Archive for March, 2010

African American Is a Racist Term

March 11, 2010

Kevin Myles the president of the Kansas chapter of the NAACP recently claimed that a government retreat on enforcement of civil rights threatened the rights of blacks. Actually the threat comes from the perpetuation of the racist belief that skin color separates us into different “races”.
http://www.hutchnews.com/Todaystop/naacp-speaker–2

The best way to eliminate discrimination is to recognize that skin color is only skin deep. Skin color does not automatically make us different in any other way.

Black leaders are just as guilty of perpetuating the belief color is important as whites. The media actively support this belief by using the racist term “African-American” to describe those Americans with dark complexions. The term perpetuates the old American racist belief of “part black, all black.”

The media often refer to Tiger Woods as “African American” even though his ancestry is more Asian that African. His mother was Asian (Thai and Chinese with some Dutch). Although his father had some African ancestry, he also had Chinese and American Indian ancestry.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Woods

Even President Barack Obama received less than half of his DNA from his African father. The “X” chromosome he received from his mother contains more DNA than the “Y” chromosome he received from his father. Obama also received mitochondrial DNA from his mother.

The fact that a person has dark skin doesn’t mean that a majority of his ancestors came from Africa or that he received a majority of his DNA from African ancestors.

Skin color involves a relative handful of genes with the most important being SLC24A5 which produces melanin a molecule that absorbs solar radiation, particularly potentially harmful UV radiation.. There are two variations with the variation that produces the amino acid alanine being associated with a dark complexion and the variation that produces the amino acid threonine being associated with light skin. In general a pigment is black if it absorbs the entire visual light spectrum. It is white if it reflects the entire visual light spectrum. http://www.brighthub.com/science/genetics/articles/45821.aspx

Some of the other genes that affect the function of the melanin pigment include ASIP, MC1R, TYR, KITL, HERC2 and OCA. The most important protein responsible for variation in skin color is MC1R.

It would be possible to have a light complexion even though a majority of ancestors came from Africa. A person can have a dark complexion even though more than 75% of his ancestors came from Europe. Even a dark complexioned person with some African ancestors might have inherited most of his dark skin genes from a non-African including various North American peoples.

The version of SLC24A5 associated with dark skin is common among East Asian and North American peoples as well as Africans. The version associated with light skin is primarily associated with those of European ancestry.

The media refer to Barack Obama as the first African ancestry president, but as many as six other presidents may have had African ancestors. Like many other white Americans, they may or may not have known about African ancestors. My previous post looks at this issue and the general issue of why geneological records may not reflect one’s biological ancestors.
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08036/854713-51.stm?cmpid=elections.xml

https://reasonmclucus.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/seven-african-ancestry-presidents/

After the broadcast of the “Roots” miniseries, many Americans decided to research their ancestry. Many whites were surprised to find ancestors who had served in the military in the 19th Century who had the letter “C” after their names meaning “colored”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roots_%28TV_miniseries%29

The Spanish were the first to bring Africans to North American with the establishment of their Georgia settlement in 1526.
http://www.theledger.com/article/20030901/COLUMNISTS0404/309010305?Title=Spanish-Influence-Course-of-Slavery

For the English settlements, the first African “servants” arrived in Jamestown in 1619 only 14 years after the founding of the settlement. African and poor white indentured servants initially worked together in the fields. This practice would have led to sex across the color line.
http://henryburke1010.tripod.com/id4.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamestown,_Virginia

Some Africans became free and had their own farms. Antonio the Negro arrived in Virginia in 1621. He later became free, changed his name to Anthony Johnson and eventually had his own farm with indentured servants. The idea of servants being slaves developed gradually with the cost of replacing servants being a factor in the decision to make the Africans permanent slaves.

White servitude was abandoned in part because it was too easy for escaped white indentured servants to blend in on the frontier. Lighter skinned descendent’s of Africans would have been able to do the same thing long before the American Revolution. Those on the frontier spent much of their time outside and would have had sun darkened skin. The small frontier populations would have led to marrying whomever was available without much concern about color.

Laws eventually prohibited marriage across the color line, but owners and overseers had sex with slaves throughout the period of slavery. During slavery a baby’s status as slave or free usually depended upon the status of the mother because at the time they had no way to reliably determine who the father was. Some plantation owners might have claimed light skinned children born to them by slaves as the children of their wives.

Southern states allowed white men to rape black women without fear of punishment until the mid-20th Century.

Children of dark skinned parents who decided to leave home an pass for white would have eventually married those who considered themselves white.

We will never eliminate racism in the United States as long as politicians and media continue to claim that skin color defines a person’s “race”. The term “African-American” perpetuates the old American racist belief of “part black, all black.”

The ancestors of some black Americans arrived in Virginia nearly 400 years ago and in Georgia nearly 500 years ago If white Americans whose families have lived here for only a century or so can be considered “regular Americans” ( to borrow Archie Bunker’s term) then why must dark skinned Americans whose families may have lived here for four or five centuries bear a label implying they belong somewhere else.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Bunker

Only about 500,000 Africans were imported into North America during the three centuries of the slave trade. Thus, the vast majority of the 4.5 million blacks living in the U.S. in 1860 were born here. Those Americans whose ancestors were slaves are regular Americans, not Africans.
http://etymonline.com/columns/frenchslavery.htm
http://us-civil-war.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_1860_census_and_slavery_in_the_united_states

The Census Bureau wants us to check our “race” on census forms. Even if Europeans and Africans are separate “races”, we Americans are all mixed together and are not biologically divided into separate races according to the color of our skins.

