June 06, 2012

Why is Condoleezza stunned?

Ancestry testing goes for pinpoint accuracy
Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State and national security adviser, ought to be a tough woman to surprise. Yet when Henry Louis Gates Jr, host of a US television series called Finding Your Roots, revealed that nearly half of her genetic ancestry could be traced to Europe, Rice, an African American, told Gates, “I’m stunned.”
I am not particularly surprised that Condoleezza is stunned. Years ago, I wrote that persons of mixed ancestry often have three reactions:

  1. Acceptance ("multiple ancestries, and love'em all")
  2. Seeking the lowest common denominator ("we're all human; race doesn't exist")
  3. Denying or minimizing one type of ancestry
Reaction #3 seems to be commonplace in the Americas. Of course, the identification of African Americans with the "African" part of their ancestry is the most famous case of this, but a different example is that of various types of "indigenous" activists who are often more European, or even African, but somehow identify with their "Native American" ancestry, even if they lack both genetic and cultural (language, religion) links with that ancestry.

I can't claim to have any experience on African Americans, but it seems to me that their frequent surprise in programs such as "Finding Your Roots" is a consequence of two things:

  1. Their cultural identification with the African part of their ancestry, because it is what separates them -quite visibly- from the rest of society: i.e., African Americans differ from other Americans because of their African ancestry
  2. The misapplication (understandable, due to a lack of experience) of their own identity to Africa itself. This is rather an empirical bias: the most African-looking African Americans still have substantial European ancestry, and the average one has ~20%. To give a color analogy, a shade of grey looks lighter compared against black, and darker compared against a darker shade of grey.
In any case, the utility of ancestry analysis is that it provides people with relatively objective data about their genetic origins. How they (choose) to react to this data may be a function of their own psychology and the society they live in. Hopefully, as knowledge about genetics spreads, society as a whole will become more enlightened about its members.


Mark D said...

Excellent points, Dienekes. And completely in line with the results Bryan Sykes wrote about in his new book, "DNA USA, A Genetic Portrait of America" He presented chromosome portraits of over a dozen Americans of several self-identified ethnic backgrounds. Included was that of Mr. Gates himself which appeared half European and other black Americans that showed at least some and sometimes quite a bit European admixture. On your other point, one sample was from a self-identified Cherokee Native American who tested almost entirely European. The person's reaction was, "Isn't that something!" not quite disbelief. Mr. Sykes noted that there apparently exists a "Cherokee paradox" citing an executive of one of the American DNA testing companies as noting that Cherokee customers "had often found very little sign of orange (Asian) in their chromosome portraits". (p.315 of his book)I wonder if there is anything to their origin myth that they came from the East?

It may not be from a professional journal, but it's a book worth reading.

Katharós said...

My impression is that the more a society is racialy mixed but culturally self-defined by a common culture the more they grow blind on one eye and grasp for some sort of more or less mystical origin.

shenandoah said...

I'm guessing the reason she's stunned, is that she subscribed to attitude number three, lol. I guess that's only natural, in a people who have long been programmed to believe (rightly or wrongly, and with very little real evidence) that most if not all of their "white" genes are the result of ~rape.

Kepler said...

I think that varies a lot. US Americans have had the one-drop rule.
I have heard some people from Ecuador and Peru who look very Inca and who consider themselves "white".
On the other hand, in other places, like in Venezuela, one of the first things we hear at school is that most of our ancestors are European, native American and sub-Saharan African, all mixed.

Curiously, it is mostly Chávez who is trying to make people he likes more "African-native-American" and the others more "European".
In a lot of families in Venezuela you could take pictures that would look like Benetton ads.
A lot of Latin Americans find it highly weird to fill in an ethnicity in US forms, even "Latino", if possible we leave all of them blank, no matter what colour we have.

Anonymous said...

We should't rush to conclusions about the "Americas" based on US attitudes or any other isolated examples.
The situation in most of Latin America is quite the reverse. Not only the indigenous ancestry tends to be ignored ot stigmatized, anyone who doesn't have an obvious pitch-black skin tends to identify as "white". In there a misappropriation in this case, too? So, what's the solution? To put all mixed-race people in a separate category ("mulatto"?) ?

