Here’s how DNA can help combat racist thinking—along with my thoughts on my family’s journey out of racism and why trying to be “colorblind” doesn’t help.
My grandmother, whom I loved, was a racist. My mother had fierce feelings that were just the opposite. I remember countless conversations my mother had with my grandmother regarding the value of other people. It is the only time in my early memory I can remember my mom being visibly angry and upset with her mother.
I grew up fully believing my mother: that all people were equal. But as I have grown older, I have realized that is not true at all. Yes, we are all equal–of infinite worth–in the sight of God, which is how my mother meant it. But we are not equal in rights, opportunity and so many other ways. As I tried to think of all people as equal in my mind, I stripped us all of the very qualities that make us individuals: our history, culture, and ideas. I now call myself a recovering color-blind racist. (A color-blind racist supports the idea that ignoring or overlooking racial and ethnic differences promotes racial harmony. It just doesn’t. Pretending we are all the same when we aren’t does not help.)
In her book, The Social Life of DNA, Alondra Nelson points out, “Combating color-blind racism requires the restoration of color-vision—that is, the return to visibility of historic and continued racial inequalities. Genetic ancestry testing is being used to make this case….DNA can be used to embody the past, and because DNA is shared it can represent both individuals and groups. DNA can be used to highlight a history of oppression that has been rendered invisible.”
Because of these unique qualities of DNA, Nelson points out that it has the ability to reconcile us in many ways including to our homelands, to stories of the past, and to citizenship. She writes, “I describe these lesser-known but truly momentous uses of genetic ancestry testing as ‘reconciliation projects,’ endeavors in which genetic analysis is placed at the center of social unification efforts.”
I love that word reconcile. It feels whole. Complete.
The Human Genome Project proved that we are 99.9% the same genetically, and that should not be understated. But instead of marginalizing that 0.01% difference, DNA lets us recognize and even capitalize on it. DNA gives us the beginning of a story that allows us to be curious about each other and ask questions and then really listen to the answers. Now I am trying to pay more attention to color. Not less.
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