A Little Bit Black

A lot of Southern whites are a little bit black

Six million Americans who describe themselves as white have some African ancestry, according to a new study. In percentage terms, that means that roughly 3.5 percent of self-described white Americans have 1 percent or more African ancestry.

To arrive at these numbers, researchers pored over the genetic records of 145,000 people who submitted a cheek swab for testing to 23andme, a private company that provides ancestry-related genetic reports. The researchers examined the genetic records of people of self-described European, African and Latino descent to find the genetic traces left by relatives long-since deceased.

In order to hit that one percent threshold above, for instance, you’d have to have an African relative no further back than seven generations — in other words, a great-great-great-great-great grandparent. And as you might expect, there are some fascinating differences in our genetic admixture at the state level. Southern whites are considerably more likely to have African ancestry than whites from other regions: “European Americans with African ancestry comprise as much as 12% of European Americans from Louisiana and South Carolina and about 1 in 10 individuals in other parts of the South,” the authors found.

That variation makes up part of the genetic inheritance of slavery. As Jenée Desmond-Harris notes over at Vox, the study finds that present-day African-Americans are far more likely to have a European male ancestor (19 percent) than a European female one (5 percent). “That, of course, reflects what historians know about white slave owners raping enslaved women who descended from Africa,” she writes.

Indeed, the average self-described African-American has about 24 percent European ancestry, according to the study, indicating that descriptors like “black” and “white” mean a lot less from a biological standpoint than they do from a cultural one. To dig deeper into this, the authors plotted respondents’ proportion of African ancestry against their likelihood of calling themselves African American.

What they found was that people who were 15 percent African or less generally didn’t describe themselves as African-American, while those who were 50 percent African or greater almost universally did. But in between there was a considerable amount of variation. Those who were about one quarter African were just as likely as not to call themselves African-American.

It’ll be interesting to see how these proportions shift in the coming decades. In 1980, for instance, 6.7 percent of new marriages were between different-race spouses. By 2010, that share had risen to 15.1 percent. And as demographer William Frey notes, “nearly three in 10 new black marriages are multiracial, with most of them to white spouses.” This is especially significant given that as recently as 1967 — within living memory for many Americans — interracial marriages were outlawed in 16 states.

Source: Washington Post

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Medical Monday

Book of the Year

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History by Nicholas Wade is a must read for anyone interested in genetics.

Wade takes chances—chances that he will be labeled a racist—but he takes that chance with a well thought out and thought provoking book. He throws aside scientific-political correctness, throws caution to the wind, and is fearless whether looking at historical facts or speculating on the future of humankind.

It is enough for me to want to read a book when I see Dr. Neil Risch, a statistical geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco cited. Risch has certainly established his credibility in the genetics realm. However, I wanted to see what Wade himself had to say.

Is race a social or biological construct? The truth is that we don’t know. Genetics is in its infancy, with the human genome having recently been decoded in 2003, which is where Wade starts and then works backwards. He takes us through history, geography, biology and sociology.

There are not many areas more emotionally charged than whether race is a biological or social construct. Just ask some of the people who hold themselves in amazing self-esteem in—or commenting on—the multiracial movement. I will be quoting some of Nicholas Wade’s precise wording from this book in future posts, and I’m sure they will be noticed. For now, I’ll give my thoughts on the book in general.

The first thing you should know is that the author is neither a geneticist nor a medical doctor, although that hardly disqualifies his knowledge. He has been a science writer and editor for Science magazine and The New York Times, as well as deputy editor of Nature magazine.

Second, regardless of which side of the big question you are on, you can learn a lot about genetics from A Troublesome Inheritance. If the word “genetics” bothers you, just call things like DNA “markers.” The book is divided into two parts. The first part is about the basic technical aspects of genetics. The second part contrasts different cultures. I enjoyed the first part the most although my yellow highlighter got a workout throughout the 251 page book. I can’t speak to how well other Project RACE members will enjoy the book, since we are individuals and not prone to group-thinking.

Lastly, I agree with many things Nicholas Wade writes about, wonder about others and even disagree with a few, but most importantly, I learned a lot from the author and those that he cites. If you have an open mind, want to learn more about the big “biological or social construct question,” or read a book that will make you think, this is the one.

Susan Graham

Genetics Blamed for School Transfer

California Boy, Ordered To Transfer Schools For Carrying Cystic Fibrosis Gene

Colman Chadam, an 11-year-old California boy, has been ordered to transfer from his current school to another one miles away because of his genetic makeup. Now, his parents are taking the issue to court.

Colman carries the genetic mutations for cystic fibrosis, a noncontagious but incurable and life-threatening disease. Despite the gene’s presence, the Jordan Middle School student in Palo Alto doesn’t actually have the disease and doesn’t exhibit the typical symptoms of thick mucus that can clog and infect the lungs.

Cystic fibrosis is inherited from both parents and while not contagious, can pose a threat if two people with the disease are in close contact. In an effort to protect other students at the school who do have the disease, officials declared that Colman would have to transfer out to prevent cross contamination.

“I was sad but at the same time I was mad because I understood that I hadn’t done anything wrong,” Colman told TODAY. “It feels like I’m being bullied in a way that is not right.
Colman’s parents argue that their son’s doctor has confirmed that the boy doesn’t have the disease, and therefore isn’t a risk to other students. They disclosed his condition on a medical form for the school at the beginning of the year as a precautionary measure, but never expected their son to be barred from the school, as his genetic makeup had not been an issue in the past at other schools with students who have cystic fibrosis.

“They made this decision without seeing one medical record on my son,” mother Jennifer Chadam told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Honestly if I felt Colman was a risk to others, I would move him. I don’t want anyone to get sick.”

Palo Alto Associate Superintendent Charles Young told NBC News that officials made the request to move Colman based on consultations with medical experts who said a transfer would be the “zero risk option.”

While the district’s attorney Lenore Silverman told the Chronicle that school officials are “not willing to risk a potentially life-threatening illness among kids,” Dr. Dennis Nielson says a child is “at absolutely no risk to the children that have classic cystic fibrosis” if he or she has a normal sweat test — which is the case for Colman. Nielson is the University of California, San Francisco’s chief of pediatric pulmonary medicine and head of its Cystic Fibrosis Clinic.

Colman’s condition echoes situations experienced by students across the country with allergies. A U.K. study last year found that adolescents who have a nut allergy tend to feel isolated, stigmatized or left out of activities.

Those findings are anecdotally supported by stories like one out of Edgewater, Fla., where parents in the Volusia County School District rallied behind a movement to remove a 6-year-old girl from the classroom last year. Homeschooling the child, they said, would reduce frustrations other families experience for having to comply with special rules to ensure the girl’s wellbeing.

Colman is currently being homeschooled pending a court hearing next week.

Source: Huff Post