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The problem with home genetic test kits

I thought briefly about taking a home genetic test, as I imagine quite a few of us have. For about a month I was bombarded by videos on social media of people spitting rather copiously into test tubes to discover some wholly unexpected ancestry. I recall tears, back-slapping hugs and all the other paraphernalia involved in happy endings.

These happy endings, it has emerged, are not quite as common as we were led to believe. It turns out a lot of people take the tests and then cherry-pick the racial identity most convenient to them. This is wholly unsurprising, but still enormously disappointing. People have always seen fit to mould their identity to whatever suits them; anyone that ascribes to any concept of racial purity has little knowledge of history or, for that matter, of one of the key catalysts of the human condition: lust.

It turns out a lot of people take the tests and then cherry-pick the racial identity most convenient to them

This type of genetic testing should be an unequivocal force for good, for understanding and for simple human empathy. As happens far too often, we deny our better angels in favour of millennia of idiocy and strife. It appears that as soon as someone doesn’t get the result they desired, they perform whatever mental gymnastics are necessary to return themselves to their preferred identity. Of course, there aren’t many of us that run around trumpeting proudly about our ancestry – whatever it may be – as quite a lot of us have no clue, and I hope even fewer of us believe it actually matters, beyond some anecdotal interest.

There have been those who blame their results on some widespread conspiracy engineered to “defame, confuse and deracinate young whites on a mass level.” There have been others that have championed the “mirror test”. For these titans of intellect, it is enough to look in a mirror to discard the findings of science.

Genetic testing should be an unequivocal force for good, for understanding and for simple human empathy

I suppose that even despite these forms of blatant deceit, people may at least come across the understanding that, as put by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, race is phenotype, not genotype. They may come to feel at least some of the cultural modulations, the social implications and the political gravity that I for one continue to grapple with. It may add a touch of nuance to their perspective. Then again, it might be a piece of paper they put away under lock and key somewhere it is unlikely to ever be found.

I have a few friends that have taken the test. In my rather uninformed and entirely biased opinion, their reactions were honest and in line with recent psychological studies that say that our generation is more flexible in terms of racial identification. They didn’t discover anything particularly surprising, which they sounded quite disappointed about.

They didn’t discover anything particularly surprising, which they sounded quite disappointed about

I don’t imagine I’ll be taking a genetic test anytime soon, mostly because they’re quite expensive and I’ve been saving up to get one of those absolutely wicked toy helicopters that I’ll inevitably bash into a tree after three minutes and then sulk about for a week, but also because I don’t believe that the results would affect who I am in any way. I know, as well, that I am able to say this because, as a privileged white male, race has not affected my personal experience.

That said, I still believe genetic tests could be incredibly useful in breaking down barriers, as long as those who use them choose not to embrace insanity. At least for now, that doesn’t seem likely.

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