Ancestry

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

Beauty ideals, Color, Freedom, Journalism

Virginity, public figures and women’s worth

Who doesn’t love an endearing Olympian, one with a story of overcome obstacles and inevitable success? Add to the mix a self-deprecating, green-eyed hottie with a six-pack, cascading chestnut hair and refreshing sexual candor.

The media loves Lolo Jones. And with her work ethic, talent, good looks and smarts, this is rightfully so.

But for some journalists and bloggers, her personal decision to abstain from sex eclipses all the other things that make her rad, namely athletic prowess and openness about a range of topics.

Jones was the leader in the gold medal final of women’s hurdles in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, but she hit a hurdle and finished seventh in the race.

That unforeseen occurrence will likely serve as motivation as she works toward the Olympics in London.

The track and field runner’s likability stems not only from people cheering her on in hopes of a UK win, but also because of her willingness to share different aspects of her life.

She acknowledged childhood trials and said that she could have been a “professional shoplifter”, not because she wanted the latest duds and coordinating accessories, but because she wanted to help feed her family.

That candidness spilled over into her personal life as she took to Twitter about her life as a virgin. She has said that the decision was difficult and, essentially, that it complicates and/or obstructs her dating life.

Jones decided that she would not have sex until marriage and said that she wants the experience to be a gift for her husband.

The choice is commendable, yet universal fixation with her decision to wait can underscore a climate of crotch-watching judgment of women who do not, have not, might not, or were robbed of their opportunity.

The conversation is appropriate in this instance because Jones opened up the lines of dialogue, but there is a fine line between celebrating people who live up to normative goals and making things awkward and judgmental for those who differ.

This includes everything from household composition to economic expectation and worship habits.

Family and relationship dynamics are disproportionately attributed to women, their sexualities and their inherently linked worthiness. Oftentimes women carry babies to term and burdens of patriarchy and sexism for life.

Even so, we know about Jones’ virginity in the same culture that also publicized Tim Tebow’s. One time for journalistic balance.

Be clear: It is not about taking anything from Tebow or Jones for allowing their convictions to mitigate against their carnality. It takes strength and comfort in one’s individuality to do so.

But, it is also cool when people who descend from substance abusers avoid vices, when dropouts birth college graduates, when abuse victims peace out, and when people deviate from a predetermined route that could be easier to trek. Defying negative statistics is made of win.

Yes, there is a case for rarity.

Legitimate virginity (not newfangled this-not-that or s/he-was-actually-a-rough-draft stuff) is an increasingly abandoned choice in a society of notable sexual risk and/or reward—teen pregnancy, general pregnancy, STDs, connections, recreation, enjoyment.

Jones should be championed for being different and because of her capacity to become a  model of perseverance and hard work. (She worked at Home Depot and as a hostess while studying at LSU.)

Critical thinkers have to make sure that celebrating one does not slight the other. Honest questions should be asked.

Would people take as keen an interest in her sexuality if she did not fit beauty ideals? What if she were of mixed gender, not race? How high will the pedestal created for her other aspects of life be now? Will people remember that her life is hers, regardless of her ascension to public figure status?

People are complex. Societies are complex. With diversity and enough intelligence to appreciate variety, we should celebrate respect, honesty, autonomy and selectivity in healthful sexual practices.

We should be careful not to allow women’s bodies, and preconceived notions about how they look and how they’re used, to trump conversations of a more universal and inclusive nature, aka stuff that is actually other people’s business.

We should unpack biases whenever they involve others’ liberties to be whom and how they are—without harming others.

Regardless of notches on one’s belt or the absence thereof, in matters as sacred as one’s body, people are not entitled to more than they are offered.

Sexuality, as with many aspects of humanity, does not exist only in extremes with alienated virgin on one end and walking grab bag on the other.

Freedom, Journalism, Joy, Media responsibility, Peace

Finding peace, pulling pieces and seeking justice

A lot happened  in the past few days.  My goddaughter was dedicated to God. My baby bro is Dunk Master Flex. I have about five new freckles on my face.

Ok, in all seriousness, my previous post “Putting the BIG in bigotry” garnered more views than anything else on my blog.  It also nearly sent my poor Blackberry into cardiac arrest with all the notifications. I was definitely getting the red light special all through the night. 

