Thanks to American’s obsession with race, services that provide genetic testing to pinpoint the makeup of your DNA are on the rise.
Usually these tests are taken casually, often being given out as gifts to friends and loved ones. But the truths they uncover can often be earth-shattering and push recipients to completely re-examine their identity.
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A prime example of this is Nicole Persley from Nokesville, Va., who was stunned to discover that she is part African. As she recalls she was, “basically raised a Southern white girl,” and grew up in a rural home town, where she listened to country music and even made racist jokes about people of color.
It wasn’t till she went to college that people started to question her about her ethnicity, leading her to take an at-home DNA test.
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“My roommate was black. My friends were black. I was dating a black man. I was constantly being asked, ‘What are you? What’s your ethnic background?”
Now thanks to companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, for under $100 participants are provided with a list of countries or regions where their predominant genetic traits match those of their ancestors.
“At the DNA Discussion Project, an initiative at West Chester University in Pennsylvania that surveys people about their perceptions of their genetic makeup before and after DNA tests, 80 percent of the 3,000-odd people they have surveyed self-identify as white. Of those, two-thirds see themselves as of only one race, and they are more likely to be shocked and unhappy with unexpected African ancestry than those who identify as mixed or other races, according to a peer-reviewed paper conducted by the project.” – Washington Post
For many, whiteness – as an identity – is such a precious commodity that the thought that they could be anything other than white causes them extreme cognitive dissonance. In one case, a white supremacist who discovered he had African DNA was so distraught he made allegations that the testing company must be part of some Jewish conspiracy to “defame, confuse and deracinate young whites on a mass level.”
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“For me, the number one takeaway is how easily people reject science,” said Anita Foeman, a professor of communication studies who co-directs the DNA Discussion Project. “Many whites would get a new story and say, ‘I’m still going to call myself ‘white,’ or ‘I’m still going to call myself ‘Italian.’ They started to less see race as genetic and more a question of culture and [physical appearance].”
The project also discovered that younger people and women tend to be more receptive to surprising news about their identity. “Women just tend to be more flexible in terms of racial identification,” Foeman said.