Association of Black Anthropologists
Oral Presentation Session
In the 21st century, genetic markers are viewed as things that both tell us who we are and how we relate to others across space and time. Genetic ancestry is one of the most popular examples, with over 52 million American consumers taking the test over the past two decades to learn what their alleged genetic racial identity has been and to find new ways to create identities and belonging accordingly. Science studies scholars have noted one disturbing problem with this: race is being reified as a biological fact under the guise of ancestry. At a moment when racial identities are increasingly commodifiable and DNA reigns supreme as the authority on race, genetic ancestry signifies a turn back toward biological essentialism with few, if any, ways frame these relations outside of consumer logics choice and agency exercised in varying degrees without an option to do otherwise. This paper looks toward Hortense Spillers’s “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe” to examine how the grammar of American biosocial formations through genetic ancestry are reconfigured through genetic diasporic reconnection between African Americans and Cameroonians in Cameroon. How does the triad of race, biology, and identity shift when the practice of consumption is understood through the limited choice and agency conferred by distinct, but no less related, histories of enslavement and colonialism that are converging through shared Cameroonian ancestry? How does focusing on the conditions of shared ancestry in Cameroon with genetics help us rethink underlying assumptions of how kin are and have been made?