The post went viral, especially for an indie blog created a few months ago, with the support of hundreds of people on Facebook and Twitter, through email and search engines. For additional eyes on the thoughts and words that I labor over, I am eternally grateful.

The experience highlighted commonality in people of various backgrounds and with diverse life experiences.

Friends, associates and strangers from the Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University and northern Louisiana community expressed concerns about the need for sensitivity in our dealings with one another. We didn’t shy away from troubling issues of race, responsibility and equality.

The piece was shared in other regions, too, which solidified that staying up in the middle of the night and hammering out a counter-narrative was worth the following day’s exhaustion and post-response euphoria.

This was a teachable moment.

As such, Louisiana Tech responded with a statement addressing freedom of speech, prior review, and why they ultimately pulled the piece from editor-in-chief Rebecca Spence in the online edition of their publication, The Tech Talk.  http://www.thetechtalk.org/?p=5159

The largest issue is the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death. Recently, voice analysis experts determined that screams heard at the crime scene could not have been from George Zimmerman.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/31/trayvon-martin-shooting-911-call-screams_n_1394224.html

Also, change.org’s petition for justice in Martin’s case is the largest petition in the site’s history.

http://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin

That’s pretty impressive considering that the site boasts more than 100,000 petitions. All of these events highlight the need for timely engagement from various constituents. The impact of an engaged audience and society cannot be undermined.

Abuse, Journalism, Media responsibility, Prejudice

Putting the BIG in bigotry

A routine sufferer of insomnia and social media addiction, I perused my laptop and phone before stumbling across several online references to an op-ed from Louisiana Tech University’s newspaper, The Tech Talk.

Allow me to first say that I am unopposed to this publication. I do not harbor ill will toward Lousiana Tech as an institution or the multifaceted demographic it serves.

But, as a Grambling State University trained journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite, the city and university newspaper, my spirit was profoundly disturbed by the piece “Putting the Hood in Hoodie”, written by Tech’s editor-in-chief, Rebecca Spence.

In the piece, Spence aligned Trayvon Martin’s choice of attire on a rainy Florida night with ownership of his untimely demise at the hands of self-appointed watchman George Zimmerman.

Spence made no mention of supremacy, persistent stereotypes or white privilege, a structure that survives on the oppression of the other, in this case, the black body occupied by Martin.

How else could a slim teenager, returning from a cornerstore be blamed for being observed, called a “f*cking coon” in a police call, shot and killed? What’s in a hooded sweatshirt?

A brown face.

She failed to acknowledge that anyone is entitled to shield him or herself from precipitation and walk freely, however the individual chooses to be dressed, and experience a safe trip.

Instead of addressing the shoot-first nature of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, a victim blaming and particularly troubling narrative that was too reminiscent of journalist Geraldo Rivera’s recent comments, was the premise of her article.

Rivera has since expressed remorse after his son told him that he went viral for the wrong reasons.

“Graffiti artists, rappers like 50 Cent, actors from the hood in movies and various gas station robbery videos have proven that hoodies are often associated with people who are up to no good,” Spence wrote.

Blondes are also presented as licentious and dim-witted. Should we assume that every flaxen haired maiden lacks cognition and plays hopscotch from bed to bed?

Should we assume that everyone in overalls who has a Southern drawl and sunburn is underexposed and incestuous? Do they live in trailers?

Southerners are familiar with race and subjugation in blatant ways that our counterparts from other regions often do not know.

As such, I was not surprised by the editorial decision to manipulate facts of this case and make the deceased victim the aggressor.

I was called the n-word by a white girl in the South. A white woman told her significant other to watch her purse when I was in a department store in the South. I have been pulled over for driving a big-body, old Cadillac in the South by white officers whose voices ratcheted up several octaves upon discovering that the brotha they hoped to pull over was, in fact, a sista.

While northern Louisiana, home to Louisiana Tech University and my alma mater, attracts minds from all over the world and different points on the ideological spectrum, the area is not noted as the apex of culture or a bastion of enlightenment.

As a result, Spence’s comments are troublesome, inflammatory and naive. But, again, hardly surprising.

As a journalist one must acknowledge not only the premise of an article, the very notion it supports, but also its headline, accompanying photos, and factual basis, or in this case lack thereof, in addition to the author’s voice.

Using the word “hood” as a pejorative term for marginalized communities and people is indicative of a lack of cultural competence and sensitivity.

