Archive for September, 2011
In my last post, I wrote about DNA and race. I would have liked to have written a long expository post on the science behind the piece, but instead opted for “readable”. However, there was still more I wanted to share about my own experience with DNA testing. I hope it will be of interest to anyone who has ever admired a baby, attributing traits like curly hair, skin color or temperament to race and breeding.
My father’s family came from Scotland, my mother’s from Mexico. When I wanted to know more about my roots, I thought DNA would provide some answers. Perhaps the tests would reveal a proud lineage going back to Glasgow, Camelot, or some other tea-drinking place in the U.K. Maybe I would learn I was descended from Mayans, Incans or Aztecs. It seemed so simple. Send some cells, watch the mailbox, wait for the “big reveal.”
To trace one’s family lines, two different kinds of DNA are needed. Male lineage (paternity) is traced through the examination of DNA from the Y-Chromosome, carried by males. Maternal DNA samples are taken from mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through females in a line. Since my father is no longer living, my brother provided DNA to trace my father’s bloodline. My husband also sent a sample, because he was anxious to know about his Italian heritage. We were all eager to find out who we were. Finally, the envelope arrived, providing us with more questions, than answers.
Back then, I proudly thought of my burly kilt-wearing ancestors as a distinct race. I had yet to realize they were an amalgam of peoples including Vikings, Picts, Brits and Irish who had formed warring clans dating back to Medieval times–so much so that their European migrations and later migrations throughout the United States were usually the result of disagreements with the people around them. What I thought of as a unique bloodline, was actually from many places. Now that I know more of Scottish history, the most accurate thing I could say of my Scottish roots is: I come from a long line of people who don’t play well with others.
Answering questions about my nationality was easier before DNA testing. Because many assume I’m Native American, I’m asked often. It was convenient to say, “I’m Scottish and Mexican”. I don’t look typically Mexican, but I always chalked that up to Mexican features made more interesting by the addition of Celtic genes. In fact, with my height and angular features, I barely pass for Mexican. Still, I wasn’t expecting what the tests revealed. Instead of a tidy report of racial mix and geography, I got migration maps and a print out of DNA mutations, unique to our lineage.
It took some research to begin to understand the results, but here’s the short report. DNA tracking is based on variations and migrations. Each mutation becomes it’s own subdivision, called a haplo group. As ancient people migrated, their mutations left a kind of genetic trail. Turns out, my “Mexican” DNA is from Asia. It was brought to Mexico by the same people who became American Eskimos and other North American tribes. As it turns out, I have more genetic similarity to Mongolians than Mayans. This went along way to explaining the high cheekbones, wide faces and “Asian” eyes that show up on the “Mexican” side of the family.
Certainly, my husband’s DNA would be less confusing, because his family came from a more closely confined part of Italy. The migration of his DNA had a shorter path, out of Northern Africa, through the fertile crescent to Europe. His haplo group is still common in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Eastern Europe–especially Albania.
Then there was my paternal line. We had a few ideas about who we might be, but they didn’t include being Finnish or Spanish. It turns out that my father’s DNA was as common to the Mediterranean and Italy, as we would have expected my husband’s to be. The DNA also showed up in often in populations of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, making it probable that my Calvinist Baptist roots, were preceded by Jewish roots–something we‘d suspected.
So what does it all mean? It means what we call “race” is really more complicated (or more simple) than most of us think. We aren’t people of distinct races, but representatives of the groups with whom we live and breed. In fact, all the people of the world have beginnings in Eastern Africa. Geneticists say we are all born of an “Adam” and an “Eve”, being cautious not to suggest they might not be the ones you know from Sunday School. The qualities we associate with race, like body type, skin color or hair type, are not indicators of race, but rather evidence of dominant genes repeating or best suited-genes surviving.
In Dr. Thomas Spelsberg’s book, The Myth of Race, he explains people who live in places like Scandinavia are not light-skinned because they are Scandinavian, they are light-skinned because those with lighter skin are more apt to survive in Scandinavia. In the same way, those whose skin is too light for regions with harsh sunlight, will not fare as well as those whose traits are better adapted. This causes a slow evolution, by which geography influences traits.
