Friday, May 06, 2011

White with African Ancestry

(photos: three 'white' celebrities with confirmed or rumoured African ancestry: Lula Da Silva, President of Brazil. Heather Locklear, actress. Dwight D Eisenhower, former U.S. President.)

In my continued efforts to investigate my ancestry, I shelled out even more money to get my Dad’s genome tested with 23andme.

Part of this was to see if I could get more information on the oral tradition of Native American and “Black Dutch” ancestry on his side of the family. The website 23andme, in addition to telling you your paternal and maternal haplogroup and your likelihood for particular diseases and traits (“Yes you have blue eyes!”) has something called “Ancestry Painting” which will break your genome down into three ethnic groups: European, African, and Asian. It also goes a step further and give you your likelihood of having Native American ancestry in the past five generations.

So I look at my Dad’s ancestry painting and see this teentsy weentsy bit of orange Asian color sliced into his
blue Western European painting. The Native American Ancestry finder tells me this teentsy weentsy bit of orange “Asian” indicates my Dad could have a Native ancestor, but any ‘full-blood’ ancestor would probably not be any closer than a great-grandparent.

Which sounds about right to me, and fits in with when and where the tradition of Native ancestry started in my family tree. But the segment is so small I want to be sure it is not just statistical ‘noise” and send it off to a couple of genetic specialists, Dr. Doug McDonald and David W of the Eurogenes blog.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Both these guys, who do a much more detailed and precise scan than 23andme, tell me the “non-European” bit is not Asian or Native American, but African. David W ID’s the African as West African, and says because the rest of my Dad’s genome is Western European, he believe that it probably comes from “a distant African- American ancestor”.

“Your Dad?” says one friend. “He’s about as white as anybody could get without being an albino!”.

It’s true. My Dad looks like a perfect Celt--blue eyes, red hair, ruddy skin. And all this time--according to the ‘one-drop rule’-- he has been a black man passing for white.

But suddenly, with this bit of news, certain ‘suspect’ behaviors in my Dad’s otherwise French, English and Scots-Irish demeanor fall into place. I quickly go through the mental checklist: 1. the only white guy in the very white Southern California neighborhood I grew up in to stand up at a crowded and heated neighborhood meeting and argue for school integration, 2. wanted to take me to see Martin Luther King speak when I was a kid instead of letting me go off to play Barbie or Superman with my friends. 3. taught journalism at a black university. 4. worked as an editor for a black newspaper. 5. takes me to Leimert Park, a historically black neighborhood in Los Angeles, to chat with a woman who owns a store specializing in African-American history, instead of going to Disneyland or Universal Studios, 6. has a mother from a white Southern family who tells me when I am a teenager that she would disown me if I ever married any of the black boys I was then dating, but who spends almost her entire adult life living in Inglewood.

Very suspicious, all this. The call of the ancestors is louder than any one of us could imagine.

When I tell my “nearly Albino” Dad that he has that one drop, he just kind of shrugs his shoulders, not seeming the least surprised. My brother, another pale skinned red-head, says jokingly that this explains why I know how to dance. My sister, the dark haired, dark-eyed one in the family, says “I always knew I was part black!” remembering that in high school she always felt more comfortable with mixed race kids.

As for me, I now have another excuse besides my maternal Jewish lineage for my frizzy out of control hair being ‘not quite white’. And it has opened up a whole new set of questions for me. Like: how come so many white American people are looking for their Native ancestors but not their African ones? Is that “Cherokee Princess” that pops up in so many white Southern genealogies actually a light-skinned black person who needed an excuse for their complexion? Does this negate or just push further back in time any Native ancestry ( which I have been all along so certain of) that I may have? Who were my black ancestors and at what point did one of them make the decision to be white?

And: What does it say about our country’s historic obsession with racial and ethnic definition when a “white” person like me--who could pass for WASP-- turns out also to be Jewish, Native and African?


Katherine Elks said...

Hi, Lisa,

So, you can count me in with Dwight Eisenhower, your dad, etc. ... I'm also on board at 23andMe and my otherwise deep-blue Ancestry Painting has one lonely little green African segment floating on Chromosome 4. The exact percentage being 99.87% European and .13% African. (Why do I keep thinking of those old Ivory Soap ads: "Ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths percent pure!") The .13% segment length would seem to fall into 23andMe's "predicted 5th cousin" range, so I'm maybe looking at a possible African 4th great-grandparent.

