Where Do We Go From Here? by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.

There are many black Americans today who yearn for a more complete connection with their African ancestry. Many believe this link is necessary to complete their cultural identity. For some, this effort goes no further than wearing African attire. For others, it means performing a great deal of serious research in a quest to find the origins of their lineage.

Fortunately for those people, technology is making such research easier. The Washington Post recently reported that a DNA sample can now be used to trace blacks to the African tribes from which they descended. Oprah Winfrey used it to find that she descended from the Kpelle tribe of modern-day Liberia, and Quincy Jones was traced to the Mbundu or Kimundu tribe in present-day Angola.

For those who lost the link to their homelands during the African slave trade, this genealogical service can be a godsend. It helps them gain a psychological link to the past, a sense of connection to the African homeland and the confident feeling that comes with having knowledge of one’s heritage. To know one’s origin is to know who one is and what one’s ancestors achieved. It’s also important because it can help ensure that past evils and misfortunes are identified, understood, and never repeated.

But with every silver lining, there can be a cloud. Not everyone is emotionally ready to deal with such information. If knowing one’s history fosters animus toward those whose ancestors may or may not have been responsible for creating a disconnect with one’s heritage, then that knowledge can be deleterious.

Since life is about perpetually growing and moving forward, one should not become embroiled in hatred and anger. Admittedly, the more we learn about our past, the greater the tendency will be to become infuriated about what happened to our ancestors. We should not be swayed by these emotions, however, because hatred is not productive nor the way forward.

Obtaining new knowledge about our genealogical links to Africa should not be allowed to contribute to the creeping fragmentation of America. Recently, two Brookings Institution scholars – James Hunter and Alan Wolfe – released a book entitled Is There A Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life. While Hunter and Wolfe write about political, religious and social fragmentation, we must be mindful of a deep divide that is emerging in America due to ethnic fragmentation, which brings with it adverse political, cultural and economic consequences that can tear America apart.

Black Americans deserve to reap the benefits of 400 years of being key contributors to building America, and we should be careful to protect our interests by not contributing to the nation’s disintegration.

Without a doubt, however, blacks are still resolving our schizophrenia over our place in America. We must choose between full integration and continuing as a “nation within a nation.” Some may argue that this is partly outside of our purview because the larger society must first decide whether it is willing to accept the black America that it created. An alternate view is that blacks must insist on our rightful role as an integral force in shaping America’s future.

The bottom line is that black Americans must continue to move forward. Let’s use all available tools to uncover our origins, the history of our ancestors and learn how we came to be where we are today.

We must use this knowledge wisely – as a source of strength and wellbeing and not as a source of hate that will fragment America. Only we can decide where we go from here.

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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. To read about similar issues, the author suggests interested readers go to www.blackeconomics.org.

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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