February 01, 2006

African American lives

Fascinating look into history, race and DNA is a new TV program by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. investigating the genealogy of African Americans, including some well-known celebrities:
Gates explores the personal histories of his family and the families of Winfrey, comedian Chris Tucker, musician Quincy Jones, astronaut Mae Jemison, Bishop T.D. Jakes, neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, actress Whoopi Goldberg and author and Harvard sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot.
Only Jakes was correct when he said he was Ebo.

"I think it speaks to how accurately historical traditions are passed down through African families," Jakes said. "In the absence of our early ancestors being able to read and write, the verbal transition of information was the only applicable way to disseminate information.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.quote.gif
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"My ancestors had told us that our family had come from Nigeria and we were from the tribe Ebo. But this was verbally passed down from generation to generation. And Dr. Gates confirmed it through the research."
"When we did my father's admixture test, my father is 67 percent white," Gates said. "I'm 50 percent. What does that mean? Does that make me less black? I had to ask all those questions. I'm very secure in my African-American identity.


"It's standard for those of us who have white ancestry to have inherited that white ancestry from the male line," Gates said. "My Y chromosome goes back to Europe and my mitochondrial DNA goes back to Europe. And what that means is that I have a white female ancestor since colonial times. So that means some black man slept with some white woman between 1619 and 1750."
This is perhaps why social-cultural "race" should not be confused with the underlying biological-genomic race. While Gates is socially "African-American", biologically he is Caucasoid-Negroid with Caucasoid patrilineal and matrilineal ancestors.

Social race has to do with the cultural perceptions of race in a given society; for example, in the American society, biracial individuals such as Gates, or Halle Berry are viewed as black or African American.

Biological race has to do with the underlying genomic ancestry of individuals, which is roughly the fraction of their genome inherited from the major continental gene pools prior to their widespread geographical intermixing in modern times.

Both social and biological race are important, and the two are obviously correlated, but one should always keep in mind that they are not the same thing.

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