I was printing mailing labels for a large project. Mindless work. Be-bopping to the music blasting from my headphones. I pop back on to my computer to check my work email. On the second monitor, my personal email box was open.
I immediately freeze. Its THE email I’ve been waiting for. In fact, it was the very email that I thought about last night. Exactly 6 weeks had past. “I should get it soon,” I thought before going to bed.
And here it was. My DNA results from Ancestry.com. I had purchased the kit on a whim. Around July 4th to be exact because there was a sale. Instead of the usual $99 it was marked down to $79 for the holiday. I thought what the heck. Then instantly regretted it because it seemed like a waste of money.
Too late. The kit was bought. When it arrived, I was faced with the task of conjuring up enough spit to provide a decent sample. Once I did, I sent it off and thought nothing about it.
That is until the email came. It directed me to sign in. Which I did. It directed me to my results which I clicked on. BOOM. There it was.
I stared at it for a couple of moments. My eyes going from the list to the map. Over and over again. And then I felt that all too familiar sting in my eyes. What the devil?, I thought. Why am I tearing up became why am I crying?
I cried because one of the biggest mysteries of my life has been solved. A piece of who I am finally clicked into place.
I’m a black woman. I’m a black woman in America. You go back 5 generations and you hit the wall that is slavery. That seemingly impenetrable wall. Any hope of finding out where my ancestors came from is obliterated by it. Some people, like an old coworker, can proudly proclaim their Irish ancestry and even name the town their ancestors came from. For me, all I can do is shrug. That’s one of the realities of being black and in America.
That part of who you are is a mystery to you. And before DNA testing, was always a mystery.
I may not know the specifics but I can look at a map and point to spots in Africa and say “that’s where my people come from.” The same people who lived and flourished in Africa. Who survived the horrendous middle passage. The degradation of the auction block and slavery. Who endured. Suffered loss. Survived. Eventually tasted sweet freedom. Persevered in spite of the limitations placed on them by society (racism, sexism, etc).
Those are my people. Those beautiful, beautiful people of the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal.
The other reality was 14% that hailed from Great Britain. Finding out about the whiteness in me was not surprise. I’ve read history, I’ve heard family stories, I’m not naive to what was going down. Did it fill me with the same level of pride? No, not really. It was different. A matter-of-fact acceptance.
In my family, we joke about it. Anytime there is a weird genetic quirk we often blame it on our great grandfather. Family legend is that he was a white traveling salesman. He took one look at my great grandmother and well….. cut to my grandmother Lillie Bell. My sister has brown hair that turns red in the sun. Or, my aunt and I are the only ones in the family with freckles (hers are more pronounced than mine). It must be our great granddaddy. We laugh about it. But it touches on a larger issue.
We all have a little something in our background. Our DNA tells us so.
The reactions of these people closely resemble my reaction to my DNA results. I didn’t even expect to cry but once I had the results, I couldn’t help but tear up.