The fact that we have such disparate attitudes shows how much the folk concept of "race" is volatile and much more about social categories - and not at all the concept that racialist anthropologists have in mind, obviously. There is a well-known joke in Brazil that rich blacks are white from birth.
So it's not that there is a "misappropriation" or a "mistake", or anything like that. People really mean something different when they say someone is "black". It is just an everyday concept, that should be kept separate from the systematic classification of physical anthropology.
It is not an “unenlightened error", not anymore than an English speaker who calls a mollusc "shell-FISH" is unenlightened for disregarding phylogeny. So, what's the confusion about?

Average Joe said...

Because of affirmative action, it pays for blacks to downplay their European ancestry.

Amanda S said...

During the period of slavery in the United States, people were classified as White, Black or Mulatto on censuses. Hierarchies of privilege existed with Mulattoes more likely to get household work whilst Blacks were more likely to get the physically more demanding work in the fields.

The construction of a unitary Black or African American identity (it's had various names through history) has served to bind people together in a political project to improve the overall position of the community (which in the Southern states was subjected to the same kind of Jim Crow laws apart from a very few individuals who could "pass"). This sense of being one people was also to overcome the anger and resentment caused by the differential treatment given to people on the basis of the different degree of European admixture.

The selection of a particular set of ancestors to the exclusion of the others is prevalent in Americans of mainly European ancestry as well. It's common to find people describing themselves as, for example, Irish American or German American on the basis of having one grandparent or great grandparent of that origin.

This can extend to whole communities as well as individuals. There are works of popular history such as "Born Fighting" and "Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South" that make the claim that the European descended colonial origin population of the Old South is of predominantly Scots Irish (Ulster Scots) ancestry. The truth is that this population has mixed origins with English, Scots-Irish and German ancestry being the largest elements; English forming to the greatest proportion and German the least.

It does seem that the people of various parts of Latin America have a more nuanced concept of themselves as "New World" peoples, that is descending from a mixtures of incomers and locals which is in the process of stabilizing into a new group.

Anonymous said...

"but a different example is that of various types of "indigenous" activists who are often more European, or even African, but somehow identify with their "Native American" ancestry, even if they lack both genetic and cultural (language, religion) links with that ancestry."

Tell me about it. There are indigenous groups like the Mexica Movement, Aztlan and others where some of their members do look white:


In Mexico the sentiments are pretty mixed. Indigenism is the main thinking, the idea that we're all descendants of the Natives or that we're all Mestizos. But then there's also discrimination against the native groups or blacks, mainly by mestizos and on the minor hand by whites. Or mixed-individuals who believe they are white and join groups like the Neo-Nazis. Or criollo separatists/supremacists.

In the US, half of the Hispanics living there classify themselves as white, something that increases the further south we go (in Texas, 25.1% of the 37.6% of Hispanics living there are "White") and the statistical institutions consider them white.

terryt said...

"Mr. Sykes noted that there apparently exists a 'Cherokee paradox'"

In my very limited contact with Cherokees as I traveled through Oklahoma I noticed a pronounced 'African' look to most of them. When I brought the subject up they claimed that their African heritage goes back to before Europeans arrived, an idea I found doubtful. Someone pointed out that the Cherokee had slaves before they were evicted from their Mississippi homeland and that was probably the source of their African look.

Kepler said...

Where is the limit? Is "Semitic" a race or are you limiting it to "European-Caucasoid, Negroid, Eastern Asian"?
If it is this latter: are Spaniards mulatos? I don't remember precisely, but I think the amount of Spaniards with sub-Saharan haplogroups was like 3%. That doesn't mean they are the only ones with mixed blood. As they are everywhere there, chances are at least one of the 64 ancestors of any given Spaniard had a sub-Saharan haplogroup.
Where is the threshold between pure races and mixed races? 1/32? 1/16?
All this discussion reminds me of the things we would read about how Spaniards and their offspring in America discussed castes in the XVIII century.

I don't think the Americas are more deluded than Europe or Asia when it comes at how mixed people are.
The mixing was more radical and much more recent, but that's about it.
It's all about how far one is from the centre of a cluster.

