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DNA Testing Could Help Make a Case for Reparations as More Blacks Trace Their Roots to Africa

Isaiah Washington with his Sierra Leone passport. He traced his roots to the Mende people.

Isaiah Washington with his Sierra Leone passport. He used DNA testing to trace his roots to the Mende people.

A new book by Columbia sociology professor Alondra Nelson says that using DNA technology to find their African roots is becoming increasingly popular among Black people. In an interview with NPR, Nelson estimates that about 1 million have taken the test so far. The tests have also been popularized through Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates’ show Finding Your Roots, which traces the family history of famous Americans such as Oprah and Chris Rock.

Nelson told NPR that discovering their genetic roots was a way for Black people to fill in a missing part of their history.

“Part of what I learned in the course of doing the research is that I am an outlier in this regard. Many of the people I spoke to – whether they were 25 or 65, had lived their whole lives wanting to know where in Africa their ancestors were from,” said Nelson, author of The Social Life Of DNA.

Finding out what African ethnic group they are related to has a profound effect on Black people who take the test. Some break into tears, others have a new sense of identity now they know what ethnic group they come from. Actor Isaiah Washington used DNA technology to trace his maternal line back to the Mende people of Sierra Leone. He was so moved by the discovery that he is now a dual citizen of Sierra Leone and American and also contributed $1 million to a foundation that is building a school in the country.

Washington told The Los Angeles Times Africans in the Diaspora have the resources to help the motherland.

“If we can take our intellects and resources, and reverse the brain drain and help rebuild these countries, we can define our legacies,” he said.

Nelson told NPR that it was interesting that the Black community, which has traditionally been skeptical of medical technology, had now embraced DNA testing.

“How does a community that had really been the object of scientific and medical scrutiny for generations — with really negative outcomes — come to see science and technology as a positive thing, or something that can be used for self-knowledge and liberation? That was a question for me as well,” she said.

Apart from helping Black people gain a new sense of identity, Nelson said DNA testing could also be used as part of the argument for reparations, which has recently become a political issue. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders was recently criticized by Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates after he said reparations would be unfeasible and divisive in Congress.

“It’s an interesting case in that it’s – to the best that I could discern – it’s the first time that genetic ancestry testing is introduced in a civil case. … It continues the long drumbeat for reparations in American society by generations of people – a drumbeat that comes again in 2014 with the publication of Ta-Nehisi Coates essay in The Atlantic,” Nelson said. “And because genetics is thought here to pose a new answer to a very old and longstanding question in black political culture.”

Nelson took the DNA test and found out she is descended from the Bamileke people of Cameroon. A few weeks later her mother met a Bamileke woman at church and they informally adopted her.

“And this past Thanksgiving she was at our table with her husband and her son, she’s part of our family now,” she said.

What people are saying

38 thoughts on “DNA Testing Could Help Make a Case for Reparations as More Blacks Trace Their Roots to Africa

  1. This is an excellent article! And yes I believe thats the argument for reparations when you have Congress who has admitted to the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans:

  2. I wonder if this would work for the Irish and others who have been slaves as well. Hell Egypt should just give the whole country to the Jews then. What about the slave trading going on today? I could use payday for nothing. My ancestors may have went through hell. Who today is responsible for things that happened all those years ago? Where's my payday?

  3. Javari Nama says:

    From my experience most black Americans don't want to identify with Africa. They take the white view from the Jewish media that Africa is savage, tribal, uncivilized with no food, clean drinking water, good education or health facilities. Of course that is completely wrong because the opposite is true. Many blacks also think that ALL dark-skinned Africans have HIV/AIDS. Simply untrue once again. Not be be outdone, many Africans in America are known for their general dislike of blacks as well. They largely consider us lazy and while that is true for some of the masses sitting on their asses it is too broad a brush of a generalization to label all of us, the same way we should not do to Africans. We are the diaspora. If we don't come together we will continue to be torn apart.

  4. The most effective means of finding out our connection and source of being to the land of KSH (Afrika) is through DNA. Our ancestral and spiritual connection to the land and our linage and ancestry was removed to satisfy the global white supremacy ideology under imperialism, chattel enslavement plantation system, colonialism and neo colonism that we are not human but objects to be owned and made possession of.

  5. more 200yrs to come, the blacks in the west will keep buying those media lies from the whites, but in the real sense of it, they are the mean victims of the experiments, and will always be.

  6. Why must we put labels on people? Howard is Howard. He just happens to be in a body with a darker complexion than I have. I think Howard is probably a very nice person, but I don't know because I have never met him. To not give him a chance is disrepectful. I am Barbara. I have never Knowingly treated anyone with disrespect unless they weren't worthy of my respect. That disrespect would be because of their actions, not from where they were born or where their ancestors were born. I bet Howard and I have many things in common and he might just like me as a person. My hobby is genealogy. Believe me, we all have stories to tell about our ancestors if you take the time to research. DNA genealogy is a beginning but you never really know the story without research. It is a wonderful thing to know the rich history that has made you what you are. But that is only a beginning. YOU and I have to commit to be people that we are proud of. You have to give respect to get it. I'm just an old grandma but that is how I look at it.

