i just finished watching an episode of 'Faces of America' with Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. on PBS.
i absolutely LOVE this show. i missed it last Thursday and was ready to fight...
if you haven't watched the show, it's a genealogical journey into the pasts of different celebrity guests (Meryl Streep, Dr. Gates, Yo Yo Ma, Eva Longoria, Stephen Colbert, etc.). Dr. Gates traces their histories as far back as he can, talks about genetics, family, American history, Immigration, and personal thoughts about ancestry and personal identity. he also does DNA sequencing in which he tests everyone's DNA for the level of the various "races" they have their past. according to the scientists that perform these tests, there are 4 different races in the world, and in diverse regions, like America, each person has a percentage of those races in their past. surprisingly, Dr. Gates is genetically more European than he is African and similarly, Eva Longoria is more European than she is Mexican (Native American). Yo Yo Ma is 100% Asian, Colbert is 100% European. but note that this is the genetic aspect to race. race is such a complex concept that it exists more so in the human mind than in our DNA. Dr. Gates is like 65% European, but he is black because he identifies himself as a black man and has been treated as such in America.
this show is so fascinating because it is almost like a survey on the concept of identity.
who are we? who are you?
are either of those answers dependent on any level on your parents? their parents? your "race"?
would you think differently about yourself if it was found that there are more ancestors in your past that of a completely different "race" than you currently consider yourself to be?
i watched a film sometime ago discussing the legitimacy or lack thereof in the concept of "race". they were sequencing people's DNA, and they did so for a man who identified himself as black. the DNA sequencing showed that he was around 80% Native American, and his surprise upon this knowledge changed how he saw himself. he said that if he'd known he wasn't black, his entire life would have been different; he wouldn't have married his first wife (who was black. his wife at the time of the sequencing was white) and his career path would have been different. interesting how the concept of race as well as personal history can completely change who you are or who you think you are.
Dr. Gates says in the show "know thy history-know thyself".
is that true?
it's certainly true when it comes to my identity as a black person; as a woman; as a black woman. learning about the history or women of color in this country, all women, and all people of color as changed my personal view very much so. but i'm not completely sure about that when it comes to my personal family history.
right now, i can't tell you much outside my nuclear family. theres my parents' siblings and their children...and thats about it. we don't have family reunions, and no written family trees that i've seen. but does this mean i don't know who i am? i'd say no, but 10 years from now, when i learn some crazy fact bout my 10th grade grandmother, i'll probably say otherwise.
i plan on researching my family tree and what if i find i have a 3rd cousin thats a rapist? or a great great grandfather that was a free person of color? it would change my entire concept, not only of my and my family, but of whatever point in time that is.
i think many Americans (myself included) tend to think of history in black and white....whites were rich and slave-holders, blacks were slaves...and no there were some Native Americans on some reservations...and no one else existed. but that wasn't how it was at all.
Malcolm Gladwell, a guest on the show, has a black Jamaican mother and a white Canadian father. he discovered that one of his great grandmothers was a free woman of color that owned around 13 slaves upon her death. he was floored. i mean, who thinks that a) there were any more than 5 or 6 free blacks ever in American history, b) that any of them had a substantial or even sustainable amount of wealth, and c) that they owned slaves??? and d) that you could be a direct descendant from them?? what??...is there some level of reconciliation you have to make with your ancestry? you accept the ethically stained with the righteous?
comment. do your research. tell me about your family.