This article is also erroneous. Trayvon Martin was unarmed, underage, 100-pounds slimmer–THE VICTIM. He was approached by Zimmerman, who ultimately shot and killed him.

Zimmerman vacated his vehicle to approach Martin, a pedestrian, after a law enforcement official asked Zimmerman not to do so.

Martin deserved to live regardless of what he wore, and the fact that he was murdered cannot be negated by recent allegations of marijuana possession or suspension from school.

To draw such conclusions is in poor taste.

Spence presented an alternate ending for the slain teen.

“If Martin was not wearing a hoodie with the hood on, his life could have been spared. Hoodies with the hood on have a bad connotation, like it or not.”

If writers, who shape much of society’s dialogue and countless archetypes, do not widen their lenses, they will remain myopic, like it or not.

Note: This post was shared several hundred times on Twitter & Facebook, and garnered thousands of views. When I changed my url to iamfaithspeaks.com the likes/shares were lost in translation. WordPress = hater. Also, after this piece went indie-viral, Louisiana Tech pulled the editorial from its website.

Freedom, Journalism, Love

Count your blessings, yo!

I dwell in abundant grace. It is not always transparent. But, if I refocus, it is always apparent. It is not always as accessible as I would prefer. But, I accept my role in reclaiming it.

So much of the world is what we create it to be, and for that I am grateful. Again, for my perception I am responsible.

People tend to think I have rose-tinted glasses, perpetual peace signs, and rechargeable Zen. Boylookaheeeere.

The older I become the less it is about what people perceive and what I perceive about myself. What I want. What I go for. When I succeed. When I falter. Humble pie a la mode.

When I bandage bruised knees and sprint against Father Time. Or Mother Time. No phallocentrism.

During my freshman year of college a journalist whom I admire told me that I write well, and have potential, but need my “ass kicked by life.” He told me that he could tell that I grew up in an environment where I was nurtured and, essentially, allowed to be a happy, observant hippie type. He told me that trying experiences would improve my work.

That was a trigger. My work is integral to my worth. And while I  am unopposed to juggling tasks, my words are the work I most enjoy.

Yet I wonder how much will happen? In what time frame? *turns around, looks at donk, files for it’s-been-kicked documentation to send to verification office that will reverse the odds*

On a cognitive level I know to acknowledge that which is empirical and experiential, but the overlap of sensory stuff and emotionalism are real in the field.

At first the expression “in my feelings” was irksome, but mid-issue it is beautifully simple and profound.

This is the part where open-book-painfully-honest-Imani makes an allusion to trials and tribulations without naming them. She summons wisdom, meditates on some Proverbs, and backstrokes into optimism as if her soul needs buoyancy.

Because it does. And that’s ok.

When I was 14 I confronted a life changing decision to go forward with spinal fusion surgery to correct my scoliosis. I grew like a sunflower. From 5’5 at age ten to 5’10 at 13.

I am now 6 feet tall.

I did not become a world-traveled model, glorified for height and opted out of awkwardness and alienation. (I have interviewed them for stories, though!) Instead, a doctor told me that if my spine were not corrected, my organs could fail in the future.

Think about it. A straight back keeps everything in its proper spot. A sideways curve, which I had, could wreak internal havoc.

I told my parents that I wanted it corrected. And so it was. Roses. Carnations. A hot, cocoa haired nurse. I still cannot determine if he were real or an intravenously induced halleluj–oops, hallucination. Excruciating recovery. Appetite loss. Ringing a bell for family members to bring me food.

What sounded royal in nature sucked for an independent spirit that would rather fight the power than say pretty please.

But, God was with me. I came out of the surgery with a scar that did not keloid (a very real fear for people of color). I am in good health.

I met several people who either had or need the surgery through the years.

In a teen club near the beach, I spotted the telltale mark on a girl’s back in a restroom. I snatched off the fishnet shirt over my bikini top to show her my solidarity mark.

At first she looked weirded out. Then it was a really cool, random, human moment of frailty and understanding. We complimented each other’s scar, exchanged anecdotes, and rejoined the foam partiers.

(Judge not, y’all.)

My cousin went to school with a girl who fell into the small percentage of people who were paralyzed by the surgery. I thank God and my cousin’s discretion that I never heard the story until I healed.

