Roots, results, reactions

DNA strand sketchIt seems like lately everyone is selling a version of DNA tests to people curious about their heritage. Ever since the book and TV miniseries, Roots by Alex Haley came out, finding one’s African roots has been all the rage.

My father had taken a DNA test for his paternal side, and when it came back entirely European — a mix of British, Irish and Scottish, saying he was disappointed would be the biggest understatement ever. Not one drop of African DNA. I laughed, because all you have to do is look at his family to know there is European ancestry of some sort in it. I also considered the possibility that there was an error in the testing or they didn’t provide him with the smaller traces of DNA. Then the kerfuffle with Rachel Dolezal happened and I couldn’t help but tease him about being a white guy passing as black all these years. (He still didn’t see the humor.)

While I know quite a bit about my West Indian and Central American roots, I wanted to know exactly what African country my particular portion of the diaspora originated from. I was pretty sure it would be a west African country based on the slave trade. So hoping to give my dad more comprehensive results, I spit in a tube, mixed it with some stabilizer junk, and shipped it snail mail to some anonymous scientists somewhere.


I wasn’t surprised by my results as much as I was surprised by the reaction from people I shared them with. People I thought would be as excited as I was responded pretty much with a, “Meh.” And people I thought would not care one bit asked questions and were interested. One was critical of the vendor I used deeming it as not authentic because it wasn’t sourced from Howard University and didn’t narrow it down to the specific tribe. Another was disgusted by the European blood. Someone else said they’d always tried to distance themselves from being anything African because of the negative connotations like Tarzan, slavery and famine (thanks American school system and Hollywood). Then there were some rather humorous tongue-in-cheek responses like, “Girl, youse still black.”


The unexpected. I’m about 1% South Asian. That’s primarily the area including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Possibly explains my love of spicy food, Bollywood, and my loving, but not being so great at, Bollywood dancing. I also have wanted to wear a sari. Does this give me a way to wear one or is that still cultural appropriation? Kidding, just kidding.

The surprising. I also have about 1% of Native American. This result encompasses North America, Central America and South America. I thought there would be more. I know for certain my paternal grandmother has North American Native American family. I guess it’s watered down over generations. Or it could be from my maternal grandfather who originates from South America by way of Africa. Well, hopefully this is enough to make me American enough for all those ridiculous people who can’t seem to figure out that they are descendants of immigrants, too.

The already known. Based on my dad’s test and my mother’s family history, I knew there would be European. Turns out I have 13% percent European DNA mostly Great Britain and Ireland with about 1% West European and less than 1% East European.

*drum roll*

The big discovery. I’m 85% African, mostly Nigerian (37%) and Ivory Coast/Ghana (15%). Now that puts the African in African American! Other countries/areas in the mix included African Southeastern Bantu, Benin, Togo and Mali. I didn’t expect to be split among so many countries.

That’s the first thing anyone who is about to do this should know — the results are estimates. They provide some guidance or affirmation of what you might already know. But they are still best guesses of the scientists based on equations and matches from vast databases.

I’m satisfied to know this much, although it would be really cool to get down to the tribe level of my African heritage. I just hope I was dealing with ethical people and my life doesn’t turn into an Orphan Black situation. I don’t think I’m prepared for six more of me running around the planet!

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