Like middle-aged women dying their hair fluorescent colors and young women dying their hair iron gray, DNA testing has become fashionable even without necessarily leading to positive results.
Do we really need to know more about our ancestral heritage, as if we’re characters out of “Game of Thrones” and desperate to figure out whether to pledge allegiance to wolves, dragons or the incestuous Lannisters, thereby becoming part of some larger powerful dynasty?
While finding out information about your grandparents’ hometown might be fun, shrines to bloodlines aren’t such a good idea, especially when neo-Nazis — armed with their hand-painted homemade shields (as if arts and crafts have replaced Sturm und Drang) — might just change their goal from world domination to “extreme ancestry.”
In an increasingly diverse world, why are we trying to locate our individual genetic pattern anyhow? Is it because, when you go to the website for a popular DNA testing service called “23 and Me,” you’re greeted with the motto “Everyone Has a DNA Story”?
Maybe your family is perfect, but my first reaction was that a lot of DNA stories should be put on “do not resuscitate” orders — they should not be revived but, like sleeping dogs, left to lie.
Remember, it wasn’t until about 60 years ago that you could tell if your DNA matched the rest of your family’s. There was a reason why Homer (not from the “The Simpsons” but the “The Odyssey”) observed, “It’s a wise child that knows its own father.”
Illustrating “Everyone Has a DNA Story” is a cheerful white woman in athletic gear, sporting an iPod and an unfocused gaze. Next to her is the following text: “Scandinavian 34.5 percent and lactose intolerant.”
So the mysteries solved by hundreds of years of science are that Blondie is partly Scandinavian and gets gassy when she eats cheese? For that she needed to know what land masses her distant relatives traversed to get her family to, say, Milwaukee?
At another popular site run by Ancestry.com, a white woman cheerfully announces “Holy crow! I’m related to George Washington.” We learn that “Emily found a presidential cousin — who could be hiding in your family tree?”
I think my family tree was the one cut down by the young George Washington. Not that I’m bitter.
Families have a wide assortment of pasts. Some people have excruciatingly detailed family histories and can trace their lineage back to amoebas, presumably wearing tiny distinctive crests or tartans when they separated in the primordial muck. They’re very proud of being able to point to the first traces of these organisms, as if dissemination were somehow an acquired skill, like the bro-sis couple in “Game of Thrones.”
Some family trees don’t fork. But they do spoon.
But enough about white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and other groups giving the lunatic fringe a bad reputation; the rest of us have to start seeing the points at which our lives connect rather than disconnect.
Sniffing out ethnic or racial bloodlines and tracking individual family trace molecules won’t bring us closer as a community or as a nation.
Discovering our collective human blueprints might.
You do that through education, by sharing values and understanding history. You don’t do it by swabbing the inside of your cheek.
Those who believe in the superiority of an ethnic white heritage are a feeble and fearful group. Fueled by fanatical beliefs they cannot render in intelligible terms and driven by degraded ideologies the origins of which are rooted in superstition, bigotry and pathology, they want to blame their failures on somebody — as long as that person doesn’t look like their kin.
Threatening, lazy and impotent, metaphorically if not literally, they regard every successful woman, every successful person of color, every successful recent immigrant, every successful person who is slightly different in any way (queer, non-fundamentalist-Christian, artistic, funny or well-dressed) as repudiation.
There must be an excuse for the fact that they have nothing to strive for, except a past that might have an ancestor hiding in a branch somewhere.
They might believe that branch is currently the executive one. Let’s prove them wrong. The past is done and the future doesn’t belong to them. It’s not about any single group’s DNA, resume, IQ or ZIP code. It’s about all of us.
By Gina Barreca
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut. She wrote this for The Hartford Courant. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)