Paul R. Lehman, The unexpected results of DNA programs regarding genetics, ancestry, and race

February 23, 2018 at 7:23 pm | Posted in Affirmative Action, African American, American Bigotry, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, discrimination, Disrespect, DNA, DNA programs, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, Genealogy,, Human Genome, identity, justice, Michigan, Prejudice, race, Race in America, racism, respect, skin color, skin complexion, U. S. Census, University of Michigan, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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Genealogy has become a popular area of concern for many Americans lately, and many organizations have sprung up to help people needing assistance in building their family tree. Many Americans start out by using research tools available on the internet and in many libraries; much of their early searches involves a paper trail. However, since the advances of science and the introduction of DNA, many successes, as well as many disappointments have resulted in what is discovered. In an article entitled “Unexpected Roots,” (2/12/2018) by The Washington Post writer, Tara Bahrampour, the leading phrase of the article points to the conundrum: “As more people learn of their genetic makeup, African heritages emerge.”

The article focuses on a few people who took advantage of the two currently popular programs for help: “Now, for under $100, it has become increasingly easy to spit into a vial and receive a scientifically accurate assessment of one’s genetic makeup. Companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com provide a list of countries or regions where the predominant genetic traits match those of one’s forebears.” While the test results might seem reassuring to some of the test takers, they can be unsettling to others because the outcome was not what was expected.

Many Americans accept the false concept of race by color, and because no standard exists for color, no factual or concrete definition of race has ever been forthcoming. So, many Americans simply do not question the false concept of a race until it directly impacts them. The article noted that “While little data exists comparing people’s perception with the reality of their ethnic makeup, a 2014 study 23andMe customers found that around 5,200, or roughly 3, 5 percent, of 148,789 self-identified European Americans [whites] had 1 percent or more African ancestry, meaning they had a probable black ancestor going back about six generations or less.” How many of the individuals deal with their newfound information varies from one to the other depending on their self-identity.

Much of the blame for many European Americans seeing themselves as white can be traced to our founding fathers who deliberately instituted a two-race society—one black, and one white, with the white being superior to the black and all other people of color. That system had faults from the very beginning because many Americans, whose skin complexion and hair texture was similar to that of the European Americans, simply “passed” or assumed the race of white. An excellent example of “passing” by an African American was in the novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) by James Weldon Johnson. This novel is mentioned because it fits the actual life experience of Nicole Persley, in the article: “For Persley, 46, the link [to her African ancestry] turned out to be her grandfather, who had moved away from his native Georgia as started a new life passing as white in Michigan. He married a white woman, who bore Persley’s father.” The results of her DNA confirmed that she is nearly 8 percent African. Her reaction was “That was a bombshell revelation for me and my family;” she adds later that “I’m absolutely proud of my genealogy and my heritage, but I think my father would have thought I was dishonoring his father, because it was a secret and I dug it up.”

While the article was interesting and entertaining, it was also informed in the sense that many people still do not know who they are. Many people do not know the difference between race and ethnicity or know the meaning of a cultural identity and an ancestry one. Part of the reason for this ignorance is society’s conditioning towards ethnic biases and away from reality. More precisely, we know any number of things that could help us avoid the problem of identity. Namely, only one race of human beings exists today, Homo sapiens; the Homo sapiens originated in Africa so all Homo sapiens will have a degree of African ancestry in their DNA. While these testing programs like 23andMe and Ancestry.com might be able to show ethnic relations, they cannot indicate race. Why?  Bahrampour noted, “There is no DNA category for race, because a genetic marker for it does not exist.”If some programs inform customers that they belong to a certain race or races then the program is a scam. That information might be difficult for some people to accept because they want to believe something else.

The concept of race by color in America is undergoing a rapid change due to the demographics as the article reported: “In recent years, multiracial Americans have increasingly entered the national consciousness. Between 1970 to 2013, the portion of babies living with two parents of different races rose from 1 percent to 10 percent, the Pew Research Center found.” In addition, “From 2010 to 2016, those who identified as being of two or more races grew by 24 percent, according to census data, a jump that could have had as much to do with the changing way in which Americans identify themselves as an actual increase in the racially mixed population.”

While this Bahrampour article was interesting and informative, it was disappointing in the final analysis because it continued to use the language that keeps the conundrum alive and well. She informed the readers that no DNA marker exists for a category of race. Subsequently, if no category for races exists, then no way to identify that races exists as well. So, why continue to promote the myth and add to the confusion by using the terms race, racist, racial, mixed-race, and multiracial? Of course, she was seeking the responses of other people, not making judgments or pronouncements on her own relative to race and DNA,

In her article, her use of the terms European-American, and African-American indicates the changes taking place in the media moving away from the stereotype of black and white. We know that just simple steps as small as these can help to change the perceptions of many Americans who view themselves through a color.

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  1. Good points, sir.


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