Who Are We? Genealogists Negotiating Ethno-Racial Identities

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Abstract

This paper analyzes how ethno-racial standpoints influence the ways that genealogists negotiate and narrate biological and/or social interpretations of family and social history. A constructivist methodological approach grounds the analysis of three family genealogists who all have African and European lineages, but differ in their current ethno-racial identities. These case studies serve as exemplars of how individuals negotiate the racial formation processes of past and present. I suggest that there is reflexive and political potential in bio-based genealogy to transform our current racial “common sense.” The practice of genealogy reveals tacit social and biological assumptions that can serve as points of leverage for progressive social change, and yet vary by standpoint. In the context of the iconic gene we must be vigilant about the threat of genetic essentialism, yet the threat is mitigated by the simultaneous democratization of our knowledge and control over origin stories.

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