International Jones

593562204_oSo, a friend and I  decided I should rename myself International Jones. I’m thinking I’ll wear platform heels and a faux-fur cap a la the 1970s. Sadly, I discovered there is already some clown rapper with my new name.

Why the sudden change in surnom? I have been given confirmation that my previously held belief that race is a fiction has been confirmed — at least as far as I am concerned. In doing my family genealogy, I estimated my ancestry to be 83% African, 11% European, and around 6% Native American. The percentages were estimates based on the races reported in Census records and the like. Still, to the world, I’m African American.

I did go to Africa once, so I guess that’s cool.

In Medieval times, people didn’t worry about the fiction of race. However, with the advent of Colonialism, and Portugal’s destruction of trade routes between East Africa and Asia, the idea of race was reborn. It became necessary to promote the idea of superior and inferior races (though which race was which changed with time and locale). It continued right up through the 1850s, when history books were re-written to cover the tracks of humanity that had been crushed under the boot of economic oppression.

So, when Ancestry.com offered to test my DNA for under $100, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always been fascinated by genetics, and I’ve studied histories of western civilizations enough to know that “purity” of race has been a myth for centuries. Even in Europe, family names like Moore, Moor, Muir, and the like, originated from the Moorish occupation of Spain. The name ultimately came to refer to people of “swarthy” complexions, basically after centuries of intermixing among Europeans, Arabs, and Africans. Still, we held onto the idea of “race.”

Race was a joke in my family, we descended of French-African Creole since people misidentified family members as belong to almost every race imaginable. I’ve had cousins who passed for white when it had real economic benefit. My mother could be black, or Hispanic, or Arabic, or anything else. When I was in Zambia, at a conference with people from all over the continent, I was stunned to discover the only people I looked like were the Egyptian security guards. I took advantage of that by walking around with my hand in my suit coat, making folks nervous. I was bored.

Years ago, I was dating an Indian woman (I love Indian women, I must confess). My hair was covered by a head wrap since I’d been working out, and her elderly grandmother was certain I was Indian. In fact, she took my “refusal” to speak Hindi as embarrassment that my parents hadn’t taught me well. We never told her differently, since she liked me. 🙂 Besides, I got off easier than my cousin who would get beaten up in D.C. for “trying to be black.” He was, in fact, black. He just looked like he was from Tamil in southern India.

Anyway, I got my DNA results back, and  it both confirmed my theories and surprised me. Genetically, I’m only 55% African. The remainder is 31% Central European (almost certainly French), and 8% British Isles (Irish from the Foys and English from the Spencers). In effect, though in terms of legal racial definition, I am certainly “all black” as I’ve not found a “non-black” ancestor before the 18th century, genetically, I’m biracial.

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How can this be, you ask? Simple. First, genetics doesn’t work the way we think. Genetics are far more complex, especially when one factors in genes that may not be expressed but are present in one’s genetic makeup. Secondly, one may have a “white” parent who is 56% European and 44% other, or a “black” parent who is the converse.

In other words, I was descended from the Spencers of Columbus, Georgia, some of whom were pasty-colored ex-slaves. I am descended from the Huguleys of Alabama, formerly of Kentucky and St. Augustine, Florida. Those ancestors were the likely product of a wealthy French Huguenot and a pretty African girl. I am descended from a great-great-grandfather straight out of West Africa, still replete with filed teeth. I am the descendant of Virginia slaves from the Carr, and probably Thomas Jefferson plantations, and of former slaves in central Tennessee who were themselves mixed with Irish immigrants.  And the European ancestors were themselves mixed with the varying degrees of genetic soups that have defined Europe for a millennium.

We are, simply put, mutts. I have now declared myself to be beyond race. I am 55% this, 39% that, and 6% still descended from my home planet. And they, my friends, don’t cotton to all this race mixing with you Hoomuns.

I'll be wearing these on the return flight home.
I’ll be wearing these on the return flight home.

So, I’ll be International Jones from here on out, until my people call me home. Then you can all return to your happy little genetic fictions.

Loves,
me

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12 Replies to “International Jones”

  1. For me you are just my friend Bill the Writer and Photographer and nothing else.I give a Rats Ass about Race .You are my Friend Bill that’s it.

  2. I really dig your transcendent on race. The one thing I’ve noticed is that people often times want to identify and find strength, a sense of history and what not in their race. Race, or the appearance of it, can be damning, right? But it can also be unifying. And if you’ve been damned by your “race” or whatever race people think you are and you think you are, than all the more likely you will need to connect with others around shared oppression. So my question…how do we begin to rise above what others need to think that we are? how do we rise above and create a narrative identity all our own. How do we become truly international?

    Sorry for all the questions. You don’t need to answer them or anything.

    1. They are good questions. I’ve found that the great equalizer in everything is performance. I don’t mean just work performance, but performance against our own expectations as humans. If we achieve what we want to achieve, people are willing to accept that you are whom you say you are.

      I’m still not at the place in life where people look at me and assume I’m the smart guy in the room, but I think we’re way past the place when they think I’m the dumbest. I agree with your assessment – I think people gravitate to groups of people with whom the share something – even a sense of oppression.

      It’s hard, but I say that we have to redefine ourselves and gravitate to groups of people who don’t believe we are oppressed. I’m fortunate in that I was taught that nothing anyone said about black folk was right, so I grew up never having felt oppressed. We have to be the ones to remove shackles from us. No one else can, or will.

      1. I agree oppression must be removed by the oppressed. To be free, the power to define the self must issue from the self, not from without. To see that the oppressor is blind to you, in my opinion, is the first step in gaining this freedom. For me, that’s been the biggest hurdle. I guess I always thought those people in power had x-ray vision. They seemed to know so much, their arguments about what I was so tightly sealed. Now I see they could only see through that which they had created. Their knowledge was remained within the confines of their own dim imaginations. Imaginations they sold to be so bright. They weren’t gifted seers at all.

        I had to work to enter their circles to see their lack of omniscience. I had to see their ignorance, their unique limitations with my own eyes, only then could I untangle myself from the stain and sting of their misperceptions, misperceptions I had unwittingly internalized and took to be the whole of me. This took a long time.

        1. It does take a while. I’m reminded of a line from Casablanca:

          Peter Lorre: “You despise me, don’t you?”

          Bogart: “Hell, if I gave you any thought at all, I probably would.”

          That’s what takes the longest, realizing that they no longer think about us at all. It’s not being looked down upon that’s the problem, it’s being overlooked.

  3. Bill, I envy you the knowledge of your ancestry. I have no idea who my father was. My mother’s family can be traced and has been, but with no clue as to my father, I have always felt like a total outsider. Growing up right after WW II it was hard to have a german surname. Luckily, I have always been spunky and didn’t take “no shit from no one”.
    Keep writing, Bill. I’m still reading. Mary

    1. That’s tough. My biological father knew nothing about his father. I think I’ve found him via genealogy. All we knew is they called him “Boy” Jones.

  4. Somehow that seems more painful than knowing nothing. In spite of my envy, I’m so glad you are my friend.
    Keep writing, Bill, I’m still reading. Mary

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