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Charles Lamb: DNA test offers lessons, surprises

I recently had a DNA test, just because I was curious about my ethnic heritage. I always assumed my ancestry was from Scotland, so I thought I’d check it out. In my case, evidently DNA meant “do not assume.”

In reality, DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. And people tell me Bible names are hard to pronounce! DNA is defined as a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information. The simplest definition I found for it was “a molecular blueprint for a living thing.”

When I got my results I saw that indeed my DNA was 64 percent from the British Isles, so a lot of that may indeed be from Scotland.

But to my surprise 19 percent was from southern Europe, including Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. How did that happen? I wish I had known this when I worked with Spanish-speaking churches as a regional minister. I could have said, “Somos uno,” We are one.

Another 15 percent of me is from Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden. Maybe I’m part Viking. Perhaps I’m related to Hagar the Horrible.

But then came the real surprise: 2 percent was from Africa, especially Nigeria and Cameroon.

Evidently back in my family tree, there were slave owners. Many slaves came from the west African coast. Some great ancestor probably had sexual relations with a slave, and if the child seemed white, perhaps she or he was raised white. And that ancestral DNA still persists.

How do I feel about this?

My first reaction is to see it as a reconfirmation of how foolish racial prejudice is. In the South, it used to be said that if you have one drop of black blood, you are black. But I have read that a great number of Southerners indeed do have some black DNA.

Involvement with slaves was not uncommon. So probably some of the people protesting the loudest against integration and intermarriage were themselves black, according to their own standard.

How ridiculous to hear of people who had “black blood,” so to speak, fighting against integration of anyone who had any black blood. They were excluding themselves without knowing it.

My second reaction is to be very ashamed of my ancestor. Oh no, not that one! I’m ashamed of the slave owner who probably raped a black woman. I am sorry some of his DNA is in me. Maybe it was a love affair, but that’s doubtful. He probably took advantage of a woman, against her will, simply because she was in his power. I’m ashamed that he did that.

My third reaction is to be proud of my great-great-ever-so great-grandmother. Of course I’ve known all along that we are all one human family, and for a person in power to abuse another person is wrong. I already knew that, but somehow now I know it in an even more personal way.

So now, maybe more than ever before, I feel that I am a citizen of the whole human family. Maybe I’ll be more ready to ridicule prejudice than in the past. Maybe I’ll feel the horror of slavery and the sadness of the oppressed more than ever. When one person harms another, he does it unto me. And unto you. It’s personal.