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Just What is “Black America,” and How Black are You?

Written by Jae Jones

Have you ever just sat back and went in to deep thought about your racial background and genetic roots? For some people it is important to know about their ancestors and their struggle here in America. Did you know that there are many different DNA tests that can be given today that can answer questions about your roots? These new tests measure what scientists call “autosomal DNA,” which can be used to figure out how much of your ancestry traces to each of the world’s ancestral populations, people who lived in a particular geographical region, say, 500 years ago. Or a test can be used to identify long stretches of identical DNA that two individuals share, therefore establishing the fact that they are related genetically even more recently from a common ancestor, and thus are cousins.

The test can be used to find long lost ancestors by analyzing your autosomal DNA. Some of the popular DNA companies are “Cousin Connect” (Ancestry.com), “Family Finder” (Family Tree DNA) and “DNA Relatives” (23andme.com) that automatically inform you of your cousins who are located in their databases. However, it is not just used for ancestry adoptees can use it to find biological parents, or children born out of wedlock to one of the ancestors listed, discovering blood relatives people never knew that had is becoming a lot easier.

Are You Mixed or Are You Admixture?

So, you what is admixture? According to Dr. George Church, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and pioneer in the mapping of the human genome, defines it this way: “Genetic admixture is the breeding between two or more previously isolated populations.”  We all have the story of our ancestry in our DNA. Any section of DNA — say, one piece of chromosome 3 — can be linked with people who lived in a particular geographic location thousands of years ago. By adding up the fractions of DNA from each location, we can determine the percentage of a person’s ancestors who lived in each location,” according to Dr. Johanna Mountain. It is also important to use regional or geographic categories in genetic ancestry-tracing, rather than the standard four or five so-called “racial” divisions that have been employed in the West since the 18th century.

Dr. Nathan Pearson, the principal genome scientist at Ingenuity, tells us that “interbreeding has occurred throughout history, and notably leaves telltale traces in our genomes that hint strongly at who came together, and when.” In conclusion, he says, “the ingredients in your genome track which regional populations mingle in your family tree, and in what proportions,” revealing “the mix of recent continental origins among your ancestors.”

How “Blacks” are considered Americans?

 So, let’s look at the numbers, according to the Root.com,

* According to Ancestry.com, the average is 65 percent sub-Saharan African, 29 percent European and 2 percent Native American.

* According to 23andme.com, the average African American is 75 percent sub-Saharan African, 22 percent European and only 0.6 percent Native American. 

* According to Family Tree DNA.com, the average African American is 72.95 percent sub-Saharan African, 22.83 percent European and 1.7 percent Native American.

*According to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, the average African American is 80 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 1 percent Native American.

* According to AfricanDNA, in which I am a partner with Family Tree DNA, the average African American is 79 percent sub-Saharan African, 19 percent European and 2 percent Native American.

The numbers show that none of the African Americans tested by DNA companies is concluded to be 100 percent sub-Saharan African. The company analyzed Africans and African immigrants who did test 100 percent sub-Saharan in the origin. The Root.com reports that Spencer Wells, director of National Geographic’s Genographic Project, explained to me that the African Americans they’ve tested range from 53 percent to 95 percent sub-Saharan African, 3 percent to 46 percent European and zero percent to 3 percent Native American. So there is a lot of genetic variation within our ethnic group, as is obvious to anyone even casually glancing at black people just walking down the street. So, what does this mean, you might ask? It means that Black Americans have a significant amount of European blood in them. Of course, this can date back to the days where the slave masters were raping and having children with slaves (Black women). It also debunks the very American notion of biologically “fixed races” that our society inherited from the racist pseudoscience of the 18th century and drew upon to justify and the property rights of masters who fathered children with their slaves.

However, what else it does say according to the Root.com is black people in this country are surprisingly “white.” Their genomes are composed of quite a lot of European ancestry. Judging from these test results, the bottom line is that black and white Americans are interconnected at the level of their genomes, and African Americans are a profoundly “mixed” people, far more than anyone thought possible before these DNA tests were invented. And no matter what your features are — your shade of brown, your hair texture, the shape of your lips and nose — if you are an African American reading this column, you are likely “mixed.” Read more here


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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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