I am White, but my DNA test says I have African ancestry. Does that make me Black?

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions everyday and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. 

POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red is an answer deemed most appropriate, although we recognize this is strictly opinion based.

Question

I’ve got White privilege beyond measure, yet my recent DNA test shows I’m not as much of a cracker as I’d been led to believe. Being completely excited about this development, I’ve tried to voice my pleasure but my racist family is still racist and somehow I’m coming off to POC like a Becky on her way to get cornrows. I promise. I’m not. I would like to research and travel in this new knowledge of myself without being offensive to people when I mention my reasons. Any suggestions on how to do so?

White Responses

Racism is not concerned with DNA. Racism exists solely to judge, and oppress, based on skin color. This type of thinking allows someone to enjoy the benefits, but not the reality. It allows a person to “protest” without realizing the day-to-day oppression that others feel. Imagine hearing that someone is excited to experience that when you know they can never really know what living in a Black or Brown or any color body truly feels like. Knowing you can never know what the oppression really feels like. Don’t mention reasons. Just submerse yourself in the history of racism and how you can do your part to dismantle.

Just a question – why do you have to reveal that at all? I mean it’s great and all but why not explore it without making this new discovery so central?

Honestly, I don’t really understand the obsession in the US with DNA tests…what does it matter if you’re 5% whatever? Like it doesn’t’ really make up your identity, does it?

Being a small percentage of something doesn’t make you understand their struggle. Almost all Americans are a weird conglomerate of things because of the history of the U.S. I really don’t see why it would be something you need to reveal to anyone. It really would come off as “I’m not racist, I’m a tiny bit Black!” Just use it as even more of a reason to life up POC and constantly check your own racism and that of those around.

White girl here. I feel like it’s one thing if she wants to go to family and friends and be like, “I learned this interesting thing about my ancestry and want to investigate further,” and another thing to like run for president of her college BSA and call the local news stations. I think it’s worth a personal exploration, but don’t see why it should change her identity at all.

Race is a social construct, not a biological truth. Her discovery of “Black DNA” (literally whatever that even means) means nothing about the way she is racialized by society, so I would steer her away from explorations of how this impacts her identity. Instead, I think focusing on how to explore the history there, could be fascinating and possibly impactful – who was this Black person in her family tree? Maybe coming up with some answers there could also guide conversations with her present day family.

If she really wants to talk about it, shouldn’t it be with White people in the context of “it’s quite possible this could come from despicable acts of my White ancestors”. Most White people I know would react to finding out about her ancestry with ‘Wow, that’s cool’ but would react to any comment that this might possibly have come about through a White person’s abuse of power with huge defensiveness. Explore that defensiveness and maybe she and the White person she’s talking to will get somewhere? I absolutely credit exploring my weird instinctive defensive reactions with becoming a slightly less ignorant White person. And I’m so grateful for every voice that helped me to be aware of that defensiveness. I can learn because I now know I’ve had my ears closed off for half of my life in my fairly self satisfied liberal bubble.

I personally don’t think I’d talk about it at all unless explicitly asked a part from that one instance. Not being able to celebrate a small part of your ancestry is one of a small number of tiny prices White people pay for privilege. And we whine enough about those things already.

White girl here. I feel like the best thing she can do is work within her family to dismantle their racism. If she’s White-passing (clearly she is), she can use that privilege, but tbh, I don’t think she has any right (and it seems like she realizes this) to identify as Black, or try and get into the Black community by being “My DNA says I’m Black!”

The whole thing kinda rubs me the wrong way because it’s A LOT like White girls being like, “I’m part Cherokee!!!” Like, no, your DNA matters very little, when so much of race is CULTURE. Obviously oppression is very rooted in appearance, but she’s totally missing the cultural aspect since she’s been raised White, and there’s no easy or socially acceptable way to make up for that??

I would honestly mention it every time anyone made a racist comment. That tends to make White People uncomfortable. But I would never mention it otherwise. The only other reason to mention it to POC is if the topic of DNA tests come up, which doesn’t seem all that likely.

On the obsession with White Americans and DNA tests, I totally think it’s a jealousy thing at times. We have no culture, we see POC or even White People from different countries that have culture and we want that. So we do a DNA test, find some culture that is dope within all the mish mash, and get super into that. Would probably be more productive to work to create a better culture we could actually be proud of?

(White person here) I am adopted and I would say even though I do not know my ancestry, I would not lean on a DNA test to tell me. I only identify with the culture I grew up in. Identity is so much more than a percentage on a sketchy DNA test. If you are visibly White, grew up in White culture, and benefited from White privilege then that is your reality. I would say you should constantly challenge your immediate family and friends who are racists and become an ally/accomplice. But to outwardly claim that percentage is the equivalent of “I have a Black friend.” So I think it is a personal identity indicator if she wants to use it, but to culturally identify with it when it is convenient and when they are not experiencing the struggles and racism, is not ok.