DNA is tracked by following mutations from the original line off the alpha couple, Adam & Eve. In other words, we are all just mutant branches of the same family tree. Asians may have different DNA from Africans, but it isn’t because they are a different race. The traits we associate with race are result of genetic combinations, not racial variations in DNA. Recessive genes like blue-eyes can become a dominant trait, when the more dominant trait for brown eyes, becomes less frequent in a given population.
Just like the Scots in my ancestry, we are all just the products of migrating clans. It will be some time before DNA becomes the standard by which we define who we are, but it seems probable that in the future, questions about race and nationality, will be replaced with conversations about DNA haplo groups.
Deb’s Note: The cost of DNA testing is becoming more reasonable than it was a few years ago, at about $150. per person. National Geographic and Ancestry.com both have registries intended to help people find people who could be related. To learn more about DNA and race, check out The Myth of Race, by Thomas C. Spelsburg.
Sometimes when I’m watching politicians, I wonder if they’re really actors. It’s confusing, because actors think they’re politicians–doing their best to tell us how to vote. The politicians must be confused too, because they often think they’re scientists or scientists and social engineers. I took Civics, but don’t remember anything entrusting the government with responsibility for interpreting science or re-engineering society for us. However, I remember be taught about Hitler trying that.
When did it become government’s job to interpret issues for us? When did they become responsible for legislating what we should think in regards to religion, science or sociology? It seems legislators are doing their best to make sure we all walk the same dogma, as they purge history books of history, in order to make room for more politically advantageous things. We are supposed to believe they know best–that they are smarter than the great collective of American thinkers. Whether the issue is climate change, or diversity, any person who refuses to embrace the groupthink is deemed an uneducated moron. Take for example the controversy regarding Evolution vs. Creationism comes up a lot. I know what I believe, but I’d never be so arrogant as to suggest it’s the only viewpoint, or the only thing that should be taught. It takes neither faith, nor intellect to believe something, if you’ve only heard one side.
It’s not just science or history, the government wants to tell us how we should feel about those around us–how we should view people of other lifestyles, religions and races. It is easy for those, like myself, who live in diverse communities with little racism, to deny it’s existence, but racism is alive and well. Unfortunately, the most insidious form of racism is that which disguises itself as a progressive effort to eradicate racism.
In the most regrettable era of United States history, Africans were treated as subhuman. Wise leaders, struggle, and bloodshed abolished slavery, but even a century later, many still refuse to acknowledge African-Americans as equals. Every minority in this country has faced their own struggles, but none have suffered more than our “Black” citizens.
Black–I think that means all those with brownish skin who are not Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander Caucasian or Hispanic. Not sure, but I think the current politically correct term is African-American. That’s a silly term, considering there were Africans here, before the British-Americans who wrote the constitution.
I’ve lost track of all the terms used for “blacks” in my lifetime, but never mind that, I’m part Mexican and I can’t even figure out what I’m supposed to call myself. I hear terms like “Mexican-American” will soon be changed to American-Mexican. It’s semantics, but why are those, who want us to stop labeling and embrace diversity, the biggest purveyors of labels? I’m part Super Taco, part Big Mac, in other words, I’m American! Want an affirmative action? How about we stop classifying people by race?
The “smart” people are doing their best to make sure the rest of us think they way they want us to, but I think it’s time for those know-it-alls to dust off their biology books. Here’s a little lesson for the smart people, coming straight from a good ol’ girl educated in a pre-progressive public school smack-dab in the center of the oft-maligned state of Arizona:
There is no such thing as race.
My entire life, I was always aware of my skin color and sometimes wondered if it made me a less desirable specimen of humanity, but I was still raised to be as proud of my European and Hispanic roots, as I was of my American heritage. However, I wanted to know more about where my family came from, so I turned to DNA testing for answers. I’ve always been fascinated by how the sequences of four nucleotide bases combine to make each of us–even those who are one of a set of identical twins, unique. However I was very surprised by what I learned in my latest look at DNA. My quest to find out about myself, turned into a lesson about the human race.
