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

Here’s 13 Things I Appreciated About 2013

Gratefulyo

The year 2013 bids us adieu. As exciting as it is to see this year end, it’s also inspiring to see what 2014 will bring. After finishing my New Year’s resolutions, I opened the Word document of my 2013 ones.

Let’s be real. I did not review resolutions consistently all year. Or monthly. Or weekly. I went for what I knew. I gave my best efforts. I worked hard. Grace covered me.

In no particular order, here are 13 of the many things I’m appreciative of about this year:

•My friends are a kaleidoscope of compassion and companionship. Everyone does not live, look or believe similarly. But, they all provide something necessary and beautiful to my life. I pray that I do the same.

•I performed a poem in class. I hadn’t performed (a.k.a. “spit”) since 2011, the year I graduated from college. Glad to know that case law, legalese and such didn’t rob the kid of her flows.

•I’m freelance writing. It’s unpredictable. Yet, I am grateful for every chance to see an idea to fruition and be compensated for it. I studied communications/journalism in undergrad; however, some people have a disposable mindset on content curators. They think blah-blah-everyone’s-a-journalist-or-writer-nowadays. So, when editors honor the value that specialization brings to publications, everybody wins.

•Which reminds me of how I started 2013. Finding out that the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education picked up one of my columns for HBCU Digest.

• The Duval County School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Nathan B. Forrest high school. People in Jacksonville, Fla. decided not to keep a slave-trader and KKK Grand Wizard’s legacy alive via the name of a training ground for developing minds. My hometown has lots of remaining work in terms of inclusivity and progress, but this is a start.

•My high school teachers welcomed my visit and let me speak to their classes. The students seemed intrigued by my message. It was wonderful.

•A professor I have a career crush on thanked me for my contributions to the learning environment. ‘Twas when I learned of an academic high. Acadorphins? Endorphidemia? Ok. No more jokes? Next bullet point.

•School is better. Things click more. Interdisciplinary advocacy, here I come.

•People have patiently helped me when I’ve been in tight spots. Real-time reminders that no one is an island unto him or herself.

•Black and brown girls are shining. While celebrities, beauty queens and successful women can be triggers for some, they fuel me to become self-actualized. Everyone doesn’t have to know my name. I just want to answer my calling.

Anyway, Rihanna constantly does her thing. Erykah Badu models for Givenchy. Beyonce’s album. Miss America. Miss France. The world is abundant. There’s enough light for everybody to catch some rays.

•My family is a blessing and safe haven from chaos.

•I’m halfway through law school.

•And finally, you’re reading this. Thank you.

Safety, love, light and laughter to y’all. Feel free to share some of your gratitude list. Bring on ’14!

Embrace summertime, not pervasive personal questions

As the sun beams, wind blows, tan lines surface and memories accumulate, remember caution, especially when addressing recent graduates and upwardly mobile peeps.

Some stuff is not your business. This is a mighty revelation for some because nosy people feel entitled to everyone’s business. Because other people’s business underscores universal issues, right?

Your finances, proclivities and politics belong to all. It’s social commentary, not nosiness, right?

Child boo.

Add prevailing notions of a woeful romantic climate for women (especially of color), abysmal job market for all, and the prevalence of Facebook notifications, that yes, even they are engaged now, and the stage is set for pervasive post-grad personal questions.

I graduated in December, but recurring interrogatives often confront me. Spring graduates, prepare. You will develop nosiness spidey-senses.

You know the type. They occur as visions, when one knows that an individual who may not have taken as keen an interest in your professional and academic pursuits, is about to hit a recent graduate with the flex.

Who cares about community service? Let’s discuss carnality. Internships? So, what’s your boyfriend’s name?

It’s the pressure that causes women to hide their relationship statuses on Facebook, hashtag #him on Twitter or take to blogsites of anonymity to express the desires of their hearts without rampant judgment and assumptions.

Breezily dropping questions in speech does not change the fact that some questions are not necessary.

Too many people are team Mind Everyone Else’s Business (MEEB). And what many MEEBs fail to realize is that technological advances and instant gratification do not trump manners.

We live in an era of hyper-connectivity with key words and paparazzi creating facades of access when most people do not owe us anything.

If a celebrity, or heck, even friend of a friend, decides to put something out in the public domain, there is a strong correlation between its existence in that space and the likelihood of people commenting on and noticing it.

