19 October 2009

Why isn’t the slave master considered part of your
family? My uncle with the Confederate belt buckle is
wrong, but he is still family. My grandmother always
used to say, “let the darkies carry that for you, dear.” I
am one of many white people who claim

they have native American blood, but I really do. My
maiden name is Livingston and I was born in
Barbados. “You girls stay out of that terrible sun,”
Great-grandmother Livingston would say. “God
knows you're dark enough already.” When I first
moved to

my oddly-named little town I was excited that it was
named after an Arkansas Indian, because I am one-
eighth Arkansas Indian, too. Just like Jim Thorpe. He
died with an accent. A truly American one. Not like
yours, I promise. This one was authentic. She’d say,
“oh, he

really Jewed him!” or something like that. She was
German and because of her accent and also because I
had no idea what she was talking about I always
thought she was saying “chewed” him. As in nibbled
him down to size. I think I was well into my teens
before I

ever knew about the stereotype, and that was because
of reading the Merchant of Venice in English class.
No, I am not everything there is to be in the world. I
have no Zambian ancestry, and I am not directly
Asian (via the Indians, I suppose I have indirect Asian

ancestry). But I am a profound genetic contradiction.
I have said this before, and I am fiercely proud of my
ancestors ability to bravely “mix it up.” My great-
grandfather used to say to his wife, my great-
grandmother, who in turn told her daughter, my
grandmother, who

repeated it to her daughter, my mother, who used to
remind her daughter, my own sister, that he had never
washed two pairs of pants at the same time, meaning
that if he ever had an extra pair, he always gave them
to someone else who needed them. I know this
sounds a bit

wishy-washy (I can't be bothered to route out the
source I got this from) but you only have to count
back a surprisingly small number of generations
before finding a common ancestor to everyone else in
the world. Based on our record collection, I know
Stevie Wonder and

Ray Charles owned my parents, and the next thing we
know, I'm related to Strom Thurmond. Let's not go
down this road. We need something else to flesh out
this plot. Maybe sunken confederate gold or vampires
and pirates, and plenty of explosions. We’ll get

Nicholas Cage and Eddie Murphy to give this thing
some legs and then New Line Cinema will have
summer blockbuster on their hands. Is this that irony
thing all the kids are so into? Strom Thurmond looks
like he was crafted from cottage cheese. That is all I
have to add to

this conversation. Their existence is certain, as is the
fact that the common ancestor is human. The
existence of genes for human abilities (e.g. language
acquisition) in all humans is proof of this. They
suggest, for example, that everyone in the West is
descended from

Charlemagne, c. 800 AD. Quite likely the entire
world is descended from the Ancient Egyptian royal
house. c. 1600 BC. Quite likely almost everyone in the
world descends from Confucius, c. 500 BC. Quite
likely everyone in the West descends from the

Muhammad, c. 600 AD. If you have a line of
descendants that doesn't die out, eventually you are
the ancestor of the whole future world. Through this,
you affect all future world history. If the humblest
Ancient Egyptian peasant had done anything different
(even just had

sex five minutes earlier), there would have been no
Jesus, Muhammad, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin,
Marx, Freud, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Christ, Mao,
Buddha, Confucius, Ts’ai Lun, Gutenburg, Columbus,
or Einstein. There may have been no Holocaust.

Humanity might be extinct.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Seriously, you're fantastic.