Notice I didn’t say human races?
That’s right kids, there is only one race. We don’t all look alike, we may not come from the same continents, but we are all the same race with variations.
Those who are still making distinctions between Asians, Blacks and Hispanics may think they’re progressive, but they’re actually very behind the times. They might as well be back in the 1850s or 1950s, because their view of race is anything but progressive.
Previously, I wrote about the new addition of a dog to our house. At first I was convinced he was some kind of German Shepherd mix, but as he’s grown, it’s harder to figure out what he is, because he’s an indecipherable mix. There are DNA tests for dogs, but they wouldn’t tell me much more than I can guess looking at him. My dog, like most Americans, is the magnificent product of many generations. His breeding is like most of ours–indistinct. He is a mutt, but he’s not a lesser dog.
No matter what external traits we exhibit, we are all the same species of the same race. We may have different hair color, eye color or skin color, but we are all the same race. See, in a lab, even the brightest and best of geneticists can’t identify race. It’s not that they haven’t figured out how, it’s that there isn’t any genetic difference. Traits associated with race are the result of adaptations and subtle changes in the DNA. It doesn’t matter whether you take that as proof of evolution or evidence of intelligent design–the DNA shows every single person on the planet comes out of the same lineage started in Africa.
That’s not politics, not religion, not dogma–it’s science. Those who believe that the genetic matter of an Asian, Black, or Hispanic is different than that of a white person, are as naïve as children who believe an egg dyed green will taste different from one dyed pink. Most of the traits we have used to define race are no more substantial than the difference between a brown egg or a white one. Whether you prefer brown eggs or white ones, once you remove the shell, they’re all just eggs.
Deb’s Note: In the next edition of de blog, more about DNA, including my own discoveries and explanations of why the use of race labels is an outdated practice.
She did her best to teach me all kinds of old-school niceties, like not wearing white after Labor Day, and knowing better than to wear a shoe colored lighter than my hem. She dressed me in ruffles and taught me to speak Catholic fluently. She imparted to me a knowledge of things like shrimp forks & demitasse spoons. Some of it stuck, not all of it useful, but I’ve yet to mistake a finger bowl for a cup of consommé.
Unfortunately, her vision for me didn’t mesh with my personality. Early on, God & I both knew I’d never be the proper Catholic girl she was cultivating. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a good teacher, it’s just I had my own ideas.
When it comes to indoctrination, I’m not a good student, and though the media has done it’s best to pick up where Mom left off, I’m still not making the grade. Whether it’s the aptitudes or attitudes, no number of talking heads, educators or civic leaders has been able to turn me into a virtuous woman. If I’d applied myself, perhaps by now, I might have mastered the lessons, but I’m still struggling with modern-day virtues–stuff like peace, tolerance and diversity.
PEACE - It sounds so nice, it should be easy. Blessed are the peacemakers. Does that include those who fly sorties? I hate conflict and fighting, but the concept of peace confuses me. I see bumper stickers reminding me to “Visualize World Peace“, but visions of crack-pot dictators with nuclear weapons always break my concentration. Maybe Adderall would help me believe anti-American zealots and I are only three cups of tea from being friends.
TOLERANCE – I should be a whiz at this. My Libertarian leanings make me naturally respectful of others AND I’m married. (Nobody stays married very long, without tolerance.) However, anyone who has ever picked up the dirty dishes or dirty clothes of a spouse, will attest, tolerance doesn’t mean embracing the other’s right to be a slob. It’s a coping mechanism–a way to survive and coexist, but nothing about tolerance translates to love, respect or approval. Tolerance is forfeiting what would please, to while enabling what offends. The entire tolerance concept is akin to driving down a one-way street. It is imperative that you go with the flow, even if you never wanted to head that direction.
