Far be it from me to not enjoy healthy cultural and racial discourse, but today’s New York Times piece by Rachel Swarns and Jodi Kantor’s detailing first lady Michelle Obama’s genealogy, which includes an unknown white great-great-great-grandfather, has a troubling puffiness to it. They write
In the annals of American slavery, this painful story would be utterly unremarkable, save for one reason: This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, represents the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House.
Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the first lady.
Outside of chronicling the story of one enslaved woman whose eventual offspring would reach the White House in historic fashion–a fascinating story no doubt–what exactly does this story do? Outside of those in abject denial and wallowing in willful ignorance, who is having their mind blown by this? Is this considered news because she’s the First Lady or is there something else?
In another article by the Times editors, Dr. Henry Louis Gates adds a good deal of intrigue to the discussion with the following
As we have shown in the “African American Lives” series on PBS, fully 58 percent of African Americans have at least 12.5 percent European ancestry. Only 5 percent, in spite of widespread myths to the contrary, have as much Native American ancestry. And between 30 and 35 percent of all African American males can trace their paternal lineage (their y-DNA) to a white man who impregnated a black female most probably during slavery.
Yes; Dr. Gates is a colleague, but I legitimately raised an eyebrow when I read that. So I’ll still ask: In the discussion of intermingled blood lines and the American landscape, isn’t the above the real story?