As you can see in the image provided, sixty-nine percent of my genealogical DNA is of Great Britain descent, with an additional 26% from Ireland/Scotland/Wales and Eastern Europe. The remaining 5% is sprinkled through Southern and Western Europe, Central Asia, Middle East, and Melanesia. I am proud of my heritage for it led me here, however, I am cognizant of the reality that the color of my skin and that of my ancestors gives me a perspective spotted by privilege.
I cannot go back in time and change the actions, thoughts, or beliefs of any ancestral relation who may have held racist, misogynist, or ethnically-biased views. I wonder if my Irish and Slovakian immigrants, who may have faced prejudice based on their homeland of origin, were more supportive of people of color. Or did they project the racial tension aimed their way onto another group? I would very much like to think the former, but until I have a better understanding of the place and time in which they lived it is only an assumption based on ignorance.
For as much as I look back on the stories of those who came before me, I do so with the understanding that the story will always be fiction. I can assume, suppose, or guess reasons for their actions and moral values based on religious or cultural beliefs, but I can never truly know how they felt or what they said in the privacy of their home.
- Did my white male ancestors treat others as inferior or subservient based on their gender, skin color, or religion?
- Did any of them (male or female) march in support of women’s or civil rights or were they on the sidelines spouting hate?
- Did my “wealthier” relations give of their time or money to help those less fortunate?
- Did they leave the world better than they found it?
I’ve recently realized that though I spout liberal views I’ve never sought answers to any of the questions above. More importantly, if I asked the same of myself, what would my true responses be? By glossing over the past with rose-speckled glasses, I’ve remained ignorant of history’s reality. I can’t change the actions of those before me but I can, and choose to, move forward with clarity, respect, love, and a refreshed perspective. My soul tears at the thought of the possible sins of my ancestors and of those I may have committed (intentionally or not). When I look in the mirror I see someone wrapped in a peach-colored cocoon of safety, comfort, and ignorance. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I’ve chosen to sit on the sidelines (wary of confrontation and others’ opinions) while my fellow brothers and sisters fight every day to be seen and treated as equals.
In order to heal, I must choose to open my heart and mind, and speak truth to power. Hopefully, my great-great-great nieces and nephews won’t have to wonder or assume how I’d answer the questions posed above.