I've been reading the most fabulous, amazing book on the history of the Moors in America, "Othello's Children in the New World," penned by Berea College professor of African American Studies, Jose V. Pimienta-Bey. Amazon.com offered this book to me, based on my previous selections, and I have not been disappointed. I've ordered a few other books by professors of African American studies, