One of my cousins voicemailed me recently, apparently thrilled with news that he'd had his DNA analyzed in one of those kit-lab mail-ins and discovered that we are related to a scandal-besieged low-grade criminal art dealer. Apologetically, I failed to be either shocked or impressed... in fact, in this facebook and instagram world of over-exposure and data breaches, why would anyone want to participate in a cellular-level scientific confess-all to God-knows-what information-bank or repository? I have already shared the maiden name of my second-grade school teacher, my first dog breed, where I met my husband (which one? The Palladium or the Camden market one?) and my favorite author in so-called security locks on various online forms. Not to mention my unlisted number and private email... just so they can be extra sure I am not an imposter.
We've all been warned that a large percentage of Pap smears and other tests and biomarkers have come back with false positives or negatives... so how can we trust a chromosome-mill which has no biological or genetic responsibility? The number of people I know who are now claiming Navaho heritage from these kit-results is suspicious. I don't think the Native Americans were that quantitatively promiscuous. One of my friends has taken to wearing moccasins and beads. Her daughter claimed dual ethnicity on her college application to play the diversity card. And wasn't it a local president of some NAACP chapter that turned out to be faking her Afro-American-ness? Not only is she a biological Caucasian but a confirmed fraudster who extracted many thousands in public assistance for which she did not qualify. A perm and a dye-job did wonders for her-- maybe weekly time in a tanning bed. Did anyone see Kim Kardashian on the news last night standing beside the newly-freed Diane Johnson and looking many shades darker than her previous press appearances?
So do we really need these identity kits to prove or discover who we really are? Okay, I had to have amnio-centesis to rule out genetic disorders in my unborn fetus. And disease-wise-- transplant candidates, biomarkers-- for these purposes tests can be useful and life-saving. But as a teenager I'd already had a white-haired man approach me and swear he was my real grandfather. Since my own had long since been ousted, it was enough for me. Fake or real, he sent me great books and gifts and listened to my little demo-tapes with some kind of pride and love I never had from my own family.
My older sister as a teenager used to claim she'd been adopted. I'm not sure my son could pick his real father out of a lineup. What is the point? Besides the forms we fill out and the college applications and census data, we are all mutts in this culture that seems to rather value pedigree and blue-bloodedness only where horses and dogs are concerned. The new royal Princess or whatever her title is a mixture of things. Even her name sounds oddly popster or like a plastic doll: Princess Meaghan. Not historic nomenclature. But there she is, holding hands with the Queen of England, slated to carry truly royal blood in her bi-racial American womb.
We are all one, was the great mantra of the 60's... embracing human brotherhood and diversity. But the data-machines and marketing hoovers need to know what makes us all uniquely susceptible to bait-and-hook consumerism: how to use our genetic and acquired predilections to manipulate and influence our buying habits; how we, as individuals, can be corralled and herded into transferring our money into huge corporate pockets. So for all those angry facebookers who took the little personality tests and the aptitude quizzes, voted for grey or purple, circle or square, salt or pepper, Beatles or Stones.... do not be fooled by these advertisements promising they will reveal your 'ancestry', your ethnicity and heritage-- your profession suitability and athletic potential. They are collecting more information from a speck of your spit than Cambridge Analytica amassed over years of sifting through a million posts.
My neighbor was holding court with the little dog-clan he parades around at night. The new mutt, he was explaining, is part samoyed, part sharpei, part retriever, part spaniel. I wondered how he was so sure about all of this. Canine DNA testing? I had a mongrel dog for years I'd found in Harlem-- abandoned, in bad shape. He continued, over the years, to show marked preference for black people. It was uncanny. As for me? His adoptive keeper? He tolerated me. My black husband? He went to the door 5 minutes before the guy came home; ditto his friends. Love and devotion. It was like they were brothers. Do Not Ask. Do Not Analyze.
A friend of mine years back had a strange phonecall from a woman he'd apparently slept with in a drunken amnesiac stupor after a party in Washington DC. She claimed she was quite pregnant with his baby... he balked for a while, but began sending money-- child support.. even visited the baby periodically, paid for her college education. She looked not at all like him-- went into the military (he was a 60's love-child/ardent pacifist) and married young. Did he ask for a paternity test? Not even. That's the kind of genetics I'd be proud to have in my heritage. A father. Accountability.
We are what we eat, my nutritionist friend maintains. She believes our blood-type determines the optimal individual dietary choices. I can see the logic in this... but for a narcissistic culture with the flood of information available to us-- the choices and surgical options-- the supplements, treatments, neuro-biological neutralizers and enhancements-- if you don't know who you are at this point, well, I doubt an ancient family crest is going to change you much. Get your face out of your phone and have a conversation with the person next to you. You'd be surprised at how much you will uncover.