Race, Social Justice

Your newfound ancestry is not your golden ticket into communities of color

Do not think you can understand the inherent struggle of marginalized communities because an online test told you that you could

Whether it’s ancestry.com, MyHeritage DNA or 23andMe, taking ancestry determination tests have grown more and more popular each year. It’s a fascinating and exciting way to learn where one comes from and a way to gain a better understanding of who one is. These tests also have a lot of health benefits as medical technology advances, allowing us to predict possible genetic diseases and other health related issues. Often, commercials for these kits show people discovering unique facts about themselves like being related to George Washington or that they’re 5% Native American, which motivates them to get more educated and connected with the parts of them that they didn’t know they had. In an increasingly divisive society, these tests are aiding in bringing people back together and reminding them that we’re all connected.

There’s nothing wrong with that. I think our world needs to keep focusing on these connections instead of the ongoing discrimination that perpetuates the oppression of millions of groups of people.

My issue is when white people use their results to victimize themselves and to gain “access” into marginalized communities.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to listen to a white person tell me that they found out they’re 5% sub-Saharan African like this is somehow exciting news to me. This fact does not make us kinfolk and we do not  share the same struggles. All this does is remind me of the dark history of our pasts that have converged and led us to now share an adjacent gene pool.

The problem is, you can find out you’re related to George Washington, but I can’t even find out who my great great grandfather was because he was simply seen as property.

This is something you will never have to experience or understand. The health benefits that come from tests like these still don’t even benefit black people because the lack of records from the slave era as well as a huge health disparity attributed to late and continued research in fully understanding African American DNA.  This is why finding out that you have a tiny percentage of my race will never give you entrance into my community. White people already try to do this constantly through cultural appropriation so sharing a small percentage of DNA should not further justify this behavior. It’s not enough to want to embrace the fun and “worthy” aspects of my identity, you have to take the struggle and pain that comes with it too. 

But you can’t adopt the trials marginalized communities go through.

What white people who do this fail to realize is the reason they have such a diverse non-European heritage is because of colonization. A majority of European history consists of the invasion and conquering of different continents where powers took land, murdered families and raped women.

So when looking at your new found ancestry, consider the fact that all those tiny percentages that just seem fascinating to you, hold a darker history of pain for the people of color whose communities you are now once again trying to push into. Instead of flaunting this fact you should get educated about these communities and become an ally to them. Work to help end the oppressive institutions that are holding people of color back. That is how you can honor your ancestors and do them justice in a world that is while not physically taking advantage of them, still profiting off of their pain.

And that’s something ancestry.com won’t tell you.