The APs of a handfull of my 4th or 5th cousin level matches also have 1-3 green segments, but all of them are in different spots. Given that we all seem to have deep Southern colonial roots, this is actually not surprising. Then there's the cousin whose painting is almost identical to mine -- with the green segment in pretty much the same spot --except hers is longer. She has one grandparent who was born in Ireland. I also have (at least) 2 distant cousin matches who are "African Americans" -- in quotes because their APs are actually crazy-quilts of all 3 colors. (So far, I have 778 cousins on 23andMe -- I'm only in contact with a very small percentage -- I'm sure there is more intrigue to follow!).

I agree that 23andMe's ability to pick up Native American ancestry is less than optimal at present. Another cousin match who has a known Cherokee great-grandfather is only showing 1% "Asian".


Unknown said...

Lisa, this is fascinating! The interesting thing is, our hair frizziness issues are very similar, and I have a supposed drop of Indian blood as well...hmmm! Might be worth looking into some time. Did it cost much to do this research?

Deborah F.

Lisa Gale Garrigues said...

Hi Katherine and Deborah...

Geez, both your comments have been sitting there for months and I didn't even realize I had to approve them before they would get published. Katherine, that's fascinating about your African roots. Also interesting because I remember you had told me about some "Lost Colony" ancestor as well. Deep South colonial whites seem to be particularly prone to African and triracial roots...not surprising. Deborah --23andme has gone way down in price. But the best thing about it is you can get your raw data from them and then send it to any one of the numerous free genetic genealogy researchers out there, some of whom I've mentioned in this post. To both of you..all three of us could be in the same pale skinned, curly redheaded extended family, judging from our appearance! Maybe we are!

Anonymous said...

Lula is not caucasian (white), he has clearly european and native Brazilian ancestors. He is a typical man from the brazilian Northeast and very proud about that!

APGifts said...

Modern society really needs to begin to
understand the simple fact that -- THERE
The truth of the matter is that such individuals
are actually (and quite simply) people who are
of a 'Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed'
(MGM-Mixed) Lineage -- lineage that some of
them may have been pressured and / or otherwise
“encouraged" to ignore, downplay or even deny.


THESE (falsely) “black-categorized”
INDIVIDUALS ARE, in actuality, the
people who are actually of a continually
MIXED-RACE lineage -- and the very
term, itself, of “Light-Skin(ned) Black”
is merely a racist-oxymoron that – (much
like the racist-‘One-Drop Rule’ upon
which this racist-term is actually based) –
was created by racial-supremacists in an
attempt to degrade Black blood lines.


person COULD BE viewed upon as being
racially-"BLACK" IS VIA an adherence

non-scientific, socially-constructed "rule" that
WAS CREATED by racial-supremacists in an
insulting attempt TO DEGRADE all BLACK
BLOOD LINEAGE – AND – which WAS also
LEGALLY-BANNED in the U.S. back IN 1967.


The FACT that the racist-’One-Drop Rule’ was
created to DEGRADE Black blood lineage means
that any BLACK person who supports the (clearly
‘Black-Lineage Degrading') racist-'One-Drop Rule'
either has no self-esteem, is insane and / or is an idiot.

(((The LINKS in the SIDEBAR of my YouTube
CHANNEL explain this in greater detail.
. )))


People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT
feel pressured to 'identify' according to
any standards other than one's own.



Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories
of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:


There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
as common entities -- within the continental U.S.


It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) --
[a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus' (ROP)] -- and
NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) --
that was used to 'create more enslaved
people' on the continental U.S.
This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather
-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.


An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
same thing as a "Race" category:


Lisa Gale Garrigues said...

AP Gifts--

Thanks for your comment and for the links. I believe that DNA has shown that most people who identify as African-American in this country are actually multi-generational multi-racially mixed, for some of the reasons you have stated.

Is there no such thing, as you said, as a 'light-skinned Black person"? I would have to leave it up to the particular individual to decide if he or she wanted to identify as multiracial or Black. Many light-skinned African Americans I know identify as Black because they consider themselves a part of Black culture and heritage.

Despite my miniscule amount of African DNA, it would be ludicrous for me personally to identify that way, since I have grown up white and have several 'white' generations behind me, with all the privileges that entails. Does not mean however that I will forego honoring my ancestors, all of them.

I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding Black VS. Multiracial identities and much of that controversy is rooted in our white supremacist culture that has handed down definitions like the "one drop rule".

"An ethnic category is NOT the same thing as a "Race" category: Agreed.

Thanks again for your comment. I look forward to exploring your links.

Lisa Gale Garrigues said...

Re: Lula

Undoubtedly the above poster is right about Lula, since many 'white' appearing South Americans are actually a mix of many ancestries. I posted his photo with this post because his name came up in a search of 'white with African ancestry" and because for many people he is seen as 'white'.

APGifts said...

See sublinks found in the following link: