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  • confusion race and DNA

    Last years I wrote in and asked a question. I wanted to know if you DNA can determine race. This was for a paper my middle school daughter was doing. Everyone agreed that you could not determine race from a DNA test. Last night while watching the new series "Who Do You Think You Are" they determined that Emmitt Smith was a percentage Native American, which is a race, some European, which represented Caucasian skin color and a large percentage African. My daughter asks what up with that, aren't they telling him his race?

    Responses would be very much appreciated.

  • #2
    Hi,
    I searched for the thread just now but couldn't find it. I remember seeing some posts and whole threads get deleted. It got to be a big mess because some people have a bad perception or concept of the word race. From what you say about Emmitt Smith's results (I didn't see the show), genetically he is of three races. The problem is that not everyone has the same undertanding about race. Some people confuse race with culture or community identity. Culturally he would be considered black, basically because he looks mostly black. In my case I have AncestryByDNA results that say I am 17% Native American. When I go to fill out forms that ask my race, sometimes it says to pick only one, sometimes it says to pick all that apply, and sometimes it says to pick all that apply but it also says not to include Native American unless I am in a tribe or community.
    Last edited by rainbow; 13 March 2010, 10:22 AM.

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    • #3
      And most people don't know about DNA autosomal/admixture tests, and let alone have had theirs done. A DNA test can't determine with 100% accuracy for everyone what a person considers to be their ethnic identity. For example I read of a man who insisted he was Native American. That was how he was raised and that was what he believed. But his admixture test said he was roughly half white and half black. No Native American DNA at all, but culturally he is Amerindian.

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      • #4
        So where do you find autosomal/ admixture test if you wanted to order it. Thanks

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        • #5
          Cats,

          The term "race" is no longer used like it used to be - up to about 30 years ago or so. Traditionally, "race" was used to describe people of differing physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, and lip, nose, and eye shape. Now we use the term "phenotype" to describe these outward physical differences between people, which result from extremely small differences in DNA. However, biologically, there's only one race, the human race. We all belong to the same species, homosapiens sapiens, no matter what we look like on the outside. One common-place example of our shared humanity is that we can intermarry and produce children who in turn can marry and reproduce; animals of differing species usually don't mate with each other, much less produce fertile offspring. An example of this would be horses and donkeys, which can mate, although they're different species, but they always produce mules, which are always sterile. Another aspect of this topic that can be confusing is that people have traditionally associated outward physical characteristics with things such as culture, religion, and language. Obviously, what children believe about culture and religion, and what language they speak, are products of how they're raised. For a very generalized example, a phenotypical Asian child brought up in the U.S. is most likely going to learn English and not be a monolingual Chinese or Korean speaker, no matter what his/her ancestors spoke in their country of origin. Likewise, such a child raised in the U.S. will most likely have cultural beliefs that are more characteristic of the U.S. than the ancestral country, although the transmission of culture, like language and religion, varies from family to family. Hope this helps.

          Vinnie

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          • #6
            Phenotype:
            visible characteristics of organism: the visible characteristics of an organism resulting from the interaction between its genetic makeup and the environment.

            This makes us all green.

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            • #7
              I've never been asked my phenotype on job applications. I am asked my race, as recently as yesterday. It is a common basic question, as well as whether I've ever been in the military and my gender.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by rainbow View Post
                Hi,
                I searched for the thread just now but couldn't find it. I remember seeing some posts and whole threads get deleted. It got to be a big mess because some people have a bad perception or concept of the word race. From what you say about Emmitt Smith's results (I didn't see the show), genetically he is of three races. The problem is that not everyone has the same undertanding about race. Some people confuse race with culture or community identity. Culturally he would be considered black, basically because he looks mostly black. In my case I have AncestryByDNA results that say I am 17% Native American. When I go to fill out forms that ask my race, sometimes it says to pick only one, sometimes it says to pick all that apply, and sometimes it says to pick all that apply but it also says not to include Native American unless I am in a tribe or community.
                A standard result on the DNAPrint Genomics test for a person who is of Pakistani ancestry and descent is about 30% Native American. Does that give him or her any link or identity or claim to being Native American? Of course not, the test provides an inordinate number of false positives and obfuscates or confuses more people than it will assist in detailing their TRUE Continental ancestral background. The result is worse than meaningless since it has / is causing many to identify with an ancestry that is not theirs - a number ancestry caused by the failure of the algorithm to properly identify the individual's true heritage. Sad, very sad - but some "need" to belong and the test gives "evidence" to support whatever belief system they have.

