FEBRUARY 2015: Reconciling “Racial” Identities, Family History and Genomic “Ancestry” in Two Post-slavery Societies

The EUROTAST fellows will be presenting the findings of their research at the upcomingGenetics/Heritage conference, 23-25 April at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Deadline for submission has been extended to March 15. To submit a paper or to attend the conference, visit the Genetics/Heritage website.


 Title: Reconciling “Racial” Identities, Family History and Genomic “Ancestry” in Two Post-slavery Societies

Author: Sarah Abel


Since the release of the first commercial genetic “ancestry” tests to the American and European public in the early 2000s, these personalized genomic analyses have provoked both intense enthusiasm and virulent critiques from members of the public and the scientific community alike. While some African American advocates in the US initially hailed DNA “ancestry” products as a means to “reverse the Middle Passage”, genetic “sceptics” have outlined concerns relating to the tests’ accuracy and reliability in pinpointing individuals’ ancestral origins, and to fears that, by encouraging consumers to turn to genomic data to find their “true” identities, this new practice may lead to a rise in biological essentialism. Debates over the socio-political consequences of “ancestry” testing have often, however, lacked input from empirical data regarding the actual interpretations and uses of genomic results by consumers. This paper draws on a corpus of interviews with genetic tested individuals in Brazil and the US to discuss the impact of genomic “ancestry” data in two post-slavery nations, each characterized by differing hegemonic and communal approaches to defining “blackness” and confronting the legacies of slavery in society today. In particular, we will examine how new genomic data are interpreted alongside existing family history knowledge, and analyse how consumers reconcile these sometimes differing accounts of social and genetic “truth” with conceptions of their own “racial” identities and “ethnic” origins.

Categorized: EUROTAST Reporting
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