Tracing our Roots: On DNA, African Ancestry and hair

I recently came across this video on Facebook from the “Back to Our Roots” episode of the talk show, Sister Circle. 

***Please note: I do not endorse AfricanAncestry.com nor the validity of their DNA testing.***

 

After watching this clip, I really felt tempted to do the DNA test. I (like I’m sure many other members of the African Diaspora) would love to know exactly where my ancestors came from.  However, I do have certain reservations about giving companies access to my genetic information, who may then, in turn, be selling that information to third parties; so I don’t know if I’ll ever do it.

Although I may not know the precise ethnic group I came from, my hair and my melanin-filled skin serve as constant and powerful reminders of my African ancestry.  As stated by Dr. Gina Paige of AfricanAncestry.com in the clip: When we [displaced Africans] got [to the New World], we lost our names, our languages, everything. We are the original victims of identity theft, but we didn’t lose our DNA.  Her statement really resonated with me: though the enslavers tried to strip us of our African culture and all of those practices that made us “human”, they could not erase our DNA.  But for those particular elements which they could not destroy—our skin, our features, and our hair—they simply demeaned.

Try as they might, however, Africa is (and always has been) with us.  Africa is in our hearts and in our souls, and more importantly, she’s inscribed in our genetic code. And the global spread of the Natural Hair Movement is a clear reflection of this: while we, members of the African Diaspora, may have various ethnocultural and linguistic differences, our unique hair texture is a distinct genetic marker, connecting us together and also linking us back to the Motherland.  As noted by Byrd & Tharps in Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, ever since the Transatlantic Slave Trade, hair, rather than skin colour, has been used as the main identifier of “Blackness”, and this notion is evidenced by the way Black people around the globe can relate to each other’s experiences with their hair (and the politics of hair), no matter our geographic coordinates.

So, until I take the DNA test, I may never know exactly who my “people” are, but what I do know is that I belong to a resilient community of people of African descent, who not only share a common history of enslavement, resistance, perseverance, but also similar lived experiences, foods, music, artistic and cultural expressions, and of course, hair.  And I think that’s good enough for me…for now, at least…

Would you trace your ancestry through DNA testing? Why or why not?

Share in the comments below.

 

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Black History (Month) is not a joke

What does Black History mean to you? For some of us, Black History is only important in the month of February; for others of us, it is recognized all year round. It’s who we are.

When I was in grade school, I remember Black History Month, for the most part, meant learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, or maybe even Nelson Mandela.  Whereas, at home, in addition to the aforementioned, it also meant learning about the more-often-than-not unsung heroes like Mary Ann Shadd, the Maroons, Mansa Musa, the Queen of Sheba, and a long roster of Black inventors, among many others. The list was endless.

Mary Ann Shadd, Abolitionist, Publisher, Lawyer (Public Domain)

Mansa Musa, Emperor of Mali (Public Domain)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do-rag

This week, however, a teacher at Archbishop Denis O’Connor Catholic High, a Greater Toronto Area (GTA) school, decided to forgo the usual Black-History-Month-go-tos and opted to wear a do-rag (a nylon headscarf) in his commemoration of Black History Month (click here for the story). The typically uniformed school allowed students to wear do-rags for their February dress-down day in honour of Black History Month, so the teacher donned a do-rag of his own “to [support his] coloured friends”.

 

Apparently, it was a joke.

While it is commendable for educators and educational institutions to actually make the effort to acknowledge Black History Month—and while many members of the Black community would like to see more variety in what is taught in schools about Black History—it is inappropriate for such efforts to be based in the mimicry of Black culture. (The minstrel show is really starting to get old now.)

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of African peoples and people of African descent, and to recognize our contributions to the world at large, not a time to mock our experiences.

According to one student, the do-rag idea was a suggestion made by a student on the Black History committee. Even if that’s the case, it’s troubling to know that wearing a do-rag is what Black students think our history represents—and it’s even more concerning that the school just went along with it.  It is clear that despite today’s Black renaissance of sorts, our youth are still not getting the history lessons they need to learn who they really are. We, adults, have to do more to change this: the lessons must start at home.

As for the non-Black educators out there who would sincerely like to make Black history relevant and meaningful to students, please treat our history in the same way you would your own—with true reverence and acknowledgment.  Do the research.  Do a Google search on “Black History” or “Black History Month ideas”.  Go to the library. Or better yet, if you don’t know, ask somebody. Ask the Black teachers.  Ask the Black parents. Visit a Black bookstore (if you’re in the GTA, check out A Different Booklist or Knowledge Bookstore). But whatever you do, please don’t use your “celebration” of Black history as an opportunity to denigrate us. Save your caricatures for art class.

 

Here are some Canadian Black History Resources, as a start:

http://blackhistorycanada.ca

https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month.html

http://www.cbc.ca/kidscbc2/the-feed/all-about-black-history-month

 

Here are some U.S.-based Black History Resources.:

http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/explore/10-black-history-little-known-facts/#.Wn6Bf2YZP-Y

https://edsitement.neh.gov/feature/edsitements-guide-black-history-month-teaching-resources

http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/resource_library/african_american_resources.html

What do you think about Black History (Month)? Is it important to you?  Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

Available Now: What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair?

Everyone knows Zuri as “the girl with the puffy hair.” Her afro is big and fluffy, and not even gravity can keep it down. People often ask her, “What are you gonna do with that hair?” Zuri finds the answer in her cultural hair-itage and shows she can sculpt and shape her curls and coils into beautiful works of African art—braids, ‘locks, bantu knots—in other words, whatever she wants!

This illustrated non-fiction book encourages Black girls to celebrate the beauty and versatility of their natural hair and learn the rich history of natural hairstyles.

 

Get your copy today!

Available in Canada on Amazon.ca: Click here to purchase.

Also available in-store at Knowledge Bookstore: 177 Queen Street West, Brampton, Ontario L6Y 1M5.

Available in the United States on Amazon.com: Click here to purchase.

Every day is a good hair day!

 

Coming soon…

Meet Zuri
Zuri loves her natural hair and all of the amazing things she can do with it!

Zuri -Coming Soon

Follow her throughout history and around the world as she learns about the beauty and versatility of natural hairstyles in What Are You Gonna Do with that Hair? 

Coming soon…

Black History Month is every month!

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Yesterday was the last day of Black History Month 2016. As we go through the rest of the year, let us continue to reflect on the history lessons we’ve learned (or re-learned) during this month of cultural celebration.

Let us go forward with a positive mindset and a determination to succeed, like our ancestors did before us!

Let us continue to think critically; question the status quo; and work towards undoing the fallacies that keep us mentally enslaved, so that our future generations can truly be free!

Black History Month is every month! Black history is everyone’s history!

Let’s celebrate Black History all year!