We received the results of my mother’s DNA test months ago. It came back saying that my Mom’s DNA is 79% England, Wales and Northern European. The other 21% is from Ireland and Scotland. There is not even a smidgen of Native American or African American. My Mom’s side of the family is white and they have been in the Americas since the 1700s. They were part the group of European settlers that ended up in the Mississippi and Louisiana areas. I am sure that means that at some point, I have some ancestors that fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War and it is possible that I had some ancestors that owned another human being or beings. This is information I suspected before doing any research on the family tree just because of how entrenched into Mississippi my family on both sides seems to be.
Sometimes genetics is not the only thing that can be passed down the generations. Racism, for instance, is a learned behavior that can pass along the generations. I had some family members tell me some pretty racist things whenever we visited Mississippi, things that they were taught by their parents, which their parents learned from their parents and so on. I had more than one cousin tell me how lucky I was that I didn’t have to go to school with “any black kids.” I remember looking at them in confusion because I had no idea why that made me ‘lucky’. I still don’t know why that made me lucky. If anything, the lack of diversity in my childhood was a hinderance and I’ve been trying to make up for it in my adulthood. Whenever I have an African American person show up for one of my yoga classes, I get ridiculously over friendly. “Hi! Welcome! I’m so glad you you came to this class!” I go above and beyond to make them feel comfortable, which means I am probably making them uncomfortable. I do the same thing at work, particularly when I cross paths with an African American women. The other day, I passed a young African American women in the hall and I was all “Hi!” and even waved at her like she was my best friend. We do not know each other.
Part of it is that I am desperately trying to convince this population of people that I am on their side. I’m one of the good guys. I am begging them to please do not be afraid of me; I am not dangerous. The other part of me is hoping that I am being encouraging. I want diversity in these white saturated areas because science and yoga are for everyone and I am desperately trying to make amends for my ancestors. I know that my behavior is a symptom of growing up surrounded by white, but I am trying really hard to show that the cycle of passing down racism can be broken. Because every day there is a news story about some white person doing something hateful and racist. White Nationalism is now a thing. Radio hosts are encouraging lynching raids. An uncomfortably large number of white people think that racism is A-okay.
Not this white person.
It is useless to apologize for my whiteness. I can’t help genetics. But I can make my life more diverse and welcoming. I can be a shield against the hatefulness. I can break cycles.