Who Dey People Is?

Who dey people is?

Growing up, it was the first question my mom would ask if I was interested in “going with” a boy.

She wanted to be sure he wasn’t some distant cousin I had never met. I had to find out his last name and his parents’ names and his grandparents’ names. All of this had to be cleared so we would avoid the dreaded “kissing cousins.”

Who yo’ people is?

I come from an insanely large family on both sides. My mother and father had well over 15 siblings apiece, that includes step-siblings and half-siblings, who I always assumed were full siblings growing up because the words “step and half” were never used. Our family tree is strong and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

I remember as a teenager always meeting a new cousin, who would invariably talk about how the last time she or he saw me I was when I was a little baby. And in my mid-30’s I am still meeting new relatives and making new connections to my blood relatives.

This took on a whole new path when I took a DNA test.

At first I was defined as simply 96.3 percent Sub-Saharan African, but now the service can tell me that that I am 22.9 percent Nigerian, 19.6 percent Congolese, and 15. 4 percent Ghanaian, Liberian, Sierra Leonean and some other West African and Southern East African origins, 1.9% European, and 1.7% East Asian/Native American.

Who is my people?

One of the features of the DNA service is that it connects me to DNA relatives. It shows exactly how much DNA connects you to that individual. The DNA is only shared with permission from both indvidiuals.

So far, I have been able to confirm only one person: My maternal grandfather is her great-grandfather. Her father is one of my first cousins. We have 3.75 DNA in common.

However, there are many more DNA relatives I have, but we are unable to find ancestors in common through the names we have available to us through our respective families. And other than the blood we have in common, there likely never will be anything we will have to connect us to one another.

American slavery robbed many Black Americans of the ability to construct a complete family tree. It will always be fractured, it’s growth stunted.

When I saw the worldwide map of all of DNA relatives (just the ones using this DNA service) I was overwhelmed at the enormity of it. Most of them are on the East Coast, but there were some on the West Coast as well and a few in Europe and Africa. From looking at their pictures, they range from White to multi-racial to the various complexions of Black.

I sat at my computer and cried for my relatives, the ones represented on my screen and the ancestors who surely experienced the brutality of slavery. And more than anything I contemplated on the pain of having a child or spouse sold away and never hearing from them again.  

Who is my people?

They are those DNA relatives on that map, but they are the Bartells too and the McCrays and now the Boykins as well. They are the people who called me Jenni Lou growing up; they are the people who came to my graduations and basketball games; they are the people who love me and who pray for me.

And isn’t that the miracle of the Black family? That despite the institution of slavery being an active destroyer, our ancestors were still able to make and maintain family throughout these generations. That the ones who were sold away were welcomed by other families in those new places they found themselves. That although they didn’t share blood, they shared something much more powerful, and together found the will to survive.

That’s the enduring story of my people. Dat’s who we be.

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