Here’s What Happened When I Had My Ancestry Traced

People are pregnant, married, moving up the corporate ladder, doing crossfit, getting tatted, and I’m over here finding out about ancestors.

It wouldn’t be summertime if I didn’t put myself on a mission. Sometimes it’s cardio. Sometimes it’s cooking. Often, it’s reading enough to be able to jump into most conversations, survive, and contribute.

I mainly ventured into the ancestry rabbit hole because of history. Whenever I asked my parents where Ancestor So-and-So was from, it was always some southern state in the U.S. I’ve seen pictures of ancestors whose phenotypes prominently display Africa. I’ve seen some that made me my cock my head to the side.

But Massa ‘Nem is not an ethnicity. And the USA is relatively new. I wanted a deeper tie to an original region. I am usually elated to be a black American, but I also periodically feel displaced here. This feeling has arisen when people speak a native tongue, as slavery stripped my ancestors of ours.

Ancestry tracing is gaining popularity. It is beneficial for people who were adopted. Some do it to find out about possible illnesses. Some do it to boast their multi-racialism. Some trace to prove their lineage is uninterrupted. Dude, do you. Technology supplements aspects of our identity that institutions can erase.

This experience was deep. While I identify with the cultural and political power of blackness and see Africa as the motherland, I was pretty open to whatever appeared on the report.

Then there’s the social aspect of identity in contemporary America. In our post-everything society, where we are actually post-very little, there’s often a schism between foreign (a.k.a. “exotic”) and typical identity.

Personally, this results in folks expecting and wanting me to be spicy black. They want some performative drum circle/humanities 201/geography 301/passport-y black lady display because of my Swahili and Arabic first name, hip-length dreadlocks, rudimentary reggae knowledge and interests beyond my backyard.

People stay asking where I’m “from-from.” For those who don’t know, saying it twice helps people know it’s real. We all know the difference between liking a dude and like-liking him, right?

Apparently, I’m Jamaican. St. Lucian. Dominican. From St. Croix. Bahamian. I’ve also been Eritrean, Egyptian and Somali, although never at the same time. A Colombian guy seemed underwhelmed by the fact that I was born in a city where people wear more camo than ethnic garb.

All I can be is who I am. I am cotton black. Yet, I try to have a sense of humor because everything has degrees. A common Imani inquiry for the from-from set is, “What? Cotton don’t excite y’all?”

In all seriousness, family is exciting. Making connections. Globalism.
Feeling included by a place and its people.

That’s where 23andme.com comes into play. I researched ancestry-tracing services and decided this was the one for me. Plus, if it’s good enough for Henry Louis Gates Jr., I’m just saying.

It cost $99, not including shipping. I registered a profile, paid, spit in the kit, mailed off my specimen and waited for results, which came pretty timely.

My immediate family and I discussed everything. They had no objections. Additionally, they know I blog. They consented to me sharing the story about our ancestry. They agreed it would be neat to leave the option open for 23andMe users who share our genetic info to connect.

Then 23andMe emailed me, saying relatives were online. Y’all. We have all the cousins. Most of them are black. Some are mixed. Some are white. I started introducing myself, wondering if they would be welcoming. I don’t want anything from them, other than to get to know them as people and see where our ancestors intersected. So far, everything’s going well.

If you’re only here for the breakdown, it is in the photo below.
MyAncestry
Note: We are also .8% Neanderthal. Should I beat my chest for cave-dwelling foremothers or nah?

Ultimately, the results make sense. A long time ago, my ancestors were involved in the trafficking of people. Most were the trafficked. Some were the trafficking.

Despite these layers, my cousins still want to connect. For that, this mission is accomplished.

 

Edited to add: 23andMe says that as their algorithm improves, it’s possible for ancestral reports to change. Mine did, a little, so I posted the most recent one too.

Ancestry

I’m a Chick From ‘The Hood’

Sisterly selfie. Location: The Hood.

I’m from the hood. By hood, I mean a black neighborhood with some dynamics stereotypically envisioned. The occasional box Chevy, all candy paint and rims, blares southern hip-hop. Well-known panhandlers request coins. Crime is heavily scrutinized.

However, my community contains more variance than flat thinkers usually consider. My late grandfather, a middle school science teacher, Sunday school leader, and Kappa, purchased the lot our family home is on 50 years ago and had it constructed. He and my late grandmother, a television producer and his wife, built a family in the home.

