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Genetic Testing as a Key to Discovering Our Roots

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‘The Social Life of DNA’ by Alondra Nelson goes in depth explaining how genetic testing can be the key to discovering our roots. Nelson highlights the concept that people, specifically African Americans, should rediscover their roots to find out who they are and where they came from. Through DNA testing, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, people were able to gain a sense of where their ancestors originated, and it also helped find lost distant family. Questions about slavery, racial discrimination, Jim Crow laws, and their socioeconomical conditions would help the current generation reconcile with what occurred in the past. Nelson encourages root seekers to resolve their unanswered questions and look closely into their history until they find what they are seeking. Although these tests can be exciting and adventurous to use, it does not provide a comprehensive overview about their background due to the limited knowledge the company has on African roots. The results from the DNA ancestry testing are general-based and do not vary much in information.

DNA testing is not effective because it fails to give leads about the slave era. In 'The Social Life of DNA’, root-seekers are primarily looking for statistics about African Americans. Nelson encourages people to find out about their own history and learn who they truly are. We are uneducated about our ancestors and our past. We live without regard, sympathy, or an understanding about what history holds for us. If people do not know about their own history, history will be lost little by little over time, and eventually, it will cease to exist. However, retracing roots back to the beginning of slave trade is difficult. The slave trade dehumanized countless of Africans and spread them across unknown lands, from the Caribbean, to Brazil, Europe, and America. This shadowed their original inheritance and caused the diversity of Africans to bloom (Brucato, 2010). Genetic testing to retrace their original roots was rendered ineffective due to how diverse their people have become.

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Despite the negativity revolving around the failure of genetic testing, Nelson was still able to promote the advantages in using genetic tests. It was stated in page 165, that although these tests were limited, DNA is the gateway connecting the past, present, and future. DNA holds history and can tell you more than you know. Nelson was able to sell this advertisement by explaining why it is good to know your own roots. It can provide people with social identification, culture origin, and a political sense of who they are. This appealed to those who were interested in learning about their history. In addition, African Americans have a high incidence rate in certain types of diseases. It has been noted that African Americans are more likely to develop inflammatory responses to pathogens and have high incident and death rates from cardiovascular diseases and prostate cancer (Park, 2019). In situations with genetic disorders, DNA testing comes in handy. It enables researchers to update their data they’ve obtained from DNA samples. Furthermore, it would also inform the consumer what they percentage they potentially at risk for. With the information obtained from their DNA sample, people will be aware of their risks and can choose to change their lifestyle and diet. A change in lifestyle and habits can help the disease remain dormant. If they don’t watch out for what they are at risk for, an unhealthy lifestyle would only speed up the incidence rate.

Not only can genetic testing appraise people about their history and health complications, but it also allows Africans to fight for equal rights, racial, economic, and social justice. Since Africans were stripped of their rights when they were enslaved and captured, the original lineage was lost. Slave owners would rape their ‘property’, and as a result, the diversification begin. The diversification and the force to adapt to their new life and environment, caused African heritage to mix with heritages of other countries. Pure African heritage would remain uncommon, driving root seekers to search for a genuine link to Africa (Abel, 2016). It is important to know your roots as it is essential to understanding who we are, the bonds that we share with others, and the memories it holds. In the book, genetic testing was used to help reunite long lost family and family members that they did not even know of. Although it doesn’t necessarily link people to their past, it is still vital that they learn their origin as it is the building blocks of who we are.

‘The Social Life of DNA’ centers around how ancestry testing can inform African Americans about their lost kin. The book repeats many important details, going in depth more each time. Nelson tries to keep the audience engaged and retain information. This book is targeted at African Americans but can also be directed towards anyone who is interested in looking at their roots. The intended audience was mainly African Americans because they hold a lot of history. From enslavement, dehumanization, racial discrimination, segregation, and black lives matter, they have been through many tough situations. Their perspective of the world has been greatly impacted by the challenges that they have faced and overcame.

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Genetic Testing as a Key to Discovering Our Roots. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Genetic Testing as a Key to Discovering Our Roots.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
Genetic Testing as a Key to Discovering Our Roots. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Genetic Testing as a Key to Discovering Our Roots [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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