Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Movie Selma was an Epiphany for me

The movie Selma was an epiphany for me.

But of course I must address the potential Oscar nomination snubbing. Is being considered equally for the Oscar with the American movie industry's majority white films really the goal -- even a good goal?  Sure, as a non-actor, I see the desire for talented actors to want to compete with America's current and historically white majority for award recognition.

If I were to deconstruct the goal I would say, Blacks have been overlooked for so long in various spheres that we might believe the real measure of equality is that we are considered in the same breath as whites, in this case in the movie industry.  I don't think Asians, Latinos or Native Americans worry about this factor.  I'm not sure all white people are capable of relating to Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and Blacks so that they could make an apples to apples comparison of all films. Nor are all of the non-whites listed.  Maybe it really is just a white-thing. And maybe some African-Americans are more into some white things than others. I tend to like Hollywood's "low-brow", blockbuster films. I don't care to see or be able to say I've seen the films nominated for an Oscar.

So why was Selma an epiphany for me? I motored to the showing of the film with one thing top of mind.  UK-born actor David Oyelowo is playing an African-American icon. Another African-American icon, Coretta Scott King is played by UK-born Carmen Ejogo (Nigerian/Scottish). In fact this is the second time in recent memory a UK-born actor has played a major African-American role, Chiwetel Ejiofor played Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave.

Look where we are! That's tremendous.  The best actor of African descent. Period.  There are many high-quality African films and films about Africans that I've viewed in the past years (The First Grader, Desert Flower, Live and Become, Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, Invictus). And along with Hollywood and Bollywood, there is Nollywood (Nigeria - a major African film industry).

I need to learn another language to view some of the Nollies.

Watch them.  Filmmakers of African descent are coming together.  Who needs the Oscars?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Name I Call Myself

The "Black" world is all atwitter about what other Black people choose to call themselves.  Raven Symone says she's an American.  Zoe Saldana said something, I don't even care.  Not because what she said was or wasn't important, but because as usual we're barking up the wrong tree.

I wasn't moved to write a blog post until I watched the 14 Oct episode of Finding Your Roots, with Ben Affleck, Ben Jealous and Khandi Alexander. I have to say that I've watched most of Henry Louis Gates' genealogy shows over the years, and yet, this episode is my favorite yet.  It is my favorite for many reasons, but most importantly because of Khandi Alexander's comments on her discoveries.

I'll summarize. She grew up calling herself Black, as we reclaimed it from being something bad or negative.  She hadn't been able to embrace African-American until learning of her heritage through DNA.  But she is proud to be an American because it's where as a woman in the world, she is most free.

I could relate my own evolution on this issue, but I won't because it's really not the point of this post.

The problem I've had with this recent need for people to put certain celebrities in their place because they dare identify themselves in a way that vocal Blacks object to is the issue of this post.  My general discomfort with people challenging how Blacks they view as privileged identify themselves is the usual "because of the history of America, it's racism, we're not post-racial, how can you fool yourself into believing you're an American?"

My problem with this kind of thinking has always been that it means the racists define who you are. You can't call yourself an American because of racism.  You can't do x until. You can't believe y because.  The racists still make your decisions for you.

I refuse to be defined by racists.  I am not waiting until some time when I can call myself an American.  I can call myself anything I want right now.  And there are a few idiots, Black and White, who are trying to keep me from doing it.  It's not up to them/you.  Call yourself Negro, Black, African-American, because it's what you want and choose to do. Not because an ever smaller percentage of racists are trying to take from you what you don't know you already have.

If we would make our decisions based upon choice rather than "because racism," whatever an American of primarily African descent chooses to call himself or herself becomes what you feel the need to convey.  And in that case, all designations are acceptable.

The racists enjoy us arguing over what we call ourselves.  As long as we're doing that, they know we're still living with the effects of what they did to our forebearers and are in no danger of competing with them.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Genealogy Shows New Seasons

The next season of Who Do You Think You Are begins Wednesday July 23 at 9/8c on TLC.

Here's the preview -

The next season of Finding Your Roots begins Tuesday, September 23 on PBS.

Here's the preview -

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference

Whew, one of the most daunting outcomes of getting tested is all of the genetic cousins that show up. And if you're new to genealogy, knowing how to use genetic genealogy is even less obvious.

I have 990 cousins in 23andMe, 45 pages of 50 cousins each at AncestryDNA, but lots fewer at FTDNA.

I've accepted sharing requests, but I have to say I haven't put much effort into understanding this area since I've been focusing on going as far back as possible with the paper trail.

However, this conference looks interesting and should be a great place to ramp up on genetic genealogy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I'm Having an Identity Crisis

I'm having an identity crisis.  Well, ok, just a small one.

My initial attraction to genetic testing was to find out where I might be from in Africa, like a lot of African-Americans.

The first and least defined result you can get is your ancestry composition.  This is generally divided into what percentage African, European and Asian you are (Jewish for some). I tested with 23andMe and assumed it would be the only testing I would do. I tested approximately 80% Sub-saharan African -- no surprise, 17% European and a bit both Asian and unassigned.

Saying that someone is 80% Sub-saharan African doesn't really tell you a lot. What wasn't obvious is that they were telling me that I was primarily Nigerian (the early websites didn't have the best designs). And I later came to understand that this test is called an autosomal DNA test. In addition, part of my testing included the mitochrondrial DNA (maternal) and Y-DNA (paternal) tests.  My maternal line is from Ethiopia/Sudan by way of Nigeria.  My paternal line comes from the hunter-gatherers, and actual tribes who are all related and live in Cameroon, both Congos, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Gabon and Botswana. Taking all three tests produced satisfying results for me. A continent of 50+ countries had been reduced to a handful. The fact that some of these test results point to eastern and central Africa and not just western Africa is a topic for another day.