                To date the only commercially available autosomal test that can offer a very accurate estimate of European, African and Asian (also a proxy for Native American due to known clustering) is 23andMe. If zero percent Asian on this test, then there is scant reason to assert Native American ancestry. In the case of African - Americans it would appear that the algorithm has difficulty in teasing out true Native American from the mix and seeing Asian may or may not mean anything (since some African groups, particularly from the eastern regions, show false positive Asian). This is said to highlight the fact that even 23andMe does not work the same for all and that it is only with genetic tests and a paper trail that are in sync / are consistent that trustworthy information can be extracted. One evidence source compliments the other. Just looking only at the genetic test results provides the opportunity for some to put forward, for example, bogus claims of "Native status". Fortunately few would accept this assertion without the backing of documentary evidence.

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                • #9
                  If a Pakistani was filling out the same forms I did, then he/she would have to select "white".
                  If Pakistani's are getting 30% Native American results, and East Africans are getting Asian results, then there is a reason for that. Back-migration of Native Americans to Asia. Asians (ancient Chinese) trading with East Africa.

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                  • #10
                    Race has always been a POLITICAL and SOCIAL construct, not a biological or scientific one so expecting a genetic test to resolve the question of race is asking a bit too much. There are many people who are officially classed as white (such as middle easterners, latino's, etc.) who certainly don't think of themselves as White. It's just not always easy to put people in a nice neat box. I don't think anything new has been discovered about race but genetic testing has given people a pause to have to confront the fact that we are closer than some will socially admit or accept.

                    My results like Emmitt Smith's confirmed multiracial descent and it was a humbling experience since I went into genetic testing to get more definitive information on my African ancestry/origins---and failed miserably. Although I had some clues that my family had some non-African origins, I frankly paid no attention to any of them until I received my results. Even then, I certainly didn't expect to find Nordic ancestry and I had figured most Americans (Black and White) lie about having Indian ancestors. I have to admit it was confusing for a bit but I honor all of my ancestry and my connection to people on three continents. This experience has turned out far more interesting than I could have ever imagined.

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                    • #11
                      In my neck of the woods, no company or government department would dare ask about "race". It is considered an obsolete term with discriminatory connotations.

                      Certain departments may ask about your ethnicity or family background, but they need to do so in full understanding of their obligations under the Racial Discrimination Act (1975).

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                      • #12
                        I got my 2010 census form today & of course, there were the usual questions about race & ethnicity. I checked "White" & then wrote 1/8 Swiss; 7/8 Colonial American to the side (perhaps a microfilm camera will capture that!)

                        I just wish the census would ask about y-haplogroup & mt-haplogroup. That would be a snap introduction for 300,000,000 Americans into the world of genetic genealogy (of course, everyone would have the option to leave that blank).

                        Timothy Peterman

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by T E Peterman View Post
                          I just wish the census would ask about y-haplogroup & mt-haplogroup. That would be a snap introduction for 300,000,000 Americans into the world of genetic genealogy (of course, everyone would have the option to leave that blank).
                          I suspect there'd be claims of a secret government eugenics conspiracy if it came to that.

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                          • #14
                            I dont think I've ever been asked what race I was and definately not what colour I was, (which might change if I've been in the sun too long with no blockout on, from pale pink to bright red.)

                            I might have to state if I was born in the county or not, if I have Aussie citiizenship or what nationality I was.
                            Most Aussie governemnt forms might have a box to check if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

                            I cant remember the last census questions well, but it may have had something about which ethnicity you most identiy with, which for me would have been British, or something about what countries you ancestors came from.

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                            • #15
                              Re Census

                              It took me about five minutes to fill out my census form. They don't seem to want much information about anything. As far as race/ethnicity questions went, they are quite interested in what variety hispanic, etc. you are (if you are). That (Hispanic) looks to be the chief focus this time.

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