surname and ship manifests that did not list where they came from, the idea that the key lies in their own bodies is a powerful one."
The troubling part of this comes from this anecdotal narrative within the story:
"All her life, Rachel Fair has been teased by other black Americans about her light skin. 'High yellow,' they call her, a needling reference to the legacy of a slave owner who, she says, 'went down to that cabin and had what he wanted.' So it was especially satisfying for Ms. Fair, 64, when a recent DNA test suggested that her mother's African ancestry traced nearly to the root of the human family tree, which originated there 150,000 years ago. 'More white is showing in the color, but underneath, I'm deepest Africa,' said Ms. Fair, a retired parks supervisor in Cincinnati. 'I tell my friends they're kind of Johnny-come-latelies on the DNA scale, so back up, back up.'
What if her genetic test had identified Ms. Fair as having a European ancestor? Would her "blackness" be legitimately in question then, despite having lived with all the racism at work against her?
The story actually gets into some pretty good questions, and reveals how these tests can also be a way to generate new social ties.