In the outstanding science fiction novel, Lathe of Heaven, racism is solved by turning everyone’s skin color to the same light gray shade. It turns out that if we peel away the skin and pay attention to just the DNA, we might not need this magical solution. At the DNA level, people in the U.S. are more similar than their outward appearance might suggest.
That is the conclusion of a new study that used genetics to trace the ancestry of over 160,000 U.S. customers of 23andMe, a personal genomics company located in Mountain View, CA. The researchers found that most people who self-identified as European-American, Latino or African -American actually had DNA from the one or both of the other groups as well.
For example, people who self-identify as African-American had, on average, 24% European and 0.8% Native American ancestry. And people who self-identify as Latino had, on average, 6.2% African, 18% Native American and 65% European ancestry. Although the numbers were not as large for those who report themselves to be European-American, they still had on average around 0.2% African and 0.2% Native American heritage.
This doesn’t sound like a lot but if we extrapolate the results with European Americans to the U.S. population, it means that more than 6 million of these folks carry some African ancestry and over 5 million carry some Native American ancestry. We are all way more similar than our cultural labels might imply.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the labels are totally wrong. Another finding is that self-reporting lined up very well with the majority of people’s ancestry. For example, if you are mostly of African ancestry, odds are you have self-identified as such.