Recently Dominican news and social media has been hit with a factoid many had suspected, but few were willing to admit or even face: Dominican DNA is 49% African.

This ‘revelation’ has caused a flame war on social media from both pro-African camps as well as the I’m-proud-of-my-African-roots-but-I’m-still-mostly-European camp. Neither camps seem to be content with the results, pointing to inaccuracies and ‘agendas’.

Turns out they’re both right. And they’re both wrong.

As is usual with statistics, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Crunching The Numbers

Let’s look at the facts — that is, the numbers a few well-meaning scientists have presented us with.

This is the first DNA study of its kind, thanks to the Dominican Academy of History, the University of Pennsylvania, and the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project. Never before had there been a similar investigation into the Dominican genome, except for a small study of a few members of the military in the 1950s.

The official breakdown is as follows:

Genes… With Holes In Them (get it?)

The final numbers everyone has been throwing around in the news are the result of adding together the various breakdown elements into groups based on a geographic, not cultural construct. In other words, Europe, Asia and the Middle East became ‘Eurasia’, North and South Africa became ‘Africa’, etc.

poteleche

“Did you see the study that says that 49% of us Dominicans are black Africans?” — “Yes, and about 90% needed to be reminded of that.” — art by Poteleche

But herein lies the rub. Simplifying these numbers poses several questions/issues.

  • Should we split Europe and Asia?
  • If we separate Asia, do we include the Native American DNA results?
  • Where do we place the Neanderthal results, since they are Eurasian?
  • And what about the Finland (Europe) and Siberia (Asia) results?
  • Where do we place the swingvote 4.9% of unspecified DNA?
  • etc

As we can see, there is a lot that can be said for and against these results and how they’ve been laid out.

Therefor many have taken umbrage with the results as well as the method of taking them. However, anyone arguing for or against these results has missed the significance (or lack thereof) of genetic results.

What They Mean

There are no absolutes in genetics. These DNA tests are but a snapshot of the genetic makeup of a people — sketches if you will. They are very general and are no reflection of individuals.

As such, saying that Dominicans are African is like saying that Americans are German — simply because Germans constitute the largest genetic ancestry of the people of the US. This blanket statement however is extremely superficial and inaccurate, as it does not include African American, Native Americans or even Latinos. So while it makes for interesting headlines and is correct in very general terms, it is by no means a reflection of the U.S. — the quintessential melting pot.

Same with the results concerning the Dominican DNA and how they are presented.

In light of this, here are a few suggested alternate Headlines, based on the same DNA study, depending on how you interpret the numbers.

“Dominicans Are Only 49% African!”
“Dominicans Are 51% Eurasian!”
“Dominicans Are Over 4% Asians!”
“Dominicans Are Over 1% British!”
“Dominican Genes Contain 5% Alien DNA!”

and so on…

Feeling silly yet?

So Are Dominican Mostly African?

Since the days of Columbus, Africans have always vastly outnumbered Europeans as the predominant immigrants on the island (and not just on the western part). Over the past 500 years these two races have cross-mixed and mated many times over. Throw into that mix a heavy dose of Native American (Taino) blood, as well as Asian and Middle Eastern (Arab and Jewish) DNA.

fam

But does that make Dominicans African?

No.

But they are neither Europeans, Asians or Neanderthal for that matter.

They are Dominicans — a beautiful mix of Asian, European, Native American and, yes, African roots.

The same goes for the Haitian side, our neighbors in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, etc — pretty much the whole American continent.

As each individual’s DNA is different, the general genetic results cited in the news only show what’s in the mix (and barely so), but doesn’t establish an absolute. There are variations in the percentage based on localities, geography, how long their ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc) haven been in the country, and so on.

DNA Ancestry Results In General Are Wishy-Washy

Humans have, in fact, transformed the entire planet into one single genetic melting pot. Our species has done the utmost in crossing oceans, scaling mountains and traversing continents — and most of all, reproduce outside of our genetic group. No DNA test can with certainty tell you who you or your people are.

Once upon a time a certain German dictator tried to do just that in order to weed out those he deemed genetically inferior. Another certain Dominican dictator tried to do the same. We’d be foolish to judge who we are based on their criteria. Have we learned nothing from history, or are we doomed to repeat it, after all?

Look in the mirror.

The face staring back at you is your ancestry, whether you like it or not. It is generations of people just like you simply trying to survive the best they could, one way or the other. Your existence is proof that they succeeded. All we can do is thank them for their sacrifices and move on — the way they did.

Arguing about the tenuous facts of our past, no matter how ‘scientific’ they claim to be, doesn’t help anyone move forward or make this world a better place.