My sister was a toddler when it all unfolded, so she was not aware of my difference until she became older. A year or two ago she asked me why I have a faint mark from between my shoulders to above my tailbone.

I told her that I have sexy back, and proceeded to gyrate and serenade her off-key dinnamug in my best Justin Timberlake impression.

One day I was boring. I told her the grown-up version, a clinical story of rapid growth, S-curvation, and why I told my mom that she could not send me to school with an Afro and back brace with headgear.

I bring this up not to have more eyes on my back, although I don’t mind my scar, but to remind myself and someone else who might need it, that we are built for survival.

It does not take a huge risk to realize our potential, although it can help.

Sometimes we find our resilience in  painful, trying and inopportune ways. Sometimes people can bring about discomfort.

If we let too much outside noise reverberate, we lose the safe space to dare, dream and do. If we lose our technicolor dreams and improvement themes, the world falls flat.

So I write this as a promise to improve my gratitude and attitude. Stuff sucks, but so much more does not. I will do my best to pop-and-lock during what my mom calls “but, God” moments.

Go ‘head. Be gone with it.

Academia, Entertainment, Freedom, Joy, Love, Peace

Ego Trips, epiphanies and intellectualism with Nikki Giovanni

When public figures present their humanity to crowds it is that much easier to understand why people love them. This could not have been more apparent than when Nikki Giovanni made an appearance in my hometown, Jacksonville, Fla., last night.

It was an honor not only to see her encourage and empower a mostly Black audience at Edward Waters College, but it was also humbling to see that a woman, whose brand withstands the test of time, share triumphs, pain and progress with audiences.

She delivered a constructively critical presentation and performed spoken word.

After signing every autograph requested of her, she graciously engaged the media and talked everything from peace to hairpieces in a  press conference at the college. She told the media that she had nothing else planned that night and would answer every question asked.

She re-emphasized the need for urban youth to have technology, namely computers or iPADS. She shamed anti-immigration legislation.

When asked about natural hair, Giovanni did not espouse self-hatred themes about women who embrace chemical alterations.

In fact, she said she thought it was quite clever when young women had green hairpieces.

“One plays with oneself,” she said. She shared that when overcoming cancer she colored her hair blonde to show her mother that she would be ok. Also, as a woman with tawny skin, her hair color gave what she described as an instant tan.

Giovanni kept it real. She kept it human.

The professorial poet reminded listeners of the need for emotionalism in light of technological advances. She said that she does not ask her students at Virginia Tech year specific questions that could be answered with their gadgets.

Instead, she said that she asks questions like “What role did personal ambition play in the Renaissance?”

Many told her that they had never encountered emotional responses to academic material.

I could go on and on about the myriad perspectives that she shared and causes she championed… However, I hope that you’ll check out my story for HBCU Digest on her visit.

** Sneakpeak**  She and I talked hip-hop and misogyny.

 http://www.hbcudigest.com/34244/

 

Academia, Freedom

State of the Union reinforces education

President Obama ministered to my spirit in last night’s State of the Union address when he said, “Higher education cannot be a luxury.”

Despite education’s liberating properties, it struggles to endure.

It gets gutted in budgets. In the face of unsettling economic times, it is undermined.

In an age of overly relying on standardized tests and normative assessments, it is confined to a box that many would rather skip altogether in pursuit of scant odds at becoming a star.

When knee-high to a grasshopper, many of us were taught that knowledge is power.

While pedagogical progress is hardly limited to classrooms, desks, chalkboards and Smart Boards, “book smarts” frequently contribute to the lives of people across the globe.

Education orders thoughts, increases knowledge, and illuminates cultural similarities and dissimilarities. But, it also swags out pockets, opportunities and lifestyles—when done properly.

Recent Census Bureau data reports that a master’s degree renders $1.3 million more during a lifetime than a high school diploma. A bachelor’s degree tends to add nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings for an individual.

Certainly people nab high paying jobs without additional degrees. Some build fruitful lives for themselves and their families.

But, the president would not have ascended to his position of power without the world-class education that he received. Numerous others have similar stories.

As a recent graduate in a funky economy I am aware of pessimistic reports, and unfavorable odds; however, I come from long lines of educated people on both sides of my family.

Plus, we grind. Challenging work is often more exhilarating than exhausting.

It will be interesting to see how the political season inspires more conversations about the validity of degrees and the need for knowing.

I am ready to take notes.