[eDebate] we are all Africans

Michael Korcok mmk_savant
Sun Nov 2 16:19:07 CST 2008

I haven't been reading all the posts about this so I will apologize ahead of time if my comments miss the mark.
We are all, every one of us, descended from Africans.  Ethiopians to be exact.  A mere 80,000 years ago, all Homo Sapiens lived in Africa.  
We know this because our mitochondrial DNA, the stuff which is unaffected by male germline DNA, can be used to trace matrilineal descent.  All of us share mitochondrial DNA passed down to us through our mother from a woman fancifully named Mitochondrial Eve who lived about 170,000 years ago.  She was not the first Homo Sapiens female or anything, it is just that hers is the only matrinlineal line to survive to the present.  About 100,000 years after she lived, some of her descendents left Africa.  By then, her mitochondrial DNA had mutated into several clearly definable branches.  One of those branches, now labelled L3, was the first to leave Africa north through the Middle East about 80,000 years ago.  I am a descendant of the L3 line, for example.  Specifically I am MtDNA haplogroup K2a, fancifully named Clan Katrine.  I am in that haplogroup with folks like Steven Colbert and Katie Couric.  But, in the end, we are all Africans.
We also know this because nearly all males have a Y-chromosome which is unaffected by female germline DNA, which can be used to trace patrilineal descent.  About 60,000 years ago, during the African Ice Age, a male with Y chromosome mutations, the M168 haplogroup, was born.  His DNA is in all males with recent non-African ancestors.  Since then, there have been numerous mutations on the Y chrmosome, of course.  My own Y chromosome haplogroup is I1b1 (with the P37.2 marker).  This particular set of DNA mutations appeared about 15,000 years ago in the South Slavic Balkans and is called Dinaric after the specific geographical region that it emerged in.  Ironically enough, my male peeps seem to have been homeboys of the first order:  my patrilineal descent lived in the same small part of the Slavic Balkans for a long long long time.  It was almost certainly one of the few refuges during the long Wurm.  But all of us in I1b1, and every other haplogroup, share a common male ancestor who lived in Africa.
Was Abraham Lincoln African?  Of course.  So was John Kennedy and so is John McCain and so was Queen Victoria and so are you.
It isn't that race is a social construction, not entirely.  There are ways to divide and categorize persons just by examining their DNA, for example.  Or the color of their skin or the texture of their hair.  I have the "blond hair" mutation of gene MC1R, for example, which emerged about 11,000 years ago in Lithuania and spread to Scandinavia and eventually took hold throughout Europe.  I also have blue eyes (true blue, not that weird blue with brown spots mutation), a genetic mutation that first arose in a single individual about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago near the Black Sea.  That person's OCA2 gene miscopied into a variant which turned down melanin production in the eyes and everyone in the world with blue eyes is a descendant of that first blue-eyed mutant.  And of course I could go down a very long list of the physical and biological specifications of this exceptionally spectacular individual that is me.  And you could too and every one of us could.  Choosing one or a few of those categories and giving them legal or ethical significance seems to me intellectually dishonest from the get-go.
One more point.  A generation back, you have 2 ancestors, mom and dad.  Two generations back, you have 4 ancestors, your grandparents.  A mere 20 generations back, about 500 years ago,  there are up to 1 million different people that contributed their germline DNA to you.  That is very many different individuals whose genetic material mashed together resulted in a specific individual biological person.
I am not sure what the criteria are for being "Black".  That's okay because I am nearly certain that you aren't sure either.  If Barack Obama wishes to call himself "Black" then that is fine by me.  If that means he will become the first Black President in a few days, then that may be good for this country.  But would he become the first African President?  Well, no...  he would become the 44th President of the United States of African descent.
Michael Korcok
In case any of the above DNA/haplogroup/descent discussion is new to you... check out 
The IBM/National Geographic Genographic Project has a genetic test kit for $100 that you can buy to get a good look at your own deep ancestry.
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