Mark D said...

terryt - as Dr. Sykes mentions in his book, there is a well-known ongoing dispute over tribal membership of descendants of former Cherokee slaves, known as Freedmen. The Wikipedia article on "Cherokee freedmen controversy", while not an original source of course, provides considerable background to the issue. It seems that slave-holding was very common among the Cherokee and other "civilized" tribes, predating Eurpoean contact.

pconroy said...

@ma ba said:
Didn't white people come from Africa anyways? Whites are just albino Africans.

You are probably wrong on both your assertions.

Evidence is mounting that the so called "Out of Africa" theory is flawed, if not outright wrong. It would seem that pre-human or early hamanoid primates radiated out of Africa, but that "behaviorally modern humans", migrated INTO AFRICA, and maybe only relatively recently.

astenb said...

Its quite obvious she is surprised by the said % of supposed European admixture...not the admixture it self. With an average admixture rate of 12-20% she would have more than 3 times or twice the admixture of an average African American (Depending on what publication you choose)

This is what probably surprised her.

shenandoah said...

Re: Cherokee self-identification; please remember that the Cherokee were a Matriarchal society when the Europeans first arrived here. Traditionally, an individual considers themselves to be "Cherokee" through their ~matrilineal genes only, up to 7 generations back. That means if a person has a Cherokee 4-5 great-grandMOTHER ~directly ~matrilineally (regardless of all their other inheritance) -- they're ~technically one of the tribe. That makes sense to me, because mtDNA is generally inherited in exact replication (barring random mutations, of course). That's why it's so useful for tracing deep ancestry. I guess that would make more sense to people with Matriarchal ancestry; I notice people of Patriarchal ancestry usually don't seem to understand the concept. Donald Panther-Yates did a study of the presently existing maternal clans of the Cherokee, and found that each clan has its own unique ~signature, including at least one (the "Paint", or "White", clan) which is distinctly Caucasoid genetically. My understanding of that particular clan, furthermore, is that they generally weren't expected to marry outside their own clan, even though all of the other ones did, by tribal law.

Average Joe said...

Where were the IQ test when Africa was way more advance than Europe??

When was sub-Saharan Africa move advanced than Europe?

Average Joe said...

Is "Semitic" a race or are you limiting it to "European-Caucasoid, Negroid, Eastern Asian"?

A geneticist is apparently arguing that Jews are a distinct race:


oguns said...

As someone pointed out earlier, Condoleeza Rice looks very west-african in facial structure. She even has that gap between her incisors that's quite common among some blacks from that area.

Her skin colour by itself wouldn't be a reason for her to imagine white admixture. While that skin tone isn't the most common, it's also not that rare in some ethnic groups in west-africa.

terryt said...

"It seems that slave-holding was very common among the Cherokee and other 'civilized' tribes, predating Eurpoean contact".

I have no doubt that was the case, but I doubt very much that any of those slaves were of african origin in pre-European times.

George said...

An earlier poster (Amanda S) said:

"This can extend to whole communities as well as individuals. There are works of popular history such as "Born Fighting" and "Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South" that make the claim that the European descended colonial origin population of the Old South is of predominantly Scots Irish (Ulster Scots) ancestry."

The author of "Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South" is Grady McWhiney.

Book info: http://www.amazon.com/Cracker-Culture-Celtic-Ways-South/dp/0817304584

Author info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grady_McWhiney

Perhaps Amanda S didn't know that Grady McWhiney (1928 - 2006) was one of the founders of the League of the South and a mentor to its current leader, Michael Hill.

Read what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has to say about this organization which they classify as
Neo-Confederate ... and in so many words a racist hate group.


I believe Amanda S and other readers (Academics, Researchers, Lay Persons, etc,) should more carefully examine their postings.

Specially so when it involves overt or covert racist organizations prior to posting about the ancestry / DNA results / admixture / etc. of an honarable African American such as former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

Here's some info from the SPLC site:

** "From the start, the league’s board was dominated by academics. Its unofficial foundational text was Cracker Culture, a book by conservative history professor Grady McWhiney, one of Hill’s mentors, which asserts that the South was populated by immigrants from Celtic areas of England and constitutes a culture and population distinct from that of the North." "But it wasn’t long before it began seriously advocating a second secession, calling for a theocratic form of government, and openly advocating a return to “general European cultural hegemony” in the South."

