Earlier this year pre-pandemic my husband brought me a birthday gift. It was something i’d given heavy hints about and was pleased that he’d actually listened, remembered and purchased the thing that I wanted. This spared him my look of feigned appreciation (which i’m not very good at), so it would have just been blatant disappointment. Phew, we were both spared. The gift was a DNA test! Yay!!
Now to be clear I know who my biological parents are, I was not adopted and I’m not in search of anyone in particular. And yes I’m aware there’s controversy surrounding these tests but how can I resist checking if it’s true that I’m actually a ‘queen’ instead of a ‘slave’, especially when technology keeps making the seemingly impossible, possible.
This test was about piecing together the parts of myself that I did not know. To ease the internal undercurrent of ‘otherness’ and ‘ none acceptance’. Which follows me most days in my black British life.
Both my parents are Jamaican.
One of the realities of being black and of Caribbean descent is that you know this is synonymous with being descendant from slaves. Cue, flash back to awful history lessons at school which claim that black history begins and ends with slavery.Thank God for the internet and the Black Lives Matter Movement which has led to a resurgence of reeducation in British history. ‘Hallelujah, praise God’, That’s my grandmother in my head.
I’ve been really curious for years – Where are my African ancestors from? I only recently had the courage to do the test. My secret wish was that my African ancestry was rooted in Ghana. I’m sure I’d put it off for ages to avoid the disappointment of this not being the case. The Ashanti people sounded cool to me and hearing all those Anansi stories as a child and adult somehow confirmed I must have belonged to Ghanaian people. Nice,friendly,intelligent and wise people – I’ve got all this from somewhere, though I can’t identity the source. In any case it was alright by me. Well I was right I am part Ghanaian but a mere 5%.
Uh oh, reality check is about to bite hard. Now many Jamaicans will understand this, and I’m not sure why it exists but there seems to be a universal dislike of Nigerian people. I’m sorry any Nigerians reading this – I love you . All those years of brain washing from my uncles in particular ‘watch out for those Nigerian men’, planted the seed of ‘anywhere else in Africa but just not there’. Well thankfully I am nothing like my uncles and always try to think with my own mind as it turns out my roots are 60% Nigerian origin with a sprinkling of other African regions. The more I find out the more I like this – (cue the re-frame) ‘ I always thought that Nigerians were fearless go getters, who are strong leaders and are serious innovators.’ Plus they have the amazing feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Ha! Wait til they (my uncles) find out, such a high percentage in me means they are in for a shock!
Then there’s the Irish connection 4%, which explains why my kids have blue and green eyes and it’s not just down to their dads genes. I just hope this ancestral link was consensual. But history suggests that’s unlikely.
My search for information continues in my mind….what tribe, what language, what rituals, what traditions, what music, what dance, what fabric, what food, what skills, what craftship, what religions, what rites of passage???
My ancestry journey is about my right to belong to a People, to a pre slavery identity and history, not tainted with inferiority and othering. To be proud, comfortable and confident in my own skin. To shake off the negative conditioning that can keep you shackled in your mind. To be enough just as I am. A person of significance and value.
All of us have our own journey’s to embark on, some of you may already be on your own quest.
The point is, you do not have to accept the story that’s been given to you. You can be the author of your own story. Like me, you might discover that you have more in common with ‘others’ than you think.
Let’s journey together.
Simone S Bellwood