Knowing your ROOTS


How important is your ethnic heritage to you? What if you knew nothing of your family tree? Would it matter to you? What if all you knew is that your ancestors were slaves? Would you ever wonder what life might have been like if slavery hadn’t happened? The power of heritage and knowing something about it is pretty important to a lot of people. It gives them a sense of identity. Case in point is when an adult learns for the first time that they were adopted and the parents they thought were biological were only adoptive. It causes significant confusion and disorientation for most.

But this morning I was listening this to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on Tom Joyner’s morning show (yes, I listen to at times to TJMS, Imus, NPR, and sports-talk (when I want to hear the NY world go nuts over the Red Sox). That probably says a little too much about me…). He was talking about another episode of taking celebrity African Americans to learn what their genealogy and DNA tell them about their heritage. With certain tests, they can fairly accurately tell what percent white, Asian, African, and Native American blood a person has as well as what region of Africa they came from.

Anyway, Gates quoted some interesting statistics:

*12.5 million slaves were abducted to the new world
*Only 500,000 of those slaves came to US soil.
*None of those slaves were from Northern Africa or South African Zulus.
*In a room of 100 random African Americans, 26% likely came from Angola, a smaller percentage came from Nigeria, and 2% from Mozambique.

Why do I care? My youngest son has the look of West Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, etc.) while my older son has the look of East Africa (Somalia, Kenya, etc.). Once we were in DC at a hotel when one of the workers came up and asked us where Sam was from. He was Eritrean and said that Sam looked just like one of his family members.

The cost of the DNA tests runs about $300. Sounds like a reasonable price to give my kids some sense of identity that many African American (and also adopted) children find hard to obtain.

4 Comments

Filed under Black and White, Cultural Anthropology, Race

4 responses to “Knowing your ROOTS

  1. Very interesting. Please update us if you do a test. I know for our kids we want to educate ourselves on their Haitian heritage and be open with them about that. On a similar note I’ve wanted to do a family tree for a long time now. I hadn’t thought about what it will look like with our adopted children.

    You may have posted on this before but how have you and your wife talked to your kids about their adoption, their heritage, their being black and you being white? Or how do you plan too do that as they get older?

  2. Jason. Not likely to do the test any time soon. Maybe in their teen years. In school, I had to do a genogram where I constructed several generations of my family. We included our children when they were born, but our family doesn’t do much with our extended family beyond each of our family of origin. Last summer was the first time I took them to Canada to a family reunion and the first time the kids saw my Aunts and Uncles.

    We talked to our kids about adoption long before they could understand they were adopted. Of course it has a positive spin. We asked God for children who needed a home and he picked you guys as your birth mother’s loved you and knew you needed a home that they couldn’t provide. We talk about them being twice adopted (first by God, second by us) and that all Christians are adopted by God. One asks lots of questions, the other asks less. We have yet to tell them the names of their birth mothers or whether or not they had siblings. We think we probably should have been telling them this but because it is a closed adoption with no contact with birth parents, and because we have lots more info on one birth mother (pictures too) and none on the other, it makes it hard.

    We have done a lot to educate ourselves and our boys on black/white issues, black heritage, and the challenges they might face and the history of slavery in this country. They have wanted to be white at times so we’re not different as a family. We acknowledge that but remind them that we are glad they are not white. We do as much as we can to introduce them to black authors, artists, music, culture etc. We have a bible study in which several families are interracial and all the children are either black or bi-racial.

  3. Sharon

    How do I minister to an adult cousin who felt that she knew about being an adopted child even when she was a young child but is just now beginning to express her knowledge of the fact but she is afraid if she asks her parents they might just get angry.So now she is asking us family members what we know about her biological family. We love her so much and I have never felt that she is an adopted cousin, to me she is a true blooded cousin. Please help me.Thank you.

  4. I’m not sure I fully understand? She is adopted or just feels that way? It is common for adoptees to want to learn about birth family members. This isn’t a sign of rejection of the adoptive family, but just trying to know a part of their life. I would suggest that you encourage her to find ways to say this to her parents in a way that does not reject their raising her. If they do feel that way, others should help them see this is not rejection but a normal process. She can feel both that she really is your cousin and yet know there is another part of herself as well.

    However, if she learns more about her birth family, she should have someone walk with her through this because the information may not always be pretty.

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