So, 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.
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.
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.