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

On Dreads & Why You Can’t Send a Girl Who Knows Who She is Home

Exhibit A: Nine year old Imani with a fresh perm and JC Penney dress.
Exhibit A: Nine year old Imani with a fresh perm and JC Penney dress.

“They didn’t like my dreads,” Tiana Parker, a 7-year-old black girl said. “They” are her former school, Deborah Brown Community School. Officials told Parker’s dad, Terrence, that she wasn’t presentable because of her hair.

According to the community school, “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” And chastising little girls to the point of tears about their immutable characteristics is?

I don’t know a 7-year-old white girl experience. But, I remember being a 7-year-old black one and confronting people’s ignorance and distaste for anything that rendered me blacker or highlighted my parents’ conscious choice to let people know who I am. But, they taught me first.

What do I mean? If Imani Jackson shows up as a resume or application, you might not know exactly who I am, but you have a pretty good idea of who I’m not. First, it’s dope that Tiana is brave and bold enough to wear her natural hair at seven. That her father, a barber, champions his princess’ natural mane? Doper. People want their loved ones to love themselves and to present in ways that cause them the least amount of resistance.

But, it’s bigger than individuals, y’all. When I was seven, my mom finally acquiesced. The relaxer I begged, prayed and hoped for finally morphed my midnight mass into long, straight hair. I wore it relaxed for about four years until it broke, fried and drowned in a pool of split ends and spritz.

I experimented with natural styles, and unfortunately blonde hair dye, for a while until at age 17 I saw a picture of Goapele, thought about Lauryn Hill, and decided to quit playing. I began locks at 10 years old than Tiana. It taught me patience, persistence and self-love. Some days I had to go on with life, when my head looked like Coolio and a Chia pet’s Bill Nye experiment.

Gradually, the nappy, curly and coiled collision locked, grew, and became something I’m proud of. But, it was painful to get there. At Tiana’s age, I attended a multicultural magnet elementary school, as in mostly white, with kids of color and military families sprinkled in.

The teachers were generally competent, although some needed to venture beyond their backyards if they wanted to connect with more students. My hair, which my mother braided, pressed and styled in awe-inspiring black-girl styles, reminded everyone that I was different. I was tired of being different.

Always in the back of the class photos, taller than most of the boys, and having a “foreign” first name in a city that just missed being in South Georgia, my differences felt burdensome.

Why hadn’t my mom named me Brenda? That is her name. It was my late grandmother’s name. Teachers wouldn’t mispronounce Brenda. I wouldn’t be forced into awkward conversations with adults who didn’t know Kwanzaa existed, Swahili isn’t a place, and while Iman was hot stuff, her name is Spanish and I was not named after her.

Teachers barreled through Brittanys, Ashleys and Brandons with reckless abandon. That weird I-word lodged in the middle of the roll was an impediment from quickly assessing which students came to school that day. I learned to raise my hand when anything remotely “Ih”-sounding preceded Jackson.

The long and short of it is that I evolved with family support and love. The kind of love that Tiana has, as her dad, Terrence, went to bat in the media and against that school for her. That’s the same love my father showed when he reprimanded a high school boy who sought to impress his high school friends at the expense of middle school me by shoving a dirty, discarded pick in my Afro at the bus stop.

In many settings I was the only non-mixed black girl who were wore her natural hair. I was nappy and trying to be happy before curling puddings, big time bloggers and a bourgeoning beauty industry would explode into follicular fiestas for women who sat on the sidelines because they didn’t want drama regarding the hair from their mamas.

Today my hair is a big part of my identity. It’s proof that I survived. I was bullied, ostracized, thought suspect and ridiculed for being me in a world that mistreats the other. My hair gets checked by TSA. I force them to discuss the additional searches. I am stereotyped about how I spend my recreational time.

I’m automatically West Indian, even though I’m not. My mom, who has a big, curly fro, is apparently black Latina. Why our ethnicities don’t match is beyond me. I become de facto hair teacher for people of all backgrounds who don’t know how follicular diversity works.

White people tell me about their friends with sketchy showering habits and dreads. Sometimes they share the (BIG!) secret that all of their hair isn’t naturally straight. Rasta men greet me in ways I don’t fully understand. Older blacks tell me that I beat the odds and look nice with “those dreads.” Somehow my dreads inspire conversations about how black men with dreads must disprove ideas that they’re thugs.

Mostly now, I’m embraced. My hair is healthy. It’s strong. It’s long. It’s a lot like me. It’s accepted and acceptable because I accept it, love it, treat it well, and remove myself from situations where I won’t be valued because of what it represents. Life is too short to hang out in hate spaces.

Vaginal bleaching? Why, world?

I’m bronze, and I have a vagina. If I lived in India, I might be taught to bleach it.

Indian women face advertisements suggesting that they, in much of their brown-skinned beauty and glory, do just that to be more attractive and supposedly cleaner.

Most of us know the associations made between lightness and darkness with the former representing worthiness, cleanliness, and godliness. Maybe we will discuss white Jesus in another post.

Many communities of color deal with internalized racism and colorism’s residue. An African American friend told me that her cousin bought skin lightening cream, and although the (risky) process took months, she was able to bring her cocoa complexion to a more café au lait locale.

I dated an East Asian guy who told me I was beautiful, but admitted that he wished his honey complexion was “a wee bit lighter.”

It is amazing that as the globe browns the media employs multiculturalism, multiracialism and multiple hues in advertisement. But, it is also apparent that with progress made regarding inclusivity, whiteness is still property in the world.

Apparently reverence for recessive traits including light hair, eyes, limbs and faces is not stifling enough. The intimate bleaching market is now making headlines.

I learned about Clean And Dry Intimate Wash late last week on Jezebel. If you want your skin to crawl, read this: http://jezebel.com/5900928/your-vagina-isnt-just-too-big-too-floppy-and-too-hairyits-also-too-brown?tag=vaginas

One could use the euphemistically termed language of executives pushing these products or call this foolishness out for what it is:  an oppressive and inflammatory attack on women, and especially women of color.

Bollywood films put undue pressure on Indian women to conform to a Eurocentric aesthetic. Many of the women selected for roles in these films are not light skinned Indians. They are white British actresses who could not find work in their hometowns, and benefit from the skewed perceptions of some Indian audiences.

Telenovelas are not known to cast Afro-Latinas and darker skinned indigenous Latinas as objects of affection.

Criticisms of rap music videos have been similar. Although the video model industry is readily deemed déclassé after popular video models admitted that their jobs were oftentimes the result of their looks and for-hire sexual proclivities, in the early 2000s the video girl was the standard of beauty for many black women.

With the intimate bleaching market being relatively new, one can only imagine the adverse effects supporters of these products might experience.

The colonized mind that could give one the ok to strive for a more Aryan vagina needs affirmation and validation. What the user might get is a lighter genital region from products that contain sodium hydroxide, which is used in septic tank cleansers and drain declogging. Nothing like treating private areas like a sewage treatment system.

As if there isn’t enough shame perpetuated in communities seeking to control the autonomy and self-actualization of women, women and girls are socialized to believe that how they were born is not good enough for their partners, who undoubtedly are a reflection of their worthiness as individuals.

Maybe if your lady bits aren’t brown, your man will stick around.

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.

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.