Finding Our Roots in Africa, Part 2

Brandon’s post on Finding Our Roots in Africa posed a series of questions. To help the dialogue along, I would like to post here my answers to his 7 questions. Please do the same in the comments section of either post.

1) If you could, would you like to able to learn about your ancestry going back to and before slavery? And if so, what do you think are the possible benefits or drawbacks?
Anything that a person can learn about where and whence they came is a great thing. It definitely instills a sense of self-worth and pride knowing what people who bled the same blood as you have experienced. This gives you the opportunity to connect with them spiritually as well as intellectually, and engage both living and dead ancestors in ways that will enlighten you as to what you are made of, literally. There is also the benefit of being able to give a definitive answer about where you come from. Immigrants can do this. Refugees can do this. We, the descendants of slaves, cannot readily answer this question. I for one am envious of those that can point to the specific section of India that there family is from and has been for the past 300 years. I think that is absolutely awesome. I want to be able to do that as well.
I am concerned that folks at racist organizations such as the Pioneer Fund, has a long history of subsidizing efforts to prove blacks are genetically inferior to whites, will take this DNA mapping of Black people to certain places and equate it to Black inferiority. Those who agreed and still agree with Thomas Jefferson that Black people are physically inferior to white people or with David Hume who believed that Black people were “naturally inferior” to white people will likely want to twist this to support their claims. Think about this in the same way that conservatives spun Bill Cosby’s crusade to fit their own messages. I don’t want that, and I don’t think too many other people do either. I think that the same can be said of those who believe in eugenics as legitimate science, and YES, there are people alive who believe in such nonsense. I also think that I may have mixed feelings if I were to find out that I was not “wholly” Black. That might complicate my world view a bit. I did not see the special, so I would like to further understand the science behind this research. The engineer in me can’t help but be a little bit skeptical. Finally, being a complete skeptic, I’d be worried about this stuff ending up in some US government database.

I don’t want to give those I disagree with any ammunition. However, none of these drawbacks are worth the price of ignorance.

2) Is it important for you to have a working knowledge of current events in Africa or its history? And if so, what books/articles/internet sources have been particularly useful?
This is absolutely important, as such knowledge helps one to gain perspective on who they are. Knowledge of history and knowledge of current events contribute to knowledge of self in the same way that knowledge of your family history and knowledge of your personal thoughts, emotions, and preferences are part of knowledge of self. They all lead you down the path to answering that all important question: who are you?

3) Have you ever heard family members or friends say disparaging comments about African people? How did you respond?
Absolutely, and it is truly sad. I am ignorant to my concrete ties to my ancestry in any part of the African continent, but I do know that they are people like me. “Civilization” is a subjective term. People today equate non-Westernized lifestyles to barbarism the same way they did hundreds of years ago. The difference is that hundreds of years ago, we had a lot fewer black people peddling those messages.

4) Do you view Africans with the same kinship that you show towards Blacks in America?
I almost do, and I know many people do not. That is terribly sad because I am fighting through the lie that says that they area not me and I am not them. That is the same lie that labels me as an “African-American” and not Black. What does that really mean? Can you point to “Africa-America” on a map? I can’t. It’s all B.S. See my answer to question #6 for more on this lack of kinship.

5) How far can you trace your lineage?
My family has actually traced its history back to being brought to the West Indies. I would be interested in tracing it further. We did this back in 1990 when technology was not accessible, so I can only imagine what we may find out if we combined today’s methods with the information we already have.

6) Do you think there could ever be true unity/appreciation between Blacks in America and Africa?
There could be, since peace is a possibility between all groups of peoples, especially those with some sort of inherent connection. Ignorance about one another is the main barrier, as we tend to look at “Africans” through our “american” eyes as opposed to looking at them for who they are: us. “Divide and conquer” is the most effective way to destroy anything, and it has been successful in murdering our identities, our self-esteems, and our dreams for tomorrow. The fact that this question is even posed is a sign that we need to tear down these negative perceptions we have about one another and build tangible, positive relationships.

7) If you could trace your family tree back to slavery, what questions would you like the answers to the most?
The question I would be most interested in knowing is if I had blood relatives walking some part of this planet that I have never dreamed of. I would like to know if things about my person (e.g. my size/shape, my affinity for technology, etc.) were things common in people from the place where my family originated. That would be fascinating.

These are all important and thought-provoking questions. It is therapeutic simply answering these. Think how much more healing could be realized after finding out who we really are.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

2 responses to “Finding Our Roots in Africa, Part 2”

  1. Y says :

    Your responses to Brandon’s questions ARE thought provoking. You definitely made very interesting points, especially in your response to question number 1.
    It was just as therapeutic reading it as it was for you to write it.

  2. t.HYPE says :

    Here’s an article to add to the DNA paranoia: DNA Could Predict Your Surname. Basically, using DNA to narrow down crime suspects based on the inherited Y chromosome linked to your family name. Talk about circumstantial evidence…

    I don’t think they’ll do that in the states though but it might work in Britian.

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