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.