For the most part, the European and Asian results we no more specific than points on a compass (Northern European, South Asian, etc.).

Nevertheless, I embraced the information, started to explore my cultures and my new identity.

At the time I took my first test, the emphasis was on mitochondrial and Y DNA tests. Realize that the science to really dig into the autosomal (remaining 22 of your 23 chromosomes) was just evolving as people started to clamor for this information. Also realize that your results are only as good as the extent of the reference samples that the company has to test you against.

Part of me was wondering what more could I find out about the 17% European part if I tested with another company.  Another part of me worried that I would find out something contradictory and I was not ready to adjust my new identity. Plus I was under no illusion that the autosomal African DNA was really 100% Nigerian, just primarily Nigerian would be an exceptable result with me.

At the time I tested, it was possible to transfer your autosomal data only from 23andMe to Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). That meant no new test, just a data transfer. In December 2013 I became too curious, bought and performed the data transfer. After all, I'd lived as an Ethiopian/Sudanese/Congolese Nigerian since July 2013. I was secure in my identify.

To my delight and great relief, the FTDNA results were confirmatory and complementary. They further defined the Nigerian as Yoruba and broke down my European into French, Romanian, Spanish and Tuscan (Italian).

In early 2014 I decided to tempt fate a third time.  AncestryDNA's early method of attaching your DNA results to a family tree and searching for family member matches was just too enticing. However, this required a new autosomal DNA test and not just a data transfer. But I couldn't resist.

Then all hell broke loose. You see, once you decide to have your personal genome discovered, you get free upgrades. When the company or companies you test with refine/upgrade/improve their procedures, you get the updated results for free.

First 23andMe updated their algorithm. Only result was dividing African into points on the compass, and a little North African popped out. No surprise to me, but a harbinger.

And before I could get my AncestryDNA results, FTDNA also announced an update to their autosomal reference samples and populations.

23andMe: no real major changes
FTDNA: Fun or funky (depends on your point of view) new names for population groups
AncestryDNA: complements FTDNA modifications

23andMe: directions on a compass, adds North African
FTDNA: Niger-Congo genesis, East African Pastoralist, Kalahari Basin
AncestryDNA: Nigeria, Cameroon/Congo, Ivory Coast/Ghana, Mali, Benin/Togo

FTDNA's East African Pastoralist is essentially Ethiopia/Sudan, which brings my mitondrial DNA results into the autosomal, makes sense. Same with Kalahari Basin, essentially Mbuti, bringing my YDNA results into my autosomal DNA.
AncestryDNA shows some other west African populations, no surprise, but they seem to ignore the rest of Africa.

23andMe: addition of North Africa trace amount (separates North Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa)
FTDNA: Anatolia and Caucasus, no other Asian
AncetryDNA: North Africa and Middle Eastern, essentially Turkey, no other Asian

I'm Turkish!

23andMe: silent
FTDNA: My French is reclassified as European Coastal Islands, North Circumpolar (Finland, Northwestern Russia) rather than Romanian, loses trace Italian and Spanish
AncestryDNA: Ireland and Great Britain, Iberian Peninsula, Italy/Greece, adds Scandinavian, Finland/Northwest Russia

The African updates make total sense in light of my mitochondrial and Y-DNA.
I now understand all the forums where people argue about some services not being able to differentiate between Irish and French ancestry.
My Slavic identity is different.
Ancestry DNA uses Iberian Peninsula which is both Spain and Portugal.
AncestryDNA combines Greece with Italy.
I'm a Viking! (Great, since I love Norse mythology)
My Asian identity is Middle Eastern.

Despite the changes in trace amounts, again FTDNA and AncestryDNA are very consistent and complementary to each other and 23andMe.

So there you have it, my identity crisis. Wade into these waters carefully. I think I'll be able to adjust.

Oh well. I had gotten used to saying "It's Cidre, not cider."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Celebrate Every Ancestor Who Triumphed Over Slavery

Celebrate every ancestor who triumphed over slavery.  How did they triumph? You exist.

Now, let me turn you off.  I found the controversial Leslie Jones Saturday Night Live (SNL) comedy piece about large African-American women getting more attention during slavery than now to be very funny.

I am not politically correct, ignorant of history, callous, misogynistic, an apologist or a collaborater.

Leslie Jones (SNL) video

I had a visceral reaction, but my visceral reaction was to all of the visceral reactions to the comedy sketch.  I had to think a while to put my finger on what bothered me so much about the negative reactions to her skit. And then it dawned on me.  All the detractors could do was admonish others to not use certain words and phrases related to slavery.

In fact that, and displaying the horrible enslavement mechanisms in museums seems to be as far as we've come. It's all we do.  We try to educate people who take it lightly as to how horrible it was. But all that ever amounts to is you can't say this and you can't say that, because it might hurt. After almost 150 years of emancipation, that's not good enough.

If we really want to honor and give respect to those who suffered and endured the ravages of slavery, we need to take action, not just be defensive.  We need to discover, name, and reclaim the slaves (especially through personal genealogy) as our own ancestors.  Make them real, not just focusing on their suffering, but knowing them and honoring the fact that because they had the character and strength to endure and survive. We are.

They stood up to and under far worse than a few select words and phrases.  A skit which illuminates and challenges does not make light of slavery, it generates discussion, enables us to go deeper and recover our self-esteem even more. And it shows we can not only face their pain, but especially celebrate their triumphs.  They did not survive just so we could be PC police.  They were stronger and better than that.