"First, they'll sell your DNA, then...
they'll clone you..."
Blah, blah, blah.
My whole life I have had this question pounding against both hemispheres of my brain,
"Who am I?"
And while my grandmother and family have never failed to share a story or tell me what they know about our history, there's only so much a family descended from slavery can and is willing to share.
My family is from a small town in Kentucky...
On weekend and holidays, we would travel from the city of Louisville, where my grandmother and some aunts and cousins lived, to that small town to see the rest of our family. We would go to my great-grandparents house and the entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins, third cousins, distant cousins, friends, etc) would eat Sunday dinner and mingle. My great-grandmother's house sat at the top of a hill. The porch was the perfect spot to relax on a hot, humid, Kentucky summer day. I remember swinging on her porch swing, even then, taking it all in. Every holiday, every Sunday, even random events in-between, that was where our family gathered, this was
Growing up, I recognized that I was lucky to have a relationship with my great-grandparents. After they passed, I wanted anything to go back in time and ask them questions about their growing up. I wanted their childhood stories, and to hear them reminiscence about their upbringing. I wanted stories about their parents and their parents- parents, and so on. One thing that I realized was that my family liked to keep the past in the past. Never had the word slavery come up during those Sunday dinners, we all knew where we stemmed from, but I wasn't immune to the thought of being something other than black...
I'm really not black, I'm anything other than this deep dark skin, kinky- coily hair, full nose, full hips.
... too many times to count I made up some tall tale about being mixed, or having Spanish heritage, or that my long hair came from some far-fetched background.
I could say that my stuggle with identity was due to a number of factors.
1. Lack of representation of black girls in books, on television, in magazines, etc...
2. The constant bombardment of white faces in theses mediums and the never ending urge to change my dark skin, coily hair, full nose, full hips to meet the needs of society.
3. Not knowing my history.
All three were factors, but a major contributor to my denial of being black was not knowing, and not understanding where I came from.
I don't know when I stopped hating my skin. I don't remember when I began to accept that I am a descendant of slaves. At some point, I started to realize that the pain and suffering my ancestors endured made them some of the strongest people in the world. I became proud of who I am, but I wanted to know more.
You can only go back so far in the U.S. Census if you're African American.
That's where Ancestry DNA came in. Don't get me wrong, the moment I heard about it I was skeptical, too. It seemed risky to me, but every time I saw a commercial or an advertisement, and every time I looked at Youtube videos of results from other African Americans, I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to know what a census record couldn't tell me.
What African countries were my ancestors from?
What other nationalities found their way into my DNA?
I didn't want a wild guess. I wanted actual numbers, a mathematical answer to the question,
"Who am I?"
The kit arrived. I spat in it, mailed it back, and waited...
I have to admit, I was on pins and needles waiting for my results. I checked my email constantly. I waited, and waited, and got frustrated the longer I waited.
I just wanted to know!
Meanwhile, to occupy my time, I watched Nollywood movies, something I've been doing for at least the past decade. If you don't know, Nollywood is the second largest producer of films, just behind Bollywood, but ahead of Hollywood. I can't remember the first Nollywood movie I saw, but after watching it, I was hooked. I loved seeing Genevieve Nnaji and Mercy Johnson, among countless others. I loved seeing Nigeria on screen, and wondering,
is this where I'm from?
In many ways, the people on screen resembled myself and people in my family, then in many ways, they didn't. My family also resembled people from other African countries, too, but Nigeria was always the one country that stuck out. Nigeria was always the one country that kept calling me.
Maybe it was intuition? Maybe it was my ancestors telling me "Brittany, this is who you are..." or, maybe it was just a lucky guess.
I can't really articulate what I felt after I saw my results. It was a mixture of:
My results told me a lot of what I already knew and much of what I didn't.
The results didn't answer all of my questions, either.
Was the 13% European from my ancestors being raped by their masters?
More than likely.
And what this snapshot of results doesn't show is the small percentage of Pacific Islander DNA that also runs through my veins.
Where did that come from?
What the results did give me was more of a peace of mind.
A visual way to recognize:
This is who I am.
These countries are specifically where my ancestors are from.
The results have also let me connect with relatives from all over, distant and not so distant. Sometimes, looking at the results of who I'm related to is a shock, but at the end of the day, I never would have known if I had not taken the test.
Whether you have your DNA analyzed by Ancestry, or some other company, or not, let it be your choice. People have many reasons for doing what they do, this included. Do it. Don't do it. It's up to you.
At the end of the day, I'm happy that I did. I'm happy that that question that relentlessly racked my brain is finally answered.
I know who I am.