** "The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans."

** "The league believes the “godly” nation it wants to form should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities."

** "Hill publicly defended antebellum slavery as “God-ordained” and another league leader described segregation as necessary to racial “integrity” of both races, black and white alike. Hill called for a hierarchal society composed of “superiors, equals and inferiors, each protected in their legal privileges” and attacked egalitarianism as a “fatal heresy.” He said people other than white Christians would be allowed to live in his South, but only if they bowed to “the cultural dominance of the Anglo-Celtic people and their institutions.”

Dienekes says in his post: "I can't claim to have any experience on African Americans ..."

I do understand that sentiment somewhat concerning African Americans from a variety of discipline from a white person who is not a citizen or resident in the USA or from persons in the USA who have not witnessed both overt and covert racism based on skin color or other phenotypes when they pass judgement on a person or population group.

So we all learn. And, perhaps Dienekes can also and escape his anthropological box and better understand African American and why the election of President Obama in November 2008 came about and the backstories of how he defeated Hilary Clinton (a fine U.S. Secretary of State) in the 2008 Democratic Primaries.

I do agree with Dienkes when he says: "Hopefully, as knowledge about genetics spreads, society as a whole will become more enlightened about its members."

First Grade said...

George brings up and quotes the SPLC. Please read more about the Southern Poverty Law Center here:


Amanda S said...

George, I simply mentioned the McWhiney book in a critical remark as an example of the kind of oversimplifying and misleading popular historical writing that's around which imply that European descended people of the South have single rather than multiple origins.

The reference had no relation whatsoever to my remarks about African American history or any relation to Condoleezza Rice in particular.

Onur Dincer said...


I think you should not publish ma ba's posts, as they are full of incorrect assertions.

Dienekes said...


I think you should not publish ma ba's posts, as they are full of incorrect assertions.

I let some crap posts appear because they are useful in the future to be able to search for the users who post them.

Robson Cruz said...

I really don't get why some people still nowadays insists in this "racial pride" discourse. It wasn't evidenced that we belong to a only one species? Whit then to talk about "blacks", "whites" or "papuans" being proud of the achievements of individuals who, by chance share their external phenotype?

I have predominant negroid phenotype, but I have also Portuguese heritage and nothing can prevent me to be proud of the achievements of Jews, Chinese of Punjabis. They are part of my HUMAN heritage!

"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto"

pconroy said...

@First Grade,

That "Zambian Space Program" video is priceless, I literally LOLed!

Anonymous said...

i am from one of the several "hybrid" groups in the east, (the dominickers of the florida panhandle). most of us are taught we are creek or lumbee indian, but when i got my results from 23andMe, it reported mostly european with a small amount of african (this despite strong documentary evidence of descent from several removal era citizens of creek nation and my being cousin to several poarch creek indians. i have lived in the muscogee creek as well as cherokee nations in oklahoma for 15 years now. one third of the county i live in are enrolled citizens of the cherokee nations, but almost none show any phenotypical traits of native americans. the cherokee nation has 300,000 plus members, with the average blood quantum being below 1/200,(according to a cousin workin in the enrollment office at MCN) an amount not detectable on the DNA tests, ive has several CNO friends experience the "Cherokee Paradox" already, them having no native blood shown on their test despite being cherokee nation citizens. i have read brian sykes new USA DNA, and it was a great and informative book, especially interesting was how all the southern whites they tested showed african ancestry, where as none of the northeasterners did. the south is full of ghosts and skeleton-filled closets. the jackson/calhoun county area of the panhandle is chock full of mixed race people passing as white, people who ive known for all my life, who fight hard everyday to be "white", and who have done this for generations. they pay little attention to the outside world. most are very uneducated. ive noticed a similar saituation among many of the small hybrid communities ive visited as a graduate student in anthropology in louisiana, north and south carolina, and south alabama. theres so much still hidden in the south, racially. the KKK is still very active in north fla. 16 years ago i and 2 other community members did surveillance of a Klan meeting. over 60 cars were present, hundreds of people. when we gave our info to the local FBI office in tallahassee, the agent, Mr Pelligrino said, "weve been watching that group for over 20 years...".we all need to be as openminded as possible as the huge changes brought about by DNA analysis impact people and communities...great changes are to come in identification for many.

