So Much More than DNA

I heard recently that Susan Warren got a DNA test and the tales of being part Cherokee were indeed true. On the one hand, this made me really happy, because theoretically it takes the wind out of the GOP establishment’s sails on mocking her for claiming First Nations ancestry while looking white. On the other hand, I think it brings up something really problematic: our cultural identity shouldn’t be tied to our DNA. As soon as the Europeans starting invading the Americas, they were bearing offspring with the natives. By the 1800’s there were plenty of First Nations people who were genetically half European and that’s without even considering all the people who were patriated in North American nations. Jews, Kurds and other peoples without countries wander and intermarry. What’s important is keeping the culture alive and how insulting would it be to tell someone they aren’t really a Jew, because their DNA test came back 90% Northern European?

Moreover, even if someone is 5% Inuit, what would it matter if they weren’t raised in that culture and had no ties to it. On the flip side, if someone is only 5% African, but they look black and are subject to all the institutional racism and cultural prejudice, what does it matter if that person is 95% European? Race is important to talk about in terms of perception and thus how people treat you, but I really don’t think it’s useful to talk about in terms of genetics. My sisters and I look very different. My younger sister with her big hazel eyes, super pale skin and classically European features, can’t understand what it’s like for me looking vaguely Asian and I can’t understand what it’s like for my older sister looking classically semetic. I’ve never been racially profiled or looked at with suspicion by security as my older sister has, while my younger sister never gets asked what country she’s really from.

I hope that Susan Warren now just either drops the Native American claim, now that it’s been proved, or reaches out the Cherokee and asks them to indoctrinate her in this lost piece of her heritage. I think it’d be awesome if she embraced it and learned all about this people one of her ancestors came from and became a part of their culture. Though honestly, I don’t know how you’d do that and be an active member of congress at the same time. At any rate, let’s leave the DNA tests alone and let people self identify the cultures that they grew up and choose to be a part of.