You can’t fight racism here or in Trump’s America by falling for the myth of DNA-determined race

ELLEN E JONES
Ellen E Jones

It’s lucky there are still 67 shopping days till Christmas because my genius family gift idea no longer seems quite so inspired. DNA testing kits, now available for under £100, are probably a lot of fun, but, as US presidential contender Elizabeth Warren is discovering, they reveal very little.

Warren is the progressive Democrat senator from Massachusetts who Trump derisively calls “Pocahontas’”. It’s a nickname based on some truth — Warren has claimed Native American ancestry; and some lies — ex-colleagues confirm she’s never received any preferential treatment based on her heritage. However, like the President’s other reductive and repetitive taunts, it’s been horribly effective.

This week, Warren and her advisers rose to Trump’s bait with a badly backfiring campaign ad, in which a Stanford University geneticist confirms Warren’s genome has “five segments of Native American ancestry with very high confidence”. Predictably, this “proof” has not only failed to shut down Trump’s line of attack, but also rankled with the Cherokee Nation, who point out that DNA testing “is not evidence for tribal affiliation”.

Warren wouldn’t be the first to fall for the myth of DNA-determined race. Who doesn’t want to spit in a test tube and uncover an exotic family backstory they can trot out at parties? Mine used to be that I’m one-32nd Native American, based, like Warren, on a flimsy, but not necessarily false, family story. I’m told a great-grandmother was nicknamed “Miss Pink”, because — forgive the cringe, unwoke wordplay — she was “a bit red”, geddit?

Genealogy is a funny old game, as Danny Dyer might say. It’s a field in which it can be totally true that the East-Enders star is a descendant of King Edward III, but also virtually meaningless (so are about four million other people). Yet knowing this does not make watching Dyer in his now-iconic episode of Who Do You Think You Are? any less heartwarming or hilarious, because family identity is based on so much more than a sequence of nucleic acids.

Bring race into the equation and the science gets even shakier. There is no genetic basis to sub-divide the human species at all, let alone according to the physical characteristics which have historically been used to determine race. Indeed, since modern humans originated in Africa and lived there the longest, there’s more genetic diversity between different dark-skinned African populations than between light-skinned Europeans and Africans or Africans and Asians.

"The absurdity of race is as plain as the nose on my face to me and others who might be termed ‘visibly mixed race’"

The absurdity of race is as plain as the nose on my face to me and other people who might be termed “visibly mixed race” (315,000 years into the evolution of our species, we’re all “mixed” if the term has any meaning at all). We see the nonsense as soon as we can look in a mirror.

Sadly, while race doesn’t exist, racism — the power structure this pseudo-science was invented to justify — still does, and most especially in Trump’s America. Come 2020, the world will need a new champion, one who grasps these nuances, but also knows better than to bother explaining them to the President.

At least Spurs have kept the spiritual home

The construction of Spurs’ new stadium drags on, the costs rise but local residents still have no real reason to grumble. I know because until recently I lived on White Hart Lane and my address is now in Upton Park, a few streets from West Ham’s Boleyn Ground. Or rather, what was West Ham’s ground before the club relocated to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, seeing off a rival bid from Spurs in the process.

So what’s it like living in the Hammers’ hollowed-out heart? There’s less public drunkenness, the parking is easier and you no longer have to plan weekends around match days — yet something important has been lost. That’s palpable even to someone like me — by which I mean someone who doesn’t know her offside from her backside.

I may not be fussed about football but I’m interested in community spirit and local history and a London team’s historical home ground is that rare, magical space where the two intersect.

So while it’s costly and inconvenient, Spurs fans can be proud that the club have kept their team where they belong.

*New-old sitcom The Conners (aka Roseanne minus its namesake) debuted on US TV this week and reviewer opinion seems united: the MAGA-matriarch is not much missed. Meanwhile, online fan debate continues over casting for the live Disney remakes in development. Has Aladdin been whitewashed? Is Janelle Monae too cool for Lady and the Tramp?

Janelle Monae (Getty Images)

And who has the heft to play Ursula in The Little Mermaid? That’s “heft” in all senses, which rules out skinny sea witches such as Lady Gaga or Pink. A solution: could this be a comeback for Roseanne Barr ? She’d be controversial — but these days, what isn’t?