Climbing the Family (Identity) Tree

Family Tree

Identity. What does it mean and how do we define it?

According to the Oxford English dictionary, identity is “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” Hmm…that answer gets a 3 on the scale of helpfulness. Identity, as I engage the term, touches upon many different factors.  Individuals have differing identities including sexual identity, personal identity, cultural identity and racial/ethnic identity.

Everyone is concerned with exploring their true racial makeup. Click To Tweet

Racial/ethnic identity has become a conversation I have recently seen played out in homes across America. Many people turn to genealogy to help them figure out the answer to this type of identity. Think about it. How many times in the last week have you seen a commercial from Ancestry.com? Or how many school projects have your children brought home that required a family tree? Celebrities seem to be fascinated with this topic as well. [perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There are a countless number of television programs that feature celebrities who are exploring questions of race, culture and identity through genetics testing and historical research.  [/perfectpullquote]

The show Who Do You Think You Are? is a British program, adapted for American audiences in 2010. This program describes itself as a series that “follows celebrities as they embark on personal journeys of self-discovery by tracing their own family trees.” This program will begin its 15th season (this includes the run in Britain) in spring of 2018. PBS launched a show in 2012 titled Finding Your Roots, hosted by Harvard scholar and university professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This show describes itself as one that “has unearthed the family histories of influential people helping shape our national identity.” It will launch the 4th season on October 3, 2017.

Also from the author: Race Relations in Hollywood: Is Biracial the New Normal?

Is multicultural new or is it just being celebrated differently in our communities? Click To Tweet

America is made up of different races and ethnicities which has made our country a melting pot. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The search to figure out your true racial makeup seems to be one that everyone is concerned with exploring. [/perfectpullquote]

In most cases, people find out something about their background they did not know. A Russian great, great grandfather, who you thought was really Irish. Or a great, great, great grandmother you never knew existed because she was black, but your family identifies as white. In sum, aren’t we all a mixed-with-something? Is multicultural new or is it just being celebrated differently in our communities because racial and ethnic mixing is more accepted today than it was 50, 100 or 150 years ago? I will let you be the judge.


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