The more I learn about genetics, the more I realize that there is no such thing as race. There is more genetic variation within a ‘race’ than there is between European, African or Asian groups. However, with the new DNA tests available for paternal, maternal and ethnic origins, I can’t help imagining the specter of a new discrimination.
It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss book, The Sneetches. The Star-Belly Sneetches are better than the Plain-Belly Sneetches. We get our DNA tested, and we learn that we are part of a distinct haplogroup. Will we wear our haplogroup like a badge of honor? The conversation might go like this…
“I’m an R1b. There are more of us in Europe than any other group. We have deep Celtic origins.”
“I’m an I1a. We were in Europe before you. My Norse Vikings are stronger than your Celts.”
“I’m G2a. We are a small group and got to the party late. While your ancestors were fighting we brought agriculture and metalworking to Europe.”
While our yDNA and mitochondrial DNA tests are very enlightening, they represent an incredibly small portion of our entire genetic identity. Autosomal DNA can give a more recent view of our ethnic makeup, showing the relative amounts of our African, Asian and European heritage. Our children will see those relative amounts get watered down or even washed away and replaced with new chunks of DNA from our spouses. The results from our genetic tests will never define who we are.
DNA origins add color to what can be a black and white picture of our family history.
At the end of the Dr. Seuss story, every Sneetch has dozens of stars on every part of their bodies. The story has always been an apt metaphor about discrimination. Our DNA is like those stars, some large, some small and spread all over. We are indistinguishable from each other except for a handful of phenotypes dictating our hair, eye and skin color.
Hi, I’m human. Nice to meet you!
Mike Maglio is the author of Deep into DNA, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist which focuses on the use of DNA in genealogical research. Mike can be found blogging at OriginHunters.