I was talking with a friend about how great it was for me to discover my family history through genealogical research when I realized that she might not ever be able to figure out exactly where her ancestors came from. Being a descendant of slaves in America, my friend would not be able to rely on the archived documents that I was able to use. Sure it is possible to trace some ancestry of slaves though other documents but it is very difficult and without much success (not to mention costly). Along this same topic, I realized although I could trace my surname back for centuries, my friend did not even know her family’s real surname. Not to know your own name. That’s significant. That’s hurtful. Given I was able to gain a sense of continuity, history and belonging because of my ability to fairly easily trace my family tree it helped me realize on a very small scale one of the long term consequences of slavery in America. I don’t mean consequences to a whole race or society but to a person, an individual, my friend. It can be very discouraging at times witnessing the division that still exists in our country between groups of citizens growing up side by side but still worlds apart it seems. We, as a country, spend so much money on things that don’t make any impact whatsoever in the long run (and might even make things worse). In my opinion (being the ignorant, Caucasian, Southern-American girl that I am) it seems at the very least we could, as a country, provide 2 things to begin to help move our American brothers and sisters who are descendants of slaves toward the path of healing. The consequences of slavery may never be totally reversed and complete healing for our country may not happen in my lifetime. It still seems to me would could at least try to do what we can do when we can do it. These are the two things my friend and I agreed might help just a little.
- Provide for free comprehensive DNA testing/ profiling for each and every American family who are descendants of slaves (to discover countries of origin and family biological ethnicity). At the very least we can do this to answer the question of “where am I really from”. This could be done right now.
- Provide for a free legal change in surname for any individual who desires one (that can reasonably assume to be an American descendant of slaves). This surname, unfortunately, may not be the real family name but at least it won’t be the name of the family’s former slave owners. This, also, could be done right now.
These two things are not nearly enough but just because we cannot do everything needed right now does not mean we cannot do something right now. Thoughts?