Unmasked

 

Recent events have inspired me to be more vocal about something that I’ve taken on recently to gain a deeper understanding of my heritage. Too often we are defined by the color of our skin and our socioeconomic status that can feed into stereotypes, often fueled by hatred and bigotry. They create these buckets that we’re unfairly grouped into, so, in order for me to have a better understanding of who I am, I started doing what I could to learn more about where I came from. I’ve always wanted to know who I am, beyond societal constructs, so that I can own my true story.

Since I was a kid, I’ve always dealt with sort of an identity crisis. Growing up as a privileged black kid in America was like a double-edged sword. What made me privileged? Well, my mother was single but she gave me everything I wanted and needed. I also attended St. Mark’s School of Texas, a private school in Dallas, from the 5th to 12th grade, thanks to a scholarship. So, compared to most black kids that I grew up with, including my foster brothers, I was a privileged kid.

But, my attending a private school also created a tough predicament for me both at school and away from school. Essentially it felt like because of my home and schooling I was too white for my black friends, yet because of my home and socioeconomic status I was too black for my white friends. I didn’t fit in with either crowd. Throughout middle school and high school, I really struggled to find my identity.

I always thought it was unfair that as a black kid my African-American ethnicity was defined by an entire continent full of different countries and cultures. Yet, my white friends seemed to be able to trace their heritage to a specific country and culture, usually within Europe. I went to school with a white family who had the same last name as me, but I knew we weren’t related. I constantly wondered, “who am I?” and “where does this black skin come from?” I felt that society had assigned me an identity; one that was largely incomplete.

So, recently, I decided to take a DNA test and learn more about my heritage and roots. I found out that I am 85.9% African and 14.1% European. More specifically, I’m 55% Nigerian. For some that may not mean much, but for me it’s meant a lot. Knowing this gives me something that was once taken from generations of descendants like me.

You know what else was interesting? My DNA did not show socioeconomic status, nor did it show hatred or bigotry. None of that was a part of my genetic makeup, nor is it a part of anyone’s genetic makeup. In fact, some may be surprised that part of their own makeup is exactly what they’ve learned to hate.

So, I’m going to help others gain a deeper understanding of their own roots by providing free 23andMe kits where they can explore their ancestry through their DNA. My hope is that whoever uses these kits will gain a deeper understanding of their own origins. Our society, its history and its constructs, do not have to continue to drive the identity of this country. We are all genetically made up of many different things, and no one should suffer because of their race, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. I encourage everyone to own their own story.