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 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 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.