We know DNA is a master key that unlocks medical and forensic secrets,
but its genealogical life is both revelatory and endlessly fascinating.
Tracing genealogy is now the second-most popular hobby amongst
Americans, as well as the second-most visited online category. This
billion-dollar industry has spawned popular television shows, websites,
and Internet communities, and a booming heritage tourism circuit.
The tsunami of interest in genetic ancestry tracing from the African
American community has been especially overwhelming. In The Social Life
of DNA, Alondra Nelson takes us on an unprecedented journey into how the
double helix has wound its way into the heart of the most urgent
contemporary social issues around race.
For over a decade, Nelson has deeply studied this phenomenon. Weaving
together keenly observed interactions with root-seekers
alongside historical details and revealing personal
narrative, she shows that genetic genealogy is a new tool for addressing
old and enduring issues. In The Social Life of DNA, she explains how
these cutting-edge DNA-based techniques are being used in myriad ways,
including grappling with the unfinished business of slavery: to foster
reconciliation, to establish ties with African ancestral homelands, to
rethink and sometimes alter citizenship, and to make legal claims for
slavery reparations specifically based on ancestry.
Nelson incisively shows that DNA is a portal to the past that yields
insight for the present and future, shining a light on social traumas
and historical injustices that still resonate today.
Science can be a
crucial ally to activism to spur social change and transform
twenty-first-century racial politics. But Nelson warns her readers to be
discerning: for, the social repair we seek can’t be found in even the
most sophisticated science. Engrossing and highly original, The Social
Life of DNA is a must-read for anyone interested in race, science,
history and how our reckoning with the past may help us to chart a more
just course for tomorrow.