We need to recognize the wisdom of the Lakota phrase Aho Mitakuye Oyasin (We Are All Related) regardless of the color of our skin.
http://www.jimbergmd.com/Way%20of%20Barefoot%20Doctoring/Poems%20wbfd%20web/We%20are%20all%20Related.htm

Seven African Ancestry Presidents?

March 9, 2010

The media refer to Barack Obama as the first African ancestry president, but as many as six other presidents may have had African ancestors. Like many other white Americans, they may or may not have known about African ancestors. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08036/854713-51.stm?cmpid=elections.xml

Skin color depends on only about seven genes which means if sex occurs across the color line frequently enough, the dark pigment genes could be lost in some children in a few generations.

After the broadcast of the Roots miniseries, many Americans decided to research their ancestry. Many whites were surprised to find ancestors who had served in the military in the 19th Century who had the letter “C” after their names meaning “colored”.

President Warren G. Harding had black cousins and admitted that some of his ancestors might have “jumped the fence” as he put it.

Many believe that President Dwight Eisenhower’s mother appears to have African features in her wedding photo. I’ve seen the enlarged photo at the Eisenhower museum. If I were to see an actor with a similar appearance in an old black and white movie about the pre-Civil War South, I wouldn’t be surprised if her character was a slave.

Some have suggested that 19th Century Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln might have had African ancestry fathers. President Calvin Coolidge is another with possible African ancestors.

Those who argue that genealogical records fail to indicate these men had African ancestors, ignore the fact that birth records for much of the nation’s history depended on the honor system. Many records come from family Bibles and it would have been easy to “steal an ID” particularly in families who moved from generation to generation. Families could have neglected to mention an ancestor with a questionable past, such as being a runaway slave or a criminal.

I don’t know if any of these presidents had African ancestors, but I recognize it would have been possible for them, or the rest of us, to have had such ancestors without leaving a record of that ancestry.

The only people likely to question a politician’s ancestry in the 19th Century would have been political opponents who would likely have been ignored by many because of the name calling that characterized American politics beginning with the administration of George Washington. Supporters of these politicians might have invented stories to make these presidents look better such as the story about George Washington cutting down his father’s cherry tree..

The first African “servants” in the British colonies arrived in Jamestown in 1619 and Africans and poor whites initially worked together equally in the fields as indentured servants. This practice would have led to sex across the color line. Some Africans became free and had their own farms. Antonio the Negro arrived in Virginia in 1621. He later became free, changed his name to Anthony Johnson and eventually had his own farm with indentured servants. (Note: the Spanish had imported African slaves into Florida and Georgia in the 16th Century.) http://henryburke1010.tripod.com/id4.html

White servitude was abandoned in part because it was too easy for escaped white servants to blend in on the frontier. Lighter skinned descendent’s of Africans would have been able to do the same thing long before the American Revolution.

The frontier early became a place people could run to to escape their past which could include knowledge about their ancestors. Some of my ancestors moved to the frontier from New York City after the Revolution because they had supported the losing side.

Those on the frontier spent much of their time outside and would have had sun darkened skin. The small frontier populations could have led to marrying whomever was available, as my ancestors did, without much concern about a spouse’s ancestry.

Members of religious groups who opposed slavery might have allowed light skinned runaway slaves to take the ID of a relative who died as a child or have made up a relative to make it easier for an escaped slave to “pass for white”..

It would have been much easier to cover up unpopular ancestry in the 19th Century than today. Some people believe Jefferson, who saved many of his own documents, attempted to destroy his mother’s documents, including letters sent to others, to cover up his ancestry. His virtual marriage to slave Sally Hennings indicates he didn’t consider color important which could indicate he had mixed ancestry himself.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Hemings

Most blacks lived on plantations and what happened on the plantation likely stayed on the plantation. Many plantation wives might have tired of having babies early and encouraged their husbands to have mistresses.

Light skinned offspring might have been claimed by their fathers as children of their wives. It would have been easy to cover up who the mother was because the midwife who delivered it was probably a slave. Plantation wives might have used slaves as surrogate moms like Jacob’s wives did in the Bible.

Even today a woman may lie about who fathered her child. Some have suggested Lincoln’s mother may have done this because of accounts that the man listed as his father might have been sterile.

People looked down on women who didn’t have children through the 19th Century. Some women might have arranged to quietly adopt the light skinned babies of slaves to cover up their inability to have children or to replace a child who was stillborn or died in infancy. Slave mothers might have welcomed the opportunity to have their babies escape slavery.

Ida Elizabeth Stover, Eisenhower’s mother, could have been such a baby because she was born in 1862 in Virginia to a 40 year old woman. Even with today’s medical knowledge there is a greater potential for problems at that age. Information about some of her ancestors is missing from the family tree on the Eisenhower Museum website so their origin is unknown. Considering her fair complexion, she would likely have been separated from any African ancestor by three or more generations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_Elizabeth_Stover
http://eisenhower.archives.gov/All_About_Ike/Family%20Tree/Family_Tree.html

I don’t know if these presidents had any African ancestors, but I realize it would be possible . It would also be possible for the rest of us who think of ourselves as white to have had one or more African ancestors. The number of our ancestors increases rapidly when we go back more than a few generations. At 10 generations in the past, we potentially have 1,024 ancestors, provided there is no duplication.

See my next post for a discussion of why skin color isn’t important.