Intellectual Autobiography: African Diaspora in My Professional Work

This is a paper I wrote during my time at Spelman College.

African American history began to permeate my mind after I embarked on a Civil Rights tour through the South, the summer going into my junior year of high school. I began researching and writing about the history of the African American people. Then, I was acquainted with my biological family, and from there my interest in African studies began to expand. I was learning more about my family history and I was growing fascinated with the stories of my ancestors that I was hearing. I even set up accounts online with various genealogical websites to partake in my own research and I took a couple DNA samples to discover where my roots may have come from.

I always wanted to minor in African American studies. When I first came to Spelman College, I was introduced to the course and term African Diaspora. From there, my career goals and my interests began to shift. I am currently interested in becoming a genealogist and writing books and articles for journals. My main focus is on the African Diaspora and educating others on the various mixed races and cultures of the African Diaspora, while helping people discover themselves.

Before diving into the correlation between my professional interest and the influence that learning about the African Diaspora has had on me, it is important to recognize my personal view. I am of African descent, and because of that, I am a part of the African Diaspora; however, my culture is consisted of mixed ethnicities and races. I am not just African American: I am also Caucasian, Asian, and Native American. My Caucasian ancestry extends over much of Western Europe. My story includes all my ancestors and is not limited to my African ancestors. I do not condone slavery and the reasons as to why I am of mixed ancestry, but nonetheless, all my ancestors impacted some aspect of my life and for that I am thankful and grateful.

Becoming a genealogists sparked my interest after learning about my own ancestral stories. I was intrigued and felt an urge to hear other people’s stories. From watching documentaries on others finding their “roots” and watching Alex Haley’s mini-series, I wanted to know more and hear more about myself and other people. Due to my curiosity I partook in a couple DNA testing kits to pinpoint my ancestral origin. Prior to engaging in genealogical research I was fully devoted to African culture. I had no interest in anyone else’s culture because to my knowledge, their cultures didn’t include me. After taking my first DNA test I discovered I couldn’t have been more wrong. The results portrayed ancestral origins all over the globe, but I was confused; my family tree only implied African and European ancestry, but within my DNA I had ancestry in various regions of Asia as well. During my first year at Spelman College, I was enrolled in a course called: African Diaspora and The World (ADW), which helped me gain that understanding of my DNA, while also deepening my interest. I had no knowledge that slavery existed across the Indian Ocean. With this newfound awareness, I began to almost build my story. My African ancestors could have been slaves in Asian territories.

According to Gwyn Campbell, the Middle East was one of the earliest and had one of the greatest demands for slave labor in Asia. This explains my large ancestral population in the Caucus region. After experiencing that year of ADW I knew I definitely wanted to be a genealogist, especially for the black population because I believe that black people forget they too have a history that extends beyond Africa. Dark skin identifies skin color, but not the ancestral story behind it, which defines one’s culture.

Scholar Paul Gilroy works best with my ideology with my ideology when he states, “‘race,’ culture, nationality, and ethnicity which have a bearing on the histories and political cultures” (Gilroy 4) of people. In other words, all of these aspects play a defining role in people’s lives. Apparently, during the nineteenth century, “race” was just as commonly used as “culture”” is used now. Since then people are now accepting that people can be of one race but accept many cultures. Gilroy also mentions the unacceptability of the derogatory terms that plague people of mixed races:

Against this choice stands another, more difficult option: the theorisation of creolisation, métissage, mestizaje, and hybridity. From the viewpoint of ethnic absolutism, this would be a litany of pollution and impurity. These terms are rather unsatisfactory ways of naming the processes of cultural mutation and restless (dis)continuity that exceed racial discourse and avoid capture by its agents (Gilroy 2).

Gilroy best defines what I am about due to his in depth take on culture based on race, ethnicity, and nationality, and the incorporation of mixed races.

My DNA tests prove that I am beyond the absolute. I am more than just African. As a result of slavery, slave and master relations, and other reasons for migration, I have ancestry all over the world, and I am proud of that. My culture is not identifiable by a single name because I am my own melting pot. I appreciate my Asian ancestry and the accomplishments my Asian ancestors made. I believe they are the true discoverers of the Americas and gave me my Native American ancestry. I am proud for their brave sacrifices and kind hearts for helping the pilgrims and attempting fight to save their people and their land. From them, I believe I have a value for making use of everything. These native people didn’t waste the animal skins, meat, or bone, and today I try to preserve everything I buy and eat because I know out there, someone is going without. From my African ancestors, I took the value of voice. I have an appreciation for art forms such as song and dance and culinary; and my ancestors’ fight for freedoms give me the inspiration to speak up when I feel as though something is wrong or unjust. Lastly, my Caucasian ancestry. I was adopted to an Italian American family and from them, I value foods and a need for control in my own life. Within myself, I hold much appreciation for my oppressed ancestors, but I accept all of my ancestors for creating me and helping to define my culture.

In my professional career as a genealogist, I want to help others find themselves. I want to help them to discover their own unique cultures beyond the cultural limitations of absolutism. I would love to work with people of the African Diaspora to open up their minds to the stories that their ancestors made that may allow them to redefine their true selves in society. ADW has inspired me to look beyond what I know and I’ve created a story of my own and found a passion that I enjoy doing.

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