Many African-Americans know for sure that they have their roots back in Africa. However, the specific country, which language or culture, they are not aware; this is especially as a result of slavery that disconnected them from their ancestral stories and roots. Because of this, African-Americans over the years have resorted to DNA testing as a means to quench their curiosity about their roots. This resolve was mostly inspired by Alex Haley’s 1977 television miniseries “Roots” – about tracing Haley’s genealogy back to the Gambia.
DNA testing as a means of tracing genealogy, has been embraced by many prominent African-American personalities, like Isaiah Washington, T.D Jakes and Forest Whitaker, however many people still doubt the accuracy. Recently many people have a problem believing that the tests results are accurate and what they really mean.
An African-American teacher in the United States, Nware Burge, has taken up the initiative to try and reverse those doubts with his new documentary titled: DNA: Using genealogy to change my (slave) last name. The documentary recently won an award of best documentary award at the Black Star International Film Festival held in Ghana’s capital Accra.
Burge is urging African-Americans who are curious about their roots to get the DNA test. He says, “We have a lot of people that question the DNA. I feel like we use DNA for anthropological studies; we use DNA for exonerating prisoners; we use DNA for science and all this… DNA for everything. So why not make it a vital tool to understand who we are.”
He also adds that, “We do have people who will say we don’t need it. I, because of my experiences here in the States, we have a lot of people who may not necessarily claim Africa or say they are Africans because of stigmatization, because of what media, specifically white media has stigmatized the continent.”
So much of the link between the African-Americans and their African roots was lost in slavery, the moment their ancestors stepped on the American soil. Slaves were forced to adopt the foreign culture and abandon their cultural and religious practices. And during the Civil War most of the archives that had the arrival of slaves documented, were destroyed, making it even harder for genealogy research.
DNA testing has been giving lots of African-Americans a chance to reconnect with their roots. However, most of them complain that it becomes very difficult to be accepted by their communities of origin. Burges believes that with education, this trend can be reversed.
Burges, who strongly believes in the importance of connecting to ones roots, says that he is open to the idea of living in his country of origin.
He said, “One of the main reasons I’m doing this [getting a DNA test] is because many may not be familiar with the story; the story of Africans being brought to the Americas, the Caribbean…so a lot of us don’t know where we are from. A lot of us want to know where we are from in Africa and so once I get my results back, for me, I’m going to apply for a citizenship but I want to go specifically to my ethnic group to meet with the family, the elders and the community first and foremost, give permission and hopefully to be granted from the elders or from the administration or from the State.”