Fair enough.

But, even when people make something known, a notion prevails that MEEBs can ask whatever, whenever in whichever capacity the almighty collective schnoz deems appropriate.

No.

There are real opportunities to help and frequently in less invasive ways. We must remember time and place. As we embrace summer we must acknowledge that this is a transition period for scores of people, especially young women.

And transition points are tough. They are marked by reflection, trial, triumph and reassessment. All of that is not breaking news nor should it be.

Transitions do not have to occur under a microscope by obsessive observers who ought to channel their investigative gifts into self-actualization more than dirt digging.

Obviously I’m not addressing everyone. Some people have relationships of trust, love and expertise, which make their interactions meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. Every inquisitive soul is not a MEEB.

But, sometimes sexism is a little too blatant as some situations expose how little unfortunate minds think of women on their own, independent of their romantic relationships or decision to express certain personal choices on a plethora of platforms.

As recent graduates collect photos, funds and memories, many begin planning and working toward the next phase of their lives. Support them. Sponsor something. Connect them with viable professionals. Love them. Help if you can.

But, a bargain for exchange should not be access to the whos, whats, and whens of their bedrooms, date nights and black books, especially if you’re not dating, pursuing or remotely close to them.

As the temperatures rise, don’t catch MEEBer fever.

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.

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.

Body bashing or banter– when culture and curves collide

To the chagrin of many black women in the cybersphere, the Huffington Post recently reported that black women tend to be heavier and have higher self-esteem than our white counterparts. This “finding” is hardly new, frequently reported, and remotely interesting when relayed to the public ad nauseam.

Black American communities are not the only groups that have celebrated fleshier physiques. In countries with severe developmental concerns, the ability to afford food and the subsequent accumulation of weight are perceived to be signs of wealth. India is noted among these.

Although America is a decidedly anti-fat nation in many ways, with much of its citizenry currently deemed overweight by BMI standards, it is not just a black thing.

Body image issues transcend nationality and race. They trump socioeconomic status, political identity, organizational affiliation, education level, and so on.

Recent research suggests a correlation between the development of eating disorders and one’s social environment. (Not difficult to predict, eh?) I have been celebrated in some majority settings for being on the slimmer end of healthy weight, while studying at a black university in Louisiana I was offered extra servings.

The issues are complex. There’s identity construction in spite of odds, which many communities of color have to do. There’s cultural perceptions of strength and how the trait is physically qualified. There’s media sensitivity and portrayals of communities of color—especially black people.

This post is not designed to demonize the media as solely created by, perpetuated by and suited for Middle American white audiences. Black people often participate in the stereotypical presentations of the black body.

If only I had a dollar for every “Ooh-ughn-ughn” heavyset sista (or man dressed as a sista) on television, I could buy an island unoccupied by body blues.

The media vacillates between telling profoundly honest stories about women who struggle with and/or overcome self-perception issues and sensationalizing cultural norms.

Admittedly, many women within black communities have unhealthy body weights. But, pounds are not always the biggest indicators of one’s quality of life.

All too often, weight-based stressors trump mental health, career fulfillment and familial relations. Sometimes it is easier to exploit weight because it shows. Other health issues, especially depression, are not so apparent.

I have befriended women across color and geographic lines who struggled with the three numbers (and in rare instances, two) beneath their feet on a scale.

I know women of different backgrounds who fall in different size categories, and bring different frames of reference to those categories. So we can’t paint entire groups as monoliths, but we can be sensitive to the effects of environmental influence on one’s ideas.

Plus, it’s getting hot in herrrre. As winter becomes a memory, Vitamin D levels increase, and all manners of sunnin’ and funnin’ become commonplace, spring often serves as a catalyst for less clothing and more scrutiny.

As award season piques the interest of various audiences, who and what people wear become as interesting as how they wear it. How are ensembles adorned? Which builds are (believed to be) most appropriate for certain outfits? What about spring breakers?

Although I have never been overweight, I understand the struggle and choice to work toward personifying who we want to be. I understand being at odds with myself (I have bangin’ collarbones and no cleavage.), but I now choose to dwell in a happier and more satisfied space.

As the United States and world continue to diversify it is my hope that our beauty perceptions are remixed, too. May the people accept difference, and attain what they seek. Here’s to the pursuit of body peace.