MY PASSPORT TO ANCESTRY
Sitting on a crowded 3 line train during a typical commute home to Harlem, I popped my earphones in and cued up my favorite podcasts as a light distraction to pass time. With an idle mind, my thoughts began to wander and my eyes soon followed. Before I knew it, I was committing a cardinal New York sin – I locked eyes with the creep sitting across from me.
He licked his lips and smiled boldly – revealing a jigsaw of severely tattered and brown teeth. Quickly, I darted my focus to the top of the train car, desperate to correct my rookie mistake with a clear sign of disinterest. That’s when I saw her. Blue eyed and blonde hair proudly informing the entire train car that she was “9.2% Nigerian.“
It was an ad for Ancestry.com, the popular genealogy company that promises to help you
“discover your history and start your family tree.”
Immediately, I rolled my eyes and mockingly snapped a photo to share on social media. My annoyance, however, was not exclusive to a white woman boldly claiming her African heritage. A black man sharing his Ghanaian DNA ratio would have prompted the same response. “Why,” you ask? Mainly, I cannot support a company that profits from an unfavorable experience uniquely specific to Black Americans – an insatiable longing for a sense of belonging on the North American continent.
I love to travel. More so than umbrella drinks and bikini-clad photo opportunities, I am drawn
to chances to immerse myself in a culture with practices that divert from the beaten path. My
travel itch first sparked at the age of 22 while participating in “Paris Noir,” an academic
research program centered on the evolving influence of Black culture in Paris. This experience
inspired a deep passion to explore the world and the many diverse reflections of the African
diaspora within it; an ambition I’ve maintained ever since.
Who I am – or choose to believe myself to be - cannot be defined by a spit test. The richness
and totality of my blackness is vast and diverse. It can be found in the comforts of classic
Southern dishes (including slap yo’ mama biscuits) at Stagolee’s in London, or Hip Hop
permeating through the walls of Paris’ Le Comptoir Général, or the sweet scents and tastes of
Senegal in the streets of Harlem. My ancestry includes maroons and musicians, artists and
activists, poets and politicians, inventors and intellects. All of whom have left indelible marks
across the world for me to discover and embrace without the need for scientific “evidence” or
assurance to do so.
For Black Americans, I believe Ancentry.com narrows the perspective. Limiting our convoluted
history to the results of a commercialize DNA tests runs the risk of overlooking reflections of
oneself that exist domestically and abroad. Further, it often diminishes the rich culture we’ve
built within the confines of US soil. Blackness – and its colorful displays through arts, style,
spirituality, language, etc. - is as deeply seated in the fabrics of this country as those overseas.
The best way to uncover it? Through authentic and concerted immersion in black magic
worldwide – from the streets of Cartagena to the cities of Alabama.
It is our duty to celebrate all reflections of our genius; whether familiar or foreign. And to
anyone still digging for a sense of belonging – I assure you, there is no better method for
achieving that than to travel… and you shall see that you belong.
Nyrie McKenzie is a New York publicist specializing in Food & Beverage, Travel & Lifestyle. She is also Cofounder of @NecessaryBaggage, an online resource that explores perspectives on race, ethnicity and identity through travel. Follow her journeys at @Ms_Nyrie and check out @NeccessaryBaggage.
image post: airbnb