You are African—whoever you are

September 24, 2007 | By | 10 Replies More

According to National Geographic’s Genographic Project, we are all African.  The DNA tests taken in many isolated native populations conclusively demonstrate that we are all no more than 2000 generations removed from Africa.  If you’d like, sign up and learn the path of your own migration out of Africa for only $100.  I do mean “only $100,” because it is a modern miracle that scientists in a laboratory can unravel that tiny history book buried in your DNA.  The story of DNA is really the study of miracle upon miracle.  What else can you say about a package so small that it can fit inside of an invisible cell yet, when unfolded, that same single cell’s worth of DNA stretches six feet?

It is a marvelous thing that we are all African.  Further, DNA studies have determined that we are all descended from an African Adam and Eve (though Adam never actually met Eve).  That we all share common ancestors means that we are all cousins.  You are my cousin.  Randomly pick the next person walking down the sidewalk.  That’s your cousin.  Go visit a great art gallery.  Your cousins painted all of the paintings.  Next time you see the cops slapping cuffs on a car thief, try to feel a little more empathy for the guy in cuffs, because he’s your cousin.  That we are all so closely related is a special treat for those of us who have adopted children from around the world.  In my case, it means that I am biologically related to my (adopted) Chinese children—such wonderful joyous irony!

That we are all one family is a huge triumph of science, a finding that might someday counteract the bigoted tendencies of many political organizations and religions.  Many of us, of all skin hues, had ancestors who migrated out of Africa together.  Our DNA is 99% identical to the DNA of any other person on Earth.  With this information provided by dedicated scientists, we now know that we are all related to every group of “chosen people.”  There’s no need to allocate magic real estate to particular “special” people.  Whoever those chosen people are, we’re their cousins. Therefore each of us is “chosen” and “special” too.  Let’s not kill each other over magic real estate any more.

These high-tech modern biological achievements should make us think twice whenever we hear others talking about “them.”   Any sort of “them,” any outgroup.  That we are all African should make us extremely wary of using the term “race.”  We’re all one race, though with different features and shades of brown.

Now that it is clearer than ever that we are all African, it is clearer that those who ask about race are racists.  Those who aren’t racists don’t think about “race” because they have no use for its gross over-generalizations.

I agree with the following distinction between geographic and “racial” distinctions: 

There is nothing wrong with using geographic labels to designate people.  Major continental terms are just fine, and sub-regional refinements such as Western European, Eastern African, Southeast Asian, and so forth carry no unintentional baggage. In contrast, terms such as “Negroid,” “Caucasoid,” and “Mongoloid” create more problems than they solve. Those very terms reflect a mix of narrow regional, specific ethnic, and descriptive physical components with an assumption that such separate dimensions have some kind of common tie. Biologically, such terms are worse than useless. Their continued use, then, is in social situations where people think they have some meaning.

On a lighter note, I can now fully justify the way in which I’ve been handling demographic forms for the past ten years or so.   For “race,” I’ve been checking the box next to “African” (though I’ve never done this to obtain any sort of benefit).  I’ve chosen “African” because that is where the evidence is increasingly pointing—that we are, indeed, African.  All of us.  Learn to love this thought–it is something you hold in common with every person you’ve ever admired.

So let’s remind our jingoist leaders of these new findings of biology whenever they get carried away talking about an ominous group of “them.”  Let’s remind those who divide that whoever “they” are, “they” are part of our big biological family and we should always be putting more energy into getting along with them than into dividing our family or getting ready to start what would inevitably be another internecine war.   Let’s remind the dividers of the world that the use of “race” is always, at bottom, a coarse exercise of power.  In fact it is the “power of an illusion.”

So do consider spending that $100 with the Genographic Project or, at least, thinking about doing it.   If for no other reason, do it for a clearer worldview.  Do it for your cousins. 

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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Evolution, Meaning of Life, Religion, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (10)

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  1. Just Chris says:

    That means then, All the People are actually Kambas..! Praise God.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Just Chris: You've got to be careful with your analysis. It's not that we are all actually members of any particular ethnic group currently found in Africa. What the DNA research shows is that the Kamba (or any other modern day African group) and all other modern day humans both descended from an earlier group of people who did live in Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Though we are not all Kamba, we each have African roots. Here's what you can say: All modern humans are cousins.

  3. Ron Elliott says:

    It's curious that I have to post this at these sites occasionally. The exponential nature of human reproduction binds us ALL inextricably to the past. Specifically, since we each have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 Greats, etc., etc., its mathmatically inescapable that were all those "ancestors" different people, as we looked backwards at our roots, by the time of the Dark Ages there would have to have been a trillion or quadrillion humans on earth. There weren't.

    Statisticians have long since demonstrated that every human who 1. lived at least 1,600 years ago, and 2. had at least two (2) offspring who had offspring, EVERY such person is the remote ancestor of every human now on Earth. We are all the descendants of African slaves and princes, Confucius, Julius Caeser, Queen Nefertiti and the Pharoah Akhnaton, various and sundry Emperors, whores, Generalissimos, saints, and all the rest. We're not Africans, we're PEOPLE. Not all GENTICALLY related by the way. By any valid criterion, "race" is a behavioral category, not a biological one. Its how we treat one another.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Ron: I never relied on "race" for my post. I find "race" to be an almost entirely useless and dangerous concept.

    When I wrote that we're African, I meant that each of us shared a small group of ancestors who migrated out of Africa to populate the world. That is the finding of the Genographic Project. Maybe we can compromise: each of us is a descendent of the same (smallish) group of people who originally evolved into biologically modern humans in Africa.

  5. Carmen Giggey says:

    Thank you for your excellent article. This great grandmother grew up in a large metropolitan city during racial segregation but my environment was always integrated (church, school, friends). My church taught that if you didn't like the way God made a person, regardless of their color, etc. you were insulting God. (my school was religious and students came from around the world) When you grow up around friends representing most of the races in the world, you learn to look beyond the color of their skin. Even today, when I meet someone I don't often remember the color of their skin – but I remember them. I LOVE THE FACT THAT WE ARE COUSINS.

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    We are all African, and we are all related by six degrees of separation based on a new study reported by the Washington Post.

    With records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people from around the world, researchers have concluded that any two people on average are distanced by just 6.6 degrees of separation, meaning that they could be linked by a string of seven or fewer acquaintances.

    Here's the full article.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    From a conversation with Svante Pääbo at Edge.org, we are all African:

    There is a lot of evidence in the sense that Africa is more genetically diverse; there's more variation in Africa than for all humans outside Africa, although there are a lot fewer people there — only 800 million people or so.

    Everything we find outside Africa has close relatives inside Africa in terms of genetic variance. But that's why I often like to say that if we look at our genome, our DNA, we are all Africans today.

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/paabo09/paabo09_i

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