Post Colonial Moment: Columbus, Slavery and DNA

In today's New York Times it is revealed that Christopher Columbus may not be who we think he is.

BARCELONA, Spain — When schoolchildren turn to the chapter on Christopher Columbus’s humble origins as the son of a weaver in Genoa, they are not generally told that he might instead have been born out of wedlock to a Portuguese prince. Or that he might have been a Jew whose parents converted to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Or a rebel in the medieval kingdom of Catalonia.

Yet with little evidence to support them, multiple theories of Columbus’s early years have long found devoted proponents among those who would claim alternative bragging rights to the explorer. And now, five centuries after he opened the door to the New World, Columbus’s revisionist biographers have found a new hope for vindication.

DNA testing is the new craze. It is especially among African Americans who want to know their African heritage.

From the US program 60 Minutes last Sunday:

The American history Vy discovered is a common one it turns out. Geneticist Rick Kittles runs a company called African Ancestry that specializes in DNA testing for black Americans. He says a full one third of the men he tests find out they have a white male relative somewhere back in time.

How do people who find this out react?

"Some black men get upset and say, 'Look, I'm black. Look at me, I'm black.' And you know and I say, 'Yeah, you are. But this small segment of your DNA doesn’t go back to Africa but to Europe,'" Kittles says. "We are a mosaic of many different ancestors. We can go back several generations and there are hundreds of people who, thousands of people who actually contributed to our DNA...Kittles' company has amassed the largest database of DNA sequences from countries in Africa, particularly those from which slaves were taken. His goal is to help American blacks trace their ancestry back to Africa, a history totally lost to them.

"If you think about young African-Americans growing up, thinking that their history started with slavery. I mean how do you think that that impacts their psyche?" Kittles wonders. "You know, we went through slavery, we didn't start with slavery."

While all the kinks in DNA testing have not been straightened out, at least it's a good start to finding one's true genealogy.


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