This holiday season, millions of Americans will receive gifts allowing them to explore their genealogy and ancestry. People will give loved ones DNA testing kits or subscriptions to ancestry websites, allowing them to map out their global origins and trace their ancestors’ journeys to America from around the world. This advent of popular genealogy illuminates our diverse origins and highlights how immigration histories are critical parts of our personal stories and national narratives. But the rise of genealogy may also, paradoxically, exacerbate the virulently anti-immigration fervor propelling President Trump’s policies and increase racial inequality. How do we know this? Because it happened before.
The last time Americans experienced a genealogy revival on a scale similar to today was during the 1970s when Alex Haley published “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” Haley’s story followed the life of the mostly fictional Kunta Kinte from his capture in 18th-century Gambia to his life as a slave in the United States, and traces the lives of his descendants over two centuries and seven generations, culminating with a family connection to Haley himself.... see more