DIVERSITY – I should have aced this subject. I love almost everyone. I rarely get bored with people, because we aren’t all the same, but it shouldn’t take a think-tank or policy to know embracing our commonalities makes for more unity, than focusing on our differences. There was a time when being American was like being on an all-star team drawn from many sources. We weren’t all from the same, and we weren’t all from the same place, but we were all on the same side. However, if the pitchers and catchers don’t work together or if the starters don’t appreciate the second string, the team begins to fragment. Diversity is good, but when we allow ourselves to be so self-absorbed, as to only recognize our own position, it’s only a matter of time before we forfeit the game to become free-agents of disenfranchisement.
There’s no hope for me. Someone else will have to save the world. I learned the catechism, but I failed to adopt the virtues. I believe all God’s children got a little bit o’ soul and I’ve learned to put up with other peoples’ stuff, but just as when I was young, I’m still held captive by my own ideas.
I adore men, but some of the things they do, make us gals crazy, frustrated or worse. Recently when a girlfriend asked the rhetorical question, “Why are men so dumb????” I pondered plausible explanations.
Perhaps its to protect them from realizing how smart we are.. or maybe it’s so when we get all stupid over them, it’s still a fair match.
Monica Lewinsky was in the news recently. You may be thinking she’s old news–she should she should be so lucky. The poor co-ed gained an unfortunate kind of infamy, after her dalliance with former president Clinton. She may be old news, but her name, and her claim to shame are still remembered. According to an article in the UK Daily Mail, “’She’s alone most of the time and is pretty much a social pariah” who has given up on finding love. The article suggests her professional and personal life have both been marred by her past.
Coincidentally, Bill Clinton has been in the media lately too. Heard he turned down Dancing with the Stars. Saw him on TV last night, looking old enough to enjoy a slow game of checkers with Jimmy Carter, but respected enough to be his opinions. Though the Lewinsky affair is the most memorable part of his legacy, it doesn’t seem to have effected him as negatively as it has Monica, in fact, I read that next month, Bono, Usher, and Gaga will be performing at the Hollywood Bowl in a special Clinton tribute.
So while Monica is eating alone at the back of some restaurant, Bill is seated front and center at national events. Monica is still paying for her involvement with Clinton, and though her affair with him was a huge mistake, but in her own needy way, she was every women–every woman who has ever shown poor judgement in regards to a man.
Her liason with Clinton wasn’t a high point for the presidency, or the country. It was a deplorable mess, as we were subjected to semantic nonsense and sordid details. Though I had contempt for the situation, I had compassion for her. His position and charisma, combined with her hopeful inexperience made her vulnerable to his approaches. If the man had been anyone else, she could have privately moved past her shame, chalking it up as a lesson regrettably learned, but HE was the President of the United States. Because of that, she lost her identity as an up-and-coming young woman, and gained unwanted notoriety. All this because she fell in love.
I can already hear the cynical snickers of those who are thinking I’ve confused illicit sex with love, but Monica didn’t see Clinton as an opportunistic womanizer, she saw him as one who might one day make her the next Mrs. Clinton. To which, one might ask, “How could she be so dumb?”
Was she the dumbest girl to have ever graduated from Bel Air Prep? Doubtful. Is it possible she was too dumb to know better than to get involved with a married man? Probably not. Was she too dumb to turn a congressional internship into the start of a promising career? I doubt it. It’s not that she was dumb, it’s just she wasn’t smart enough to realize even men in positions of honor and dignity are capable of exploiting an inexperienced girl. She should have run the other way, but she wasn’t smart enough to avoid doing stupid things.
If there is one thing with the power to make women stupid, it’s men. Men have a way of messing with, the otherwise smart & beautiful, heads of women, making the heart able to play tricks on the head. This is especially unfortunate, if a woman finds herself involved with a man who is acting only in his own best interests–like those who act out feelings they don’t have, in order to satisfy those they do–making it all too easy for a woman to become emotionally involved with the wrong person.
Sometimes smart women turn stupid because of men and as the stupidity takes hold, a woman finds it easier to ignore the little voice that tries to warn her and easier to believe the unrealistic. Eventually, she is sacrificing her own welfare, hoping it will all work out in the end.
