Monday, July 30, 2007

Mother Mondays Part 2: If the Genes Fit...

If you asked us for a physical description of our friend Keryl, we’d have started by saying she’s a Black woman. Black meaning straight up African-American—not from Jamaica or Ethiopia—from the Bronx, with Southern roots, you know, like the ones that came from the motherland to North America with Kunte Kinte, et al. Well, to our surprise, and hers, it turns out we’d be wrong.

Keryl had one of those genetics tests, you know, like Oprah had when she declared she was Zulu (turns out that upon further investigation she is really descended from the Kpelle people of Liberia, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). Now, for genetic reasons—something having to do with X’s, Y’s, alleles. . . science that clearly goes beyond our grasp of freshman biology (and maybe one day we’ll tell you about VdB’s XY theories) —women can only trace their lineage through their mothers. Men will get results from both their maternal and paternal sides. So here was Keryl, waiting to see if she was a Fulani princess (she was already sure about the princess part), or perhaps, Igbo, Ife, Dan. . . Except the results came back showing no African lineage!!! Zip. Nada. Zilch. Turns out Keryl’s ancestral mother traces her roots to Central or South American indigenous peoples—“What you be talkin’ about, Willis?”

She is still trying to wrap her mind around this identity busting bit of data. There is no Central or South American connection in her family --- that she knows about. Granted, families can be really secretive about who came from where and how folks hooked up in the first place. She’s planning to run this past her cousins and see if they have any insight.

But when you come down to it, what does this new information change? Is she no longer supposed to think of herself as an African-American woman, despite the fact she grew up and became a happily nappy, African dance performing, dashiki wearing brown-skinned woman, who has produced, directed and preserved theater that celebrates the Black experience in this country, and passed on the pride in the accomplishments of her people to her children? Which people? Does this new genetic information negate what she views as her cultural heritage?

No, but it sure points up the limits of biology to define who we are. Most of us who identify as African-American are never going to know the specifics of our genetic ancestry. Perhaps more than any humans on the planet, we are a combination of peoples from a vast variety of continents and cultures. We like to think it has enriched us, made us stronger. It doesn’t mean that the pursuit of our genealogy won’t turn up fascinating information about those who came before us, and encourage us to learn more about the specific peoples and regions that comprise the African in African-American. But, the limits of science remind us that not all of our answers will come from the distant past.

Meanwhile, Keryl is planning to invent her own personal mythology, taking into account this new piece of her identity. It involves being a Brazilian princess (‘cause the princess part stays), from a people who were separated from Africa in the great geological shift that cleaved South America from Africa (did we mention Keryl is very creative). Besides, Brazilians have great music, and dances. They eat okra, yams, beans and rice. . . Feijoada anyone?

Keryl’s mother is no longer around to share or ask about this new-found heritage, so there’s no telling what she would have to say. But Keryl did drop the bomb on her kids (all of whom are adults with kids of their own), who are as shocked as she is (We demand a recount). We hear tell that every now and then you have to surprise your children. It keeps you feeling young instead of dwelling on the fact that your birthday cake could not be lit outside in drought conditions because it would be a fire hazard.

And on that happy note, here are some more sure signs that you are becoming your mother.

16) Small children call you "Ma'am".
17) Young adults call you "Ma'am".
18) The oldies station no longer plays music from the decade when you slow danced in the basement.
19) Kids don’t know there was an original version of that song.
20) You understand that Scotch tape is not an acceptable substitute for a needle and thread.
21) You're walking down the street, you see someone’s reflection in a store window and think, “Gee, she looks so much like my Mother.” You’re horrified to realize it’s you.
22) You look at a picture of yourself as a child and see your daughter.
23) You look at a baby picture of you with your mother and realize you look now like she did then.
24) Lingerie becomes underwear and it’s no longer optional—it has advanced engineering
25) Your flannel nightie is your favorite.
26) You keep bed socks in the same drawer as your pajamas because your feet are always cold at night.
27) You wear pants because they keep your knees warm (see # 7).
28) You carry paper towels in your pocketbook to mop up after “power surges.”
29) You buy extra-calcium everything.
30) Retro clothes don’t make you look hip. They make you look like you’re wearing your old clothes.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 9:08 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lingerie becomes underwear and it’s no longer optional—it has advanced engineering!!!!!!!!!! Okay ladies you got me there. I now need my "Hard Wear" as my mother refers to it. Still I'm doing pretty good. Keep up the good work these lists are funny!

4:34 PM  
Blogger DeBerry & Grant said...

Thanks Ingrid! We think we've got enough for 3 or 4 more weeks of these--so keep reading!

8:39 PM  

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