A Stolen History

In class, we were assigned to read parts of Democracry in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. In class we discussed a lot of points Tocqueville brought up in his passage. But one quote that stuck out to me the most, which was not brought up in class, was found at the bottom of page 385.

The negro of the United States has lost all remembrance of his country; the language which his forefathers spoke is never heard around him; he abjured their religion and forgot their customs when he ceased to belong to Africa, without acquiring any claim to European privileges. But he remains half way between the two communities; sold by the one, repulsed by the other; finding not a spot in the universe to call by the name of country

After reading this passage I was quickly reminded of a time when I sitting with a group of my peers and the question came up, “Where are you originally from?” We sat in a circle so everyone answered in turn. Everyone responded with the city they were born in followed by the country their ancestors were from. For example, one of my Caucasian peers said, “I was born in Arlington, Texas but my ancestors are from England, Ireland, and German.”  Then my turn came around. I, being the only African-American in group, could only say Chicago.  Unlike most Americans, African-Americans -whose ancestors where brought over by the slave trade – cannot state a country in particular and say this is where my ancestors are from.

However, recent breakthroughs in science have given us the capability of DNA testing. Many people believe that genetic testing help reconstruct one’s family history and determine the geographic orgins of their ancestors.  Over a dozen companies have marketed “genetic ancestry tests” to help people do so; “This search for a “homeland” is particularly poignant to African-American who hope to recapture a history stole by slavery.”   However, this article points out why genetic testing my not get you the results you’re looking for.

Bolnick_et_al._2007_genetic ancestry testing.pdf

In the Bolnick article, Bolnick talks about the use of genetic data to help people learn more about their heritage or ancestry. Bolnick feels the use of race categories is sometimes flawed because many people believe race is genetically determined despite the websites saying races is not genetically determined. One problem he discusses is the type of test being used. Most test fall in two categories: Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or Y-chromosome tests. “In both test, “the test-taker’s haplotype (set of linked alleles) is determined and compared with haplotypes from other sampled individuals. These comparisons can identify related individuals who share a common maternal or paternal ancestor, as well as locations where the test taker’s haplotype is found today. However, each test examines less than 1% of the test-taker’s DNA and sheds light on only one ancestor each generation,”( Bolnick). Another problem is sometimes, “when an allele or haplotype is most common in one population, companies it often assume it to be diagnostic of that populations.” This is problematic of high genetic diversity exists with populations and gene flow.

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2 Responses to A Stolen History

  1. goblue9123 says:

    I thought this was a very interesting post! I really enjoyed how you connected an issue Alexis de Tocqueville discussed with a modern day concept. Your post really reminded me about a similar situation of lack of belonging/citizenship amongst Japanese Americans after WII. After Japan’s attack on Pear Harbor, and the subsequent period of Japanese internment, Japanese Americans were also caught between two worlds in order to thrive in the United States. The only chance Japanese Americans had at escaping their imprisonment was to prove their loyalty by disavowing their citizenship to Japan. However, even after doing so, the American government still banned the Japanese from achieving American citizenship. Therefore, these individuals were entirely autonomous from any nation–they belonged to nowhere. Moreover, even after their citizenship was allowed later on in history, just like is the case for African Americans, their legitimate exclusion then now continues to lead to a lower status amongst American citizens today.

    As a whole, I think your post really brings to light the an affliction felt by many individuals who continue not to have a solid place within the United States as citizens. As you pointed out, African Americans are one such race that have experienced this disenfranchising middle ground. I think that what these modern day genetic tests prove, is how phenomenally one’s history and sense of belonging is to their identity. I think that many individuals in this middle ground suffer an identity crisis, where they cannot funny understand or identify where they came from and who they are. It can be especially confusing to people who view themselves as citizens as this country (like African or Japanese Americans) but who are not viewed by other Americans as such. Ultimately, I think that where so many exclusions have existed from American citizenship in the past, to some extent, many people have found themselves caught in a poor position within the U.S.still today.

  2. mrs010 says:

    I find this to be an intriguing post, and while agree with some of the sentiments of both the post and the comments made, I find myself to have a little disconnect with these ideas of identity and “middle ground”. The reference to de Tocqueville is great, and it was a great find to discuss his views on race in the United States. This excerpt provides us with great insight as to how the Africans who were taken captive in the Slave Trade would have felt in the early 19th Century. The comment about the Japanese internments also is a great example, though I feel the Japanese’s loyalty issues were a bit different, as they voluntarily came from Japan with no harm being done by their homeland. With that said, many of the Japanese were torn between being a “true American” and keeping their traditions and culture of the East.
    Today, however, I feel there to be a substantial difference among almost everyone’s identity as an American, or as someone who sees themselves excluded from the great majority of the country. Most white folks have essentially no sense of belonging to any of their ancestors’ countries, nor do they seek to find any sort of cultural relevance to their family’s earlier generation. To add to that, African-Americans, and other such minorities in the US have been long removed from a period where they should stand in a middle ground, unless for significant reasons they have a distinct attachment to another country. If your grandparents or parents are first generation Americans, it seems to me their is a claim of seeing a “middle ground” between cultures and belonging. But, for most American citizens, identity should be something of characteristics which make you unique as an American, and I find hardly any validity in outwardly claiming no privileges of America and having lost customs in which you were never a strong part of.

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