The hood was more the ‘burbs then. The hood had firmly middle class black families and fostered intergenerational wealth. Homes stayed in families. People could go off and live, work, and learn, while knowing there was somewhere to return. Others “boomeranged” back home to save for big American purchases, like their own homes. The community thrived.

The hood was also uprooted by the 2008 recession, resultant housing bubble and predatory lending. Generational conflicts exist. Priorities look different. Class dynamics are pervasive.

Barbecue wings and crab legs sell faster than froyo. Kale might as well precede nah. The hood is a place where business building is slow, but improving. Yet, it’s also a place of tireless activism.

And we should remember that hoods, or their functional equivalents, are ubiquitous. But, this post is about the northwest quadrant of Jacksonville, Florida, where my family home is.

The hood bred civil rights watchdogs who outed the city for building on unfit lands. My grandpa was on the NAACP’s toxicology board and helped spread awareness. Apparently building schools, homes and parks for black, brown and impoverished white people on toxic lands is standard domestic practice. But, environmental justice is another story.

Living in the hood is similar to attending an HBCU. Stuff happens. Some of it is glorious and soulful. Some of it is annoying or troubling. Stuff usually doesn’t occur because people are black, though. It’ll be another issue.

Social status. Family name. Profession. Associations. Religion. Sexual orientation. Grammar. Dialect. Speech is huge.

One benefit of being from the hood, but attending majority white magnet arts schools and storied black universities, is effective code-switching. Code-switching ≠ being disingenuous. I learned to tailor messages for audiences. Such is common practice where I’m from. It’s a survival mechanism. As Philly-based rapper Meek Mill spits, there’s “levels to this.”

The hood is cool (enough). I can always find hair products, and thrifty ethnic jewelry. People are loud–in speech, dress and persona. Some have ironic nicknames like, 350 pound men called Tiny. Elders know your kinfolk.

Clever children make music with instruments and random objects. Politicians buy groceries with normalized fame. You know, everybody knows them, but mostly nobody’s fazed. That’s just Representative So-and-So.

But, fear persists. Jacksonville locals nearly quiver when finding out that they or their loved ones ventured into the abyss that is the hood (as if a city so large doesn’t have other hoods or tony and tawny areas are exempt from dysfunction).

In Lion King Mufasa cautioned Simba to remain where the light touches. Not trying to grasp for low-hanging fruit here, but what does the light touch? Whose light? Must the hood Macklemore to get the same love?

My parents’ house is not in a war-torn third world country. Guests come over, usually for graduation parties, rousing discussion and/or food. They return safely to their destinations.

Typically, if I expect company, I’m on the front steps Stoop Kid style, or beside the window in our airy living room, prodding my sister to practice piano for her betterment a free show.

The hood is also a place that, as the nation grapples with killings of unarmed black kids, confuses outsiders. Jordan Davis was killed in Jacksonville. Non-Floridians, especially people who don’t know much about Jacksonville, don’t know or care that killer Michael Dunn wasn’t on the northside. Trayvon Martin was slain about two hours away in Sanford. The entire state (nation and world) experience set backs when lives are devalued and wrongfully taken.

On a personal level, the hood houses our family home. It is a reasonable structure that afforded us memories, passport stamps and nationwide travel. But, people from the hood do take preventative measures. Our home has burglar bars, a Rottweiler and an alarm system.

Our home provides comfort, which could develop anywhere. It’s a place with art, music and pets. Pets should not to be confused with siblings; however, some of them live there, too.

It contains gap-toothed pictures of relatives, smells like incense, and has more books than opportunities to read them, but enough room and natural light to try in good faith.

It’s a brick house, and mighty-mighty, a place with people bound by biology and values. It welcomes good energy and intentions. The people at home in our home might surprise you.

More than anything, our home and hood illuminate classism, fear and respectability issues.

Hoods are often good enough to give the world greats, but too shamed for longterm appreciation. Yet, no place or people are perfect. As the nation’s face evolves, so should perspectives of community value. A hood, barrio or cul-de-sac’s composition isn’t the biggest quandary.

Hierarchical personhood is. Do as you wish. And live where you may, but don’t disparage where other people stay.