Tribes

I’ve been fascinated with the DNA ancestry testing ever since I saw the National Geographic special, “The Human Family Tree”, about the Genograph Project. They take a diverse group of various ethnic people in New York, and trace back to their common origins. It’s so powerful, I’d love to see it made mandatory viewing in every school in the world – because when you find out that you’re related to everyone else, it’s a little silly to feel like any one group is better. So I thought this story about one man’s response to his DNA testing was illustrative:

Onorato’s best guess is that his people shuttled between southern and eastern Europe, driven by disease, religious persecution, changing weather patterns, and the search for fertile soil.

But where does that non-Caucasian blood come from, he wondered. Probably from slaves who’d been kidnapped from Australia and sold along the Silk Road, the trade route that linked Asia and the Mediterranean.

Does knowing this make a difference in how you see yourself? I asked.

“I have always thought of myself as a white Italian American from South Jersey, and I’m really 25 percent non-Caucasian,” he said. “I was very prejudiced. I don’t think I wanted to hurt anyone, but I wanted to be able to live where I wanted to and pick my friends. I definitely wasn’t very liberal with that stuff. I think as I grew up, that changed.

“My wife and sister say now I should be more sensitive to other people, which maybe I am. You always hear, regardless of religion, we’re all made in God’s image. Maybe we’re all mixed up and not that uniquely different.”

4 thoughts on “Tribes

  1. My mother’s family came from Sicily, so I wouldn’t be surprised if any test of my DNA produced gene patterns similar to North Africans or Sub-Saharan Africans either. There was a lot of trade and populations moving in and out of Sicily that went to (or came from) Africa.

    My father’s family came from Austria; with some ancestors having moved to Austria from France about the time of the French Revolution. Who knows what other migration patterns there in that side of the family.

  2. Very interested to learn that slaves were kidnapped from Australia and transported along the Silk Road. My kid did a huge unit on the Silk Road last year in seventh grade and I don’t think Australia & slaves were ever mentioned. So interesting, what they leave out.

  3. I’m not at all surprised about any of this. As an AA family, we’ve always known there was a huge mix of other AA tribes, Irish, Italian, and German influences in our family genealogy. I’ve seen pictures of my great, great grandmother who immigrated from Ireland and lived across the tracks in segregated Hope, Arkansaw. However, in those days we knew it was a well-kept family secret.There has even been scuttlebutt insisting that the Clintons were distant cousins of the Hamiltons in Hope.

  4. What I found most fascinating, is that beyond the small scale or individual implications, we all descended from the most exploitive and opportunistic individuals who saw their own needs as paramount above all.

    Comic Colin Quinn put it this way in his last special, “We didn’t evolve from the tribe that starved to death waiting for their turn at the dinner table.”

    My pal Bernie the Attorney summed it up thusly, “Nice guys finish last – by design.” Ernie fears that genetic template will forever prevent us from ever getting our act together as a civilized society that seeks the benefit of all its members as it is far too easy, as the track record shows, for those acting exclusively for their own motivations, they are always ready and willing to kick the legs out from anyone else’s chair.

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