  7. Every group of people who were done wrong in this Land of the Free and the Brave have been given grievance money, except those of us who can prove that we are descended from slaves. Due to the discussions being shared with one generation to the next, I was able to determine and my DNA proved, that the Dinka and Imbangala Tribes were my father's Family Tribal Roots. If the reparations should ever come, each Black needs to prove his ancestry, which goes back to the plantation system that was suscessful due to our African Ancestors being committed to a lifetime of Slavery in the Land of the Free and the Brave.

  8. the game is simple, many blacks in USA are too rich and their wealth is over needed to the western economy, so why not redirect their brain and minds with media lies, and when they are about to know the truth, our scientific doctors will pollutes their sea/waters and create some disease and give it a name, e.g ebola, hiv etc, wow, our plans are working perfectly, now, pay all the media and feed people with more lies hahaha cheers with red wine,

    next we must keep them in financial bondage so that they will everly depends on us, yes they own the natural resources but we control the prices, we own nothing but our currency will slways appreciate Hahahaha, cheers again,

    ok, thanks for technology, we can use their resources and build arms, ok… lets create some radicalities and sponsors them, and they will come to buy our arms, yes they will otherwise our boys will finished them, Hahahaha cheers for the everly dependants of africa, today's meeting has come to an end, thanks for all your plans, they are great.

  9. sorry guys but reparations for what?? If anyone deserves reparation it's the Native Americans, don't you think?

  10. In that case, but sorry, stand in line, the Native Americans come first.

  11. Pat Duigon says:

    My ancestors were enslaved by the Romans. Who do I bill for that?

  12. Rick Smith says:

    THE ROMANS !!!!!!!

  13. Native Americans also received land and money. Blacks were here when Columbus came just like the native Americans. We are indigenous everywhere.

  14. Gary Haire says:


  15. Gary Haire says:


  16. It's not about payday…..but making it right….honestly i would invest every single dollar right back to my community…..THAT is what its purpose would be…..

  17. They are my ancestors as well. Reperations for mass and cultural genocide, rape, enslavement, and a long list of other crimes.

  18. This a scam,Ascam to get you to admit that you are a foreigner. 95% if not more dont have roots in africa but right here in America.

  19. Michelle Renee Okocha "native" Americans are getting money to keep the lie up that they are the indigneous people of this land when they are not. Every where in the world. The aborgines look like us. except America

  20. All negroes weren't in slavery and all negroes didnt come from Africa. If any came.

  21. kinda hard when the federal government and state wont answer my letter for taking money they call taxes that I work for.

  22. Politely , go in your room and go to sleep then when you wake up, you will be in reality with thoughts that are true.

  23. Julee Waters says:

    I did my DNA it said Cameroonian, Togo/Bantu, Nigerian, Congolese, Mali and then Russian/Scandinavian

  24. No because you have a land and kept your name and you are as priviledged as any on this earth. Stop trying to infuse silliness into the debate. White slaves??? They were cheap labor and couldn't handle the work.

  25. Helene Marie R Leclerc The question is who are the real native Americans because we have mostly impostors who claim to be these days. The original Indians on this land based many books written by explorers and none of them state that Indians look the way they do today. The Eurasions came to America 300 years after the Dark Indians that spoke Hebrew were here for thousands of years…..

  26. James Flanagan We are not looking for free shit either in fact. There are more White people on welfare benefits than blacks and if you include corporate welfare it's even worse. Listen you are living in matrix and everything you've been taught was actually the opposite. The sad part is Europrans thought Irish were just as bad as blacks in their eyes. Frankly you should be thanking black people for paving the way for Italians and Irish. Think about this is the Irish were strong enough to handle the work there would be not black slavery. Confirms that Europeans are not the people of YHWH. They are the terrors of the earth. It's almost over and a new world with the proper Gods of the earth in charge.

  27. Jan Holmes says:

    Egypt and the fake made up Jews. Ya watching way too much tv Moses movies…ahahahahahahaha

  28. Jan Holmes Nope I read books more then watch TV. I do reserch on History. Tell me how is it that there are Egyptian chariots at the bottom of the Red Sea ? I will take my knowledge over your ignorance every day of the week. Thank you and God bless.

  29. One day you will wake up and realize that your fathers have lied to you and everyone else.

  30. Nothing useful to add

  31. Michelle Renee Okocha Really?

  32. Howard Trae Tibbs what good is an apology when the government sterilized native women during the 70s?

  33. Michelle Renee Okocha Native Americans have received nowhere near what is due to them. Reports of forced sterilization of Native American women began to surface in the 1970s.[1][2] Of the 100,000 to 150,000 Native American women of childbearing age, 3,400 to 70,000 of these women were involuntarily sterilized through tubal ligation or hysterectomy.[3] They were not given a choice to refuse or accept to undergo the sterilization procedure. Many were manipulated into thinking that should they refuse to undergo sterilization, they would risk losing their welfare aid. Reservation water is polluted and their educational system sometimes lacks subjects needed for them to go to college.

  34. Indigeous people come first. And all I'm giving you is proof of document, if you want any other information about house resolution 194 or SJ RES 14, do the research. Delvin Edwards and Michelle Renee is correct, if you do not acknowledge the people who were on land first and do not recognize that we are in a system of white supremacy, then I believe your comments are nothing more than distractions.

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