Updated: Jun 19
So, where to even begin. I am using my GI Bill, post Navy retirement, and taking a sociology class as one of my general education credits. In our 6th week the topic is race and racism, it is a very diverse class, with all of us being former or current military. Given the current climate and civil unrest we are experiencing I went into this class a little nervous about how everything was gonna go down. I knew that we would be challenged to talk about some tough stuff but I didn't expect people to flat out leave and our class to eventually be shutdown (we are currently on zoom) halfway through. The question that set the whole thing up was about if you believe it is important to pass down your immigrant heritage (or something to that affect) to your children or to let them become completely assimilated. I felt the question was somewhat challenging because the only culture I have ever known is from here where I was born. One student who is first generation Laotian said that he teaches his kids about American culture because he identifies as such.
His reasoning being he moved here so young and again knows nothing else. One woman, who is black, spoke up about her ancestors being slaves and her heritage being stripped away from her. She was uncertain what to do and seemed genuinely bemused with the question. This is where the class took a turn for the worse. Another student, a white woman, spoke up offering her the advice that getting a DNA test, finding out where she is from, learning about it, and in turn celebrating it. She was convinced that this was the best course of action. One student, a black woman, left. The other woman, who had brought up her ancestors, looked at her perplexed and then also left. The rest of us, 14 people of very mixed ethnicities, began deconstruction and attempted as civil a discussion as we could (it was a shit show). None of us could agree what was right or how the situation should have been handled and so on. That being said, the first woman, eventually came back. Next turn into further non constructive communication. The first woman reaffirmed the stripping of her culture while the second just said DNA, DNA. That went on for about 10 minutes with escalating volumes and no one actually listening. The teacher ended class and shut the zoom call down about halfway through our normal class time. I left very sad. So why do I tell you this story? Well, because I did some research into DNA tests regarding African Americans. I used some context clues regarding stripped heritage, etc. to guide my search and found some interesting and very sad things out. The vast majority of black people, when they do their DNA, end up finding out their ancestors were slaves, as if they don't already know that. They find out they were enslaved, no shit, and then paid to have some scientist reaffirm what they already know. All for $99. This woman who was attempting to convey that her heritage had been stripped away wasn't wanting DNA testing advice. She just wanted us to know that it was gone and there is no getting it back. There are 80 countries in Africa. And so people died at sea on the way over that the DNA trail usually ends there. But again, she fucking knows that. The ones related to the oppressed, and whom in so many ways are still oppressed, know that. The rest of us, whom are in some way related to the oppressors, don't. We don't know because we don't care to look. Hey I did a DNA thing and I found out so much! Great for you, but this other woman is really upset about that offering of advice, so why not let it go? She was upset about heritage and DNA and it took 5 minutes to google it to find out why. We can all do better to let go of our own egos and our very strong desire to fit our narrative onto everyone else's experience. Even though 5 minutes of googling doesn't fix shit, it does help give us a shed of understanding. There are lifetimes of work to do with no simple solution. 13 generations, they were slaves. 3 generations, they have been free, if you can even call it that. Please listen, be compassionate, and search diligently for things that you don't understand. Read books. Google. You don't know what you don't know. And the more you look and learn about those around you the more you will actually learn about yourself.