America’s Brutal Racial History Is Written All Over Our Genes

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The debate around race consuming America right now is coinciding with a technological phenomenon — at-home genetic testing kits — revealing many of us are not who we thought we were. Some customers of the major DNA testing companies, which collectively have sold 37 million of these kits, are getting results that surprise them.

Perhaps they or a parent was adopted or donor-conceived and never told, or their families hid their genetic ancestries as an escape from discrimination. Maybe Dad isn’t their dad, genetically speaking, or they have a sister they never knew about. Some people are discovering their ancestors were Black, or Jewish. Others are learning their African-American lineages contain more European ancestry than they thought.

Our country, riven by wounds old and new over centuries of racist mistreatment, hasn’t figured how to acknowledge the full horrors of the past and all the ways those horrors continue. {snip}

Despite the reductionism that sometimes frames discussions of the “ethnicity estimates” that the genetic testing industry offers customers — Ancestry, for instance, is responsible for a disturbing ad relying on ethnic tropes and yoking genes to greatness, attributing a figure skater’s “grace” to her Asian heritage, and her “precision” to her Scandinavian roots — this moment may offer us an important opportunity to grapple with the blunt facts of our nation’s history. {snip}

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Recent research conducted by 23andMe demonstrates how America’s brutal history is revealed through our genes. While the majority of enslaved people brought to the Americas were male, the study found enslaved women had a disproportionate impact on the gene pool of their descendants, evidence of the systematic rape and sexual exploitation of enslaved Black women. {snip}

A 23andMe study from 2015 revealed that close to 4 percent of the company’s customers who identified as white Americans had at least 1 percent African ancestry, consistent with an African ancestor within the last 11 generations or so. About 12 percent of whites from Southern states like South Carolina and Louisiana had 1 percent or more of African ancestry.

The Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. has calculated that there are millions of contemporary whites who, “according to the old, notorious ‘one- drop rule’ of the Jim Crow era, would have been considered legally ‘black’” — proof not only of the absurdity of that definition of difference, he writes, but of the power of modern science to blow up false narratives about race and about American history. {snip}

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Research by Wendy Roth, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that customers’ basic knowledge of genetics going into testing may play a role in whether tests accentuate or reduce their racial essentialism. {snip}

But what’s clear from research and from my conversations with hundreds of consumers is that genetic revelations can inspire journeys of self-discovery, helping people rewrite their understandings not only of their families but of their orientations as Americans.

Some people I spoke with recounted how they’re thinking long and hard, for the first time, about what boxes to check on medical forms asking for race. Some have legally changed their names to reflect their forebears. {snip}

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The post America’s Brutal Racial History Is Written All Over Our Genes appeared first on American Renaissance.

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Author: Henry Wolff


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