Even when I met my birth parents, I didn’t feel related to them in anyway. It was like meeting a stranger. It just solidified for me that my identify and how I identify has nothing to do with genetics. White people need to stop striving to be something they are not to satisfy White guilt of coming from a culture that has and still commits awful acts towards other cultures. White people need to accept that we are for the most part embarrassingly ignorant and our culture (because we DO have one) is inherently damaging to other cultures.

I don’t know why you would have to go in depth with your reasons. Just say you want to explore other cultures. I really doubt anyone will push too far beyond that. As far as your racist family, it sounds like that would be a good place for you to start making a difference in your corner of the world. And again. So confused on why you would ever need to “reveal” that.

White-passing person (dad and brother are POC) speaking here: please understand that having Black ancestry, however close or distance, does not cancel out your White privilege. It’s great that you’re excited about this discovery and want to learn more about the culture that you can from way back, but do not confuse it with the living experience.

White person here. I’m from Australia and if you aren’t Indigenous or an Islander, there is no real culture! I love learning bout different cultures and lifestyles and love emerging myself in them! I’d love to look further into my Greek or Italian heritage because, I’ve got nothing else! I understand Greek and Italian isn’t the same as POC, but I can understand the interest in learning more! But I always tell people I’m straight up Austrialian and don’t flaunt anything else when asked. I’d suggest if she wants to know more, do her own research and don’t go flaunting it.

Go ahead and learn about the culture. Use your privilege to open a dialogue with people that may be close-minded about topics of race. Support POC by giving money to their business, by involving yourself with BLM-related campaigns, by calling out prejudices, you witness in everyday life. But be respectful and understand this sudden discovery does not negate the entire life of White privilege you have lived up until now.

POC Responses

She needs to leave that one alone. If you look like a Becky and walk like a Becky, trying to show people that you’re part Black makes you look like you wanna be down so bad. Just revel in the fact that you have Black in you and keep it to yourself.

Tbh, if she’s only like 5% Black, it means nothing to us. Especially because of the acts that might’ve occurred to get her there. She can reveal it by just simply saying it. No one should be offended, but by no means does it mean she’s allowed to say things like the n-word or try to relate to Black struggles.

Um, newsflash. All ancient civilizations were Black. Wypipo so funny.

With new technology and things we have kinda expect for people to want to find out what makes them up, so I don’t find a problem with that. It does become problematic once she starts making it a big deal though. Everyone is made up of something that they would be surprised about.

I don’t think she needs to talk to anyone but her family or do research. Since her lineage probably has been recorded. Explore what makes her excited about this discovery. What does she want? What does this discovery mean to HER, not what others’ reaction mean. I would start by heavily immersing myself in Black history of this country and more specifically her area. Having some percentage of some other ethnicity doesn’t make you that.

So many Amerikkkans brag about their percentages of bloodline like it means something. It doesn’t mean jack shit if you have not experienced the culture and it doesn’t become part of YOUR culture. If it is not part of your upbringing, it’s not like she’s suddenly Black now. If anything, she has the responsibility of using her privilege to raise Black issues ESPECIALLY in her own circle if she really wants to connect to that part of her DNA. Otherwise she might as well be a Becky with cornrows.

To me, it sounds like she wants recognition of her “blackness”. Why does she need to tell anyone besides the people involved in her search?

She obviously doesn’t wanna be Rachel Dolezal, or whatever that lady’s name is, but wants to learn more about who she is. I think she should do research on her own and maybe try to find a way to be an ally or something to the people of the region by buying their goods and supporting causes they do. For some people, identity is important. I think trying to force it on others, even family, is when it gives off a “why you doing this, though?” vibe.

I think it’s great to research and learn about our ancestry. But also take the time to understand. I’ve done this with my Cherokee (Deer Clan) ancestral line, but it’s not my day-to-day and so I don’t run around claiming it or as if I know all the history.

Idk why but I don’t hate this one. It’s making me laugh, and dare I say smile. Like I’m happy for her. Tell her to use the BFF feature on bumble or Tinder and swipe in the countries she’s hoping to visit. Make friends, connect over Instagram, Facebook, etc. Actually start engaging that way so that when she goes she has friends, or even use the feature where she lives and make Brown friends. Like, I wanna hear how this develops.

You and 3.5% every White American who has done 23andme (Source: Washington Post). All I can say is research your family tree, find out where it comes from. Also, genetically you aren’t “part Black” – there’s no genetic marker for race.

Why when I read about some celeb, it’s like “His dad is African-American, Jamaican, German, and English; his mom is Swedish, Russian, French, Dutch, Syrian, and Lebanese”? I’m just like, sure you’re those things but you’re also not. I may be 30% Nigeria, but I’m also not. My parents weren’t born there – they’re Jamaican. Why would I bother explaining the intricacies of a DNA profile?

