In my genes: Adventures in DNA testingAfter all, what has anybody named “Updike” ever contributed to American culture?
What genetic secrets hide beneath a “white bread” appearance? DAVID UPDIKE
SATURDAY, JUL 23, 2016 04:30 PM PDT
… And as with most liberal types, I harbor a secret “wanna be” desire to be something more, or other, than I appear — a white, late-middle-aged male, putting me in the same phylum as Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell — not the sexiest demographic in the world. From ninth grade biology, I vaguely remembered the difference between “genotype” — your genetic code and sequence — and your “phenotype,” essentially, what you look like, and appear to be.
My grandmother had a branch of aunts and cousins with dark hair and eyes and olive colored skin, and she entertained the fanciful notion there was, in her family, some “Arab” blood. And after three hundred years on this continent it seems possible that there had been some “mixing,” most likely of the non-consensual variety, with people of Native American or Asian or African descent. As the Updike Genealogy reports, while describing the migrations of one Johannes Opdycke in the late 1600’s from Long Island to New Jersey, “… their herds of stock in the rear doubtless driven by a negro slave or two, who formed part of the establishment of every prosperous planter in those days.” I read somewhere that 10 percent of white Americans have some percentage of ‘African’ blood, and so it seems plausible that I could be one of them. After all, I love hot climates, prefer African and Caribbean music to their Anglo counterparts and married a woman from Kenya. Perhaps it’s all there, in my genes!
And so when I saw on the computer that you could take the test, for only 99 dollars and a sample of saliva, and within weeks have breakdown of where my ancestors came from, I ordered it online …I wrote about the interesting history behind the ethnic slurs white bread” and “plain vanilla” for Taki’s Magazine in 2014.
Perhaps that “Arab” blood of my grandmother was actually the Moorish blood of that great empire that ruled, built, and educated, large swaths of Spain and Portugal and France for 500 years?
It was with no little excitement that I arrived home one day to find in my inbox the exciting news that my DNA results had arrived: I couldn’t wait, remembered my password for once, and followed the prompts to the results.
There it was, a simple map of Europe, a large circle surrounding Great Britain that included England and Scotland and Wales, excluded Ireland, then looped across the channel to claim Holland, the eastern edge of Germany, and north to Denmark, maybe a bit Sweden.
Below there were only two numbers, as stark as could be:
99%: Great Britain; 1% Scandinavian.
What?! I stared at the map and fiddled with the computer, looking for a more refined, or subtle, breakdown of my mysterious past, but there was none. That was it. Where were the French, the Russians, the tinge of “Arab blood”? What happened to Spain and the Moorish Empire, the tawny Kramer cousins from Pennsylvania, three hundred years of possible intermingling here in America?
Diversity? Well, now at least I know where I got my temper, my aversion to rowing, and hyper-competitiveness in the tennis court: 1% Viking. Ninety nine dollars: one dollar for every percent that I was “British”!
I didn’t tell my wife for days, and kept my secret from my students, too. I thought fondly back to my original genetic analyst back in Brooklyn, my lovely, long-limbed hostess with her sleepy demeanor and old-school gym shorts: over a cup of tepid tea, she had taken the full measure of my phenotype — freckles, thrift store clothes, self-cut hair, a general aura of waspy befuddlement — and for only the price of a New York City Subway token, delivered her verdict: “White Bread.”
(David Updike mentions in this article that his father’s father was born in Trenton, NJ, which is where John Updike’s father was born.)
So it’s worth noting for literary history’s sake that the great Updike was at least 98% Northwestern European by ancestry.