I’m not justifying what Monica did, but she isn’t the first woman to lose her wits over a man. I don’t know if I’d like Monica Lewinsky, but I think I understand her. It’s clear she’s still living with the pain of her past and the media has shown no mercy. She isn’t the most sympathetic character, but I think I’d like her. In fact, I’d jump at the chance to get to know her over lunch or something and God knows I’d make a better friend than Linda Tripp.
If I could reach her on Twitter, I‘d say:
Move on girl, you’re better than this.
He’s stupid. Everyone knows he was a jerk.
Even smart girls make mistakes.
Sometimes men make smart women stupid.
We all make mistakes. Yours just got better coverage.
Sometimes men are stupid. Sometimes women are too.
Shoshona Hebshi is a–a 35-year old suburban housewife and an American. In this case “American” means half-Saudi, half Jewish. When she chose to fly on 9/11, she probably realized it was a day on which many were apprehensive, but she never expected what she experienced.
Seated between two men who appeared to be of Indian descent, the three strangers, became the object(s) of suspicion, after the gentlemen both used the lavatory. It is reported that the men both visited the bathroom (sequentially) and spent too much time there.
As the grounded plane was rolled to the far edge of the tarmac, fighter jets were scrambled. Shoshana wondered what was going on, as she watched a swat team, equipped with dogs and machine guns outside the plane window. Only when the armed men stormed the plane to handcuff and remove Shoshana and the two gentlemen, did she realize, she and those seated with her had been racially profiled.
Recently, I was out, when I got a call from my son. He wanted permission to ride bikes to a nearby store with his friend. At 12, he‘s very responsible, so I stifled my misgivings and gave consent, reminding him to be careful of traffic and cross with the lights.
I was convinced he was mature enough, but still I worried about possible mishaps. If he were to be struck by a car, I’d never forgive myself. My mind considered all the possible things that could happen, except the one which actually occurred, the thing that seemed least plausible.
The boys weren’t hit by a car. They weren’t approached by drug dealers or abducted by strangers, but as my son’s friend fumbled with the lock on his high-end bicycle, he was approached by a policeman. The policeman remarked on what a nice bike it was, then proceeded to ask where he got it, and who it belonged to. Meanwhile, the cop paid no attention to my son or his bicycle. This might be a good time to tell you my son‘s friend is sort of black and happens to own a very good bicycle. It might also be a appropriate to tell you, the nice bike my son was riding also belonged to his friend. In other words, the African-American was profiled.
Before you start thinking there was probably a good reason, let me describe this kid. He’s a nice boy, quiet, unassuming and always well-dressed–not in an attention-getting gangster way, but in the all-American kid-from-the-suburbs way. His Navy veteran parents have raised him to always say, “excuse me“ “please” and “thank you”. He’s a good student who would never address an adult without using the proper title of Miss, Mr. or Mrs.
Later, I retell the story to an associate and am appalled to hear them suggest it’s completely reasonable for a cop to stop a black kid on a good bike–after all, everyone knows how many crimes are committed by blacks.
Excuse me, but the only thing the boy was guilty of was revealing the prejudice of this particular police officer.
Shoshana Hebshi and I are both astounded by what appears to be little more than racial profiling. Profiling is illegal, but what is often overlooked is the responsibility of any officer charged with protecting others, to do his best to detect, anticipate and evaluate potential threats or suspects. So, while Californians are looking smugly down their noses at Arizona for the use of profiling to try to stem problems with illegal immigrants, TSA is lamely patting down grannies, afraid to be charged with racial profiling. It’s a no-win situation.
According to a paper written by Russ Leach, a Riverside County police manager, a common-sense definition of racial profiling is: “the use of race as the “sole” basis for a stop…the practice of detaining a suspect based on a broad set of criteria that casts suspicion on an entire class of people without any individualized suspicion of the particular person being stopped. “
By that definition, profiling is an abhorrent practice, but profiling has long played an integral part in good police work. Long before 9/11 and the debates over “profiling“, law enforcement officers have been trained and expected to develop and use their instincts. The best cops turn what they’ve learned from experience, into a database of reference material upon which they base their hunches. It’s a kind of “if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck” expertise, but problems arise when what appears to be a duck, turns out to be a goose or swan. What was once following one’s instincts, is now labeled “profiling”.