To reverse the roles, I did Ancestry and found out I was 20% White and 80% Blak. I have 2 undeniable Black parents. When I learned about the White side, I didn’t really think anything of it because I don’t walk through this world White. I’m a Black woman, literally and visibly. I also didn’t go around saying claiming African countries I have no direct connection to. I’m proudly African-American. So if she wants to do her own research that’s fine. But as someone stated, racism is not based solely in genetics. I feel like this is something she needs to handle internally and definitely not parade it in front of Black people.

What percentage because I’m not here for anything less than 40% with a fro.

If we believe in science everyone should be like 1% African descent, because we all originated there. But also, those DNA tests aren’t super accurate, yet one more reason I would just quietly go research my history, not go around waving a flag about it. It’s pretty natural to want to know where people come from though. Demi Lovato totally got ripped on Twitter for this when she posted her results and got all excited for being part African, like 1 or 2%.

I would also do some more research into these DNA tests themselves. There’s some controversy about the tests themselves, since it’s basically testing for ancestry in much the same way that eugenics tried to classify racism to biological differences.

I guess I don’t really understand her concern or question. Is she trying to do what gay people have to do, “Mom, dad, I need to tell you something…” I think this is a dramatic/look at me kind of question.

DON’T CLAIM BLACK WHEN IT’S CONVENIENT! What’s your stand on civil rights? Black lives matter? Are you really down? If not, your 1% is just as relevant as the 1% chance you’ll get pregnant on birth control. Goodbye. The 1% of bacteria that Lysol doesn’t kill. I’m over people like her. Goodbye.

I think people should be allowed to embrace whatever it is that makes them who they are genetically without feeling ashamed. However, you can’t claim to know culture and fully embrace that simply because of a DNA test. I’ve had one done and I’m not shouting out my 2% Scandinavian pride everywhere. I go with what I grew up with and that was with my Spanish grandma and her traditions and what I was taught. Too bad I’m only a quarter Spaniard, though.

I hate it when I ask someone where they’re from and they start mentioning their lineages. Like, wtf? I just want to know where were you born!

Wanting to claim ancestry in this case serves no benefit other than to flaunt it. Imo just go learn and help. If people ask why THEN you have an opening and an audience who might give a shit. Otherwise be helpful and figure out how to get knowledge without any “announcement”.

I know what she means, but also feel like this is reaching. I am biracial (White mum, Black dad) but I have very light skin and no afro or anything. So I know that even if I have the blood, I don’t experience the same struggles that other POC go through, my family included. My mum’s side of the family descends from exiled Jews and I don’t go around claiming to be Jewish – it was never part of my upbringing so it’s not a part of my identity even if the biology is there. It’s good that she wants to do her research and learn more, but that should happen regardless of the percentage of Blackness in her DNA.

Americans have (for the most part) no cultural ties to their indigenous culture. I believe that White people in America are missing the traditions and cultural ties that ground people and because of that they either seek to belong like lost orphans, or they hate those who DO have strong cultural ties (like Native Americans who have begun to reconnect with their ancestry.) In response to the original post, I would encourage her to research her family history, and share that knowledge with her family and children if she has any. I don’t know what situation would ever make it appropriate to announce her blood quantum.

Maybe the issue she needs to tackle is her racist family rather than trying to be a part of something she can never experience. Huge difference between being White and having a small percentage of Black in your blood and being visibly Black and having to deal with the prejudice being a Person Of Colour brings. Also all these lineage DNA tests aren’t all that accurate and secondly, most of us are part something, especially a percentage African. Help People of Color by trying to educate the racist family so no Person Of Colour has to face prejudice because of them.

4 thoughts on “I am White, but my DNA test says I have African ancestry. Does that make me Black?

  1. I absolutely LOVE getting these emails in my inbox. These are the kind of conversations that actually matter and make people think. Thank you.

  2. This conversation is so real and I appreciate the honesty of the individual who provided the initial question for this discussion. LOVE this idea and I’m signing up for your emails asap.

  3. My favorite verses in the Bible is how it says the truth will set you free I feel that the truth is we are all individuals born and created by God and we should just be free to essentially do what we want if I am Caucasian and I’m drawn to another culture I have every right to explore that culture and really do whatever I want like I’m a free person on the planet if you’re a POC you too can do whatever you want you want blonde hair you’re about to do it you want to strain your hair go ahead and do it you want to wear colored contacts that are different from your eyecolor crate for you you know it’s always these wrong ideas that are running the show and it’s just ridiculous so racist came up with racism and therefore created all of these problems and privileges and all this crap I guess we just have to abide by their rules in this like no we don’t I want to know about my ancestry for what ever reason I want to know about it I’m alone and so is everyone else all of this analysis of other people that are not yourself is really the whole crux of where racism began and where all of the ills of humanity began if everybody would just essentially love others as you would yourself and stay out of everybody else’s business the world would be a lot better place .

    1. Yea I mean this is really an ideal world and would totally work if White People hadn’t (and continue to…) rape, murder, and steal their way to create an imbalanced society that only serves them. Something you profit from. So yea, we gonna continue to make you feel uncomfortable Trina. Sorry, not sorry.

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