vendredi, novembre 27, 2009

Roots and branch

Before President Obama and his wife Michelle made the White House a symbol of racial and ethnic diversity, I interviewed a Unitarian minister from New England. The place was the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. He and many ministers from other denominations had gathered for a service of reparations for slavery. I was covering it for RNS, and wrote about it when it happened.

Having had a DNA test done, he had found out that in his family tree ran the blood of slaves and slave-holders. Or perhaps it's more correct to say he had DNA from Africans and Caucasians as well as some Native American blood.

I wish I could say the same. Not that I wanted to have ancestors who owned slaves -- I could tell it was something this man had to work through. My Hebrew great-greats were more likely to have been slaves. Not that this gives me any borrowed nobility -- as it doesn't give him any intrinsic blame. But since that time, I've wondered about taking the DNA test. Maybe I've got some Spanish blood from an ancient converso marriage. Maybe there is some ethnic diversity way back on the family tree.

Since I spoke with him, I've been, well, a little jealous. How cool it would be to be to testify to the possibility of a postracial world in oneself.

It's not that I had an "Obama" moment -- I just had the sense that the dream of racial equality might come faster if some of us lilies found out we were really tulips and roses.

It's so absurd that we judge by color -- and yet pervasive, like the pollution over Los Angeles. How many millions of people have been killed for being black rather than white, for speaking a different language, for having Semitic features? I have friends with biracial kids, and I have a feeling even they will encounter prejudice.

Many judge President Obama by how dark his skin is. Bias has just gone a little underground.

I'm proud of my heritage, and appreciative. But it seems to me that the closer we get to tracing our common ancestors, the better off we will be.

I asked my ex yesterday if he would get a DNA test -- some of his relatives go back centuries here. But he didn't seem interested. So I guess I'll be happy with the genes God has given me -- scholarly, left-handed, Semitic, near-sighted, flat-footed (and a runner) , and a reformer. We don't all have to symbolize the melting pot -- we just have to make sure there is room for all of us at the table.

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