Like Shoshana, I am not happy about he the racial aspect of the incident, but race isn‘t the only thing at play in either event. The passengers on her flight reported that both men visited the plane’s bathroom, one for more than ten minutes. On the anniversary of the single worst terrorist act in American history, this made passengers nervous. With TSA’s ad campaign, admonishing air travelers with the slogan, “If you see something, say something” those passengers believed they were doing their civic duty by reporting what seemed suspicious to them.
So somebody has to make the call…whether to risk the safety of a plane full of passengers or to risk targeting someone who hasn’t done anything.
In the bicycle incident, there are any number of circumstances that would have legitimized the cop’s actions…a report of two high-end bicycles reported stolen; a description of a dark-skinned 14-year old, suspected of stealing bicycle; provocative behavior by one or both of the boys, or maybe just seeing a kid who seems to be struggling to get a bike off a rack.
I’m not happy about what seems to have been mostly a “race” thing, but I believe citizens, as well as every single individual entrusted with enforcing laws, must use common sense to figure out who the good guys are.
Read Shoshana Hebshi’s story on her blog:
At an age when a girl has hardly known the joy of walking or running, both her feet are broken. To those of us in The Western World breaking the feet of a small child would be justifiably called child abuse but to deliberately break the feet, then purposely stop them from healing, is unthinkably barbaric, yet the custom was practiced in China for hundreds of years.
The agonizing life-long process of foot-binding was performed to make women more attractive to men, giving them better marriage prospects and insuring they would spend their lives closely tethered to the home. Also guaranteed were a lifetime of pain, the stench of rotting flesh and maimed feet which would impair the ability to walk. Once the weight-bearing and balancing properties of the feet were altered, a girl with bound feet would never enjoy more mobility than a horse with hobbles. Like livestock branded and penned, husbands need never worry about their wives wandering far.
As the Chinese practice of foot-binding became an integral measure of desirability, the deformed foot and it’s accompanying odor became integral to the erotica of the age. The men of that era were even convinced foot-binding strengthened and enhanced a woman’s sexual response.
Eventually, foot-binding was banned, mostly because, in the age of communism, the women’s role as laborer superseded her role as sexual vessel. Women who had been the property of men, were now property of the state.
To us in The West, the practice is repulsive, cruel and bizarre, yet it is just one of many culturally-based beauty practices of unnatural body modifications and/or mutilations practiced in the world. Unusual practices like the lip-stretching of the East African Mursi tribes or the use of metal coils to elongate the neck by The Karen tribes of Thailand and Myanmar, seem strangely primitive to us, but are they really so much different from the practices of our sophisticated use of silicone and other materials to change the shape of our faces or bodies?
Nips, tucks, lipo, piercings, gauging, tattoos . . American women are no longer strangers to body alterations–with one big difference…we alone decide what we will do to be attractive. Whether budgeting for Botox or choosing a tattoo, the decision is our own. While our media and culture may indoctrinate us with ideas of beauty, we are not under an edict to conform.
Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to determine how much of what we do for ourselves is really a response to those who will see us or evaluate us. The need to be accepted, the hope of eliminating perceived flaws or the choice to conform to an ideal, fuel our decisions, but they also express our desire to be desirable. Even powerful women, who reject being subjugated by society’s expectations, may not realize the extent to which external messages become part of innermost feelings.
I know of what I speak, for as I write this, my mouth is filled with inconvenient metal and wires. Though they will eventually correct legitimate alignment problems, I’d by lying like a bad hairpiece if I didn’t admit, only the prospect of a better smile, makes the trade-off, worth the discomfort.
For more on the history of foot-binding: http://www.angelfire.com/ca/beekeeper/foot.html