Dear Race Manners:
52.9. I’d never given much thought to this arrangement of numbers until a few months ago. Those digits represent a majority of my ancestral makeup. During a recent DNA examination, I discovered that 52.9 percent of my ancestors are European. My African relatives make up 43.4 percent of my DNA (including 28 percent West African). A small fraction of Native American rounds out my heritage.
This came as a bit of a shock because my family has always considered itself African American. We are on the lighter side—and so clearly someone was lying to someone along the way—but 52.9? That’s a bit high and surprising.
I’m African American, and my feelings about my own culture will never change. But as I think about my own family, I wonder what I’ll tell my children when they ask, “What are we?” —DNA Dilemma
Tell them they’re African American.
These days, “What am I?” and “What are we?” are tougher questions with less-predictable answers than ever. Not only do an increasing number of Americans identify as biracial or multiracial (not to mention multicultural), but our current handful of standard racial categories are proving to be less trustworthy all the time.