MOCKBA said...

Chris, didn't the idea that "some white families' legendary Indian ancestors may have been invented to hide African admixtures" long predate the DNA genealogy? For example, it is the premise behind Sinclair Lewis's "Kingsblood" which have been written back in the 1940s: a white genealogy buff chases down a tale of their Native American great-grandmother and discovers a black ancestor.

Sinclair Lewis must have been inspired by stories of white kin of NAACP leadership such as W.F.White. Their tight-knit group of families and friends include many generations of people of white appearance. A few of them actually chose to identify as whites. The genetic underpinning of these stories may be interesting in one additional aspect, as they imply some level of endogamy in this educated, upper class African American class (possibly akin to the one in South Africa's coloureds). But how widespread and how strong this kind of endogamy may have been in the broader demographics (including Condoleezza Rice's ancestors), I have no idea. It's always thought that in Europe, social class alone imposed endogamy, but in America, the population was more "upwardly mobile", resulting in a greater rate of intermarriage across the class boundaries. But historically, this upward mobility might have been a white-only phenomenon, so I wouldn't be surprised if the black upper class exhibited a greater degree of endogamy.

zack k said...

@ Chris

In contrast I consider myself white yet all the admixture programs indicate something like 12-14% Amerindian

I had a Tejano grandmother from the border area with Mexico

I believe she would have called herself white ( with some knowledge of her native background)

Indentity in the Americas is becoming very interesting with DNA testing

Anonymous said...

"In contrast I consider myself white yet all the admixture programs indicate something like 12-14% Amerindian"

How do you look racially speaking? Do you look full white?

zack k said...


Depends on how perceptive someone is. I look something like a southern European to a Turk from Istanbul to someone from South America who is mostly European.

My sister is fairer with green eyes and was born with blond hair but has almond shaped eyes. Really perceptive people might note something exotic in her heritage too compared to a typical European American

Another Interesting thing is our mtDNA halogroup is L3f dispite having very little apparent sub Saharran African in my autosomal admixture estimates at all

Anonymous said...

"I look something like a southern European to a Turk from Istanbul to someone from South America who is mostly European."

Sorry, I didn't understand this sentence. Could you reframe or explain it?

Mark D said...

Chris and zack - I think we Americans from The South can all agree that the vast majority here have at least some admixture, whether African into Eurpoean, Native American into European and vice versa. I've lived in South Florida all of my 60 years and as you but maybe not others realize, South Florida has undergone extreme demographic changes the last fifty years and now shows more ethnic and racial diversity (I prefer the term "heritage diversity") than I think anywhere else in the world. The large population of Haitians, Bahamians and Jamaicans have been added to the African Americans that earlier moved here from other areas in The South. Hispanics (the term used locally) comprise 70% of the population in Miami and come from many countries in Central and South America, in addition to Cuba. As you can imagine, there has been considerable intermarriage over the last fifty years, myself included. I would think South Florida would be a dream location for anthropologists and geneticists and I'm very disappointed that Dr. Sykes chose very few locales to do his limited study on his vacation trip across the country. He would have here found more admixture than he could ever hope to study.

ejmohr said...

mo ba's comments and First Grade's answer are so funny that I have not stopped laughing. Deineke, your site is great and many thanks for allowing a plethora of opinions.

zack k said...

I assume Dienekes approves of carrying on this side discussion since he posted your last comment Romero

"full white" would be a misnomer to those interested in the topics posted here I think so maybe I shouldn't have treated it seriously.

The groups I listed I resemble. In Istanbul many people assumed I was a Turk. When I am in Latin American countries people always assume I speak Spanish. In Germany nobody assumes I am ethnically German.

Dienekes said...

I assume Dienekes approves of carrying on this side discussion since he posted your last comment Romero

I have zoned out of this discussion tbh.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Zack. One last question: How do you look to people in southern Europe? I am asking this question assuming that your white ancestors are all from southern Europe.

Ariana said...

Ma ba, You have pretty much summed it up.