November 20th

As modern technology has advanced, recreational DNA testing kits have become increasingly popular. Their main appeal is that the technology will trace your genome and compare it to a database of genomes which correlate to those of a particular race. The results of your test will give your racial makeup in percentages based on your lineage. People often use these tests as a way to find out who they really are. For example, Alice, the subject of our article, initially took the Ancestry.com DNA just as a fun way to discover her ethnic roots. However, she expressed how she felt her identity was stripped from her when her results came back with high percentages of Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and European Jewish. She felt so compelled to find her true identity that she spent several hours and several dollars trying to trace her background. She also expressed how she felt small but noticeable rift in her relationship with who she thought was her biological cousin after discovering they were in fact not blood relatives. Most shockingly, she talked about how she was glad he late father never discovered what she had, as she believed it would crush his sense of Irish pride and heritage.

Alice’s entire journey, and the popular appeal behind recreational DNA tests in general, made me uneasy. While race is biologically passed down, heritage is not. Heritage and culture are derived from environment. Therefore, the concept of someone losing their identity after discovering their racial background, or even turning to a recreational DNA to discover their true identity, is strange to me. Alice father Jim would not be any less Irish in heritage if he discovered he was European Jewish. Her bond with her cousin was no less meaningful because they were not blood relatives. Her and her father’s cultural upbringings were Irish. They were Irish, perhaps not ethnically but rather in heritage. Identity does not perfectly align along ethnic or racial lines, so it does not appear or disappear with new knowledge of one’s racial or ethnic background.

5 thoughts on “November 20th

  1. Noel,
    I 100% agree with what you said here. I thought it was strange that the subject in this piece (and even the author, at times) could so readily confuse race/ethnicity for upbringing. Why should her father’s Jewish ancestry change anything about the way he grew up? Would a person adopted by parents of a different race not be allowed to say that they were from the same area, or shared the same customs? I think to claim that is ridiculous, as is the freak-out this woman had over finding out that half of her was a slightly different flavor or white than she had initially expected (ignoring the fact that she thought her dad had been cheated on, anyway).

  2. I agree with your thoughts. The difference between heritage and identity is that the latter is learned, the prior is not. The identity that Plebuch and her family had previously lived under was something that they knew, but when their identity was changed, they had to decide what to embrace or not. These are two very complicated ideas that interact as part of history.

  3. I agree, I read the other reading about DNA under the readings tab and one thing I thought was really strange was how white men wanted to have Viking ancestry because they wanted to have “strong” DNA. There are problems with this and Hollywood and stereotyping and all that, but more than anything it just seemed kind of wrong. It was like the men didn’t have any connection to Nordic culture or anything like that, they just wanted it in their DNA because they thought it was cool. I don’t know, but I feel like hoping for some specific DNA is kind of unsettling, like they just wanted to claim it because of Hollywood depictions of Vikings.

  4. I agree with you. With the recent developments in DNA testing, people are becoming more and more surprised about what they find. I also agree but found it very interesting to learn about how the sisters were able to find out who their father really was with Ancestry.com. On the other hand, I thought it was a little weird in reading about how Alice should change who she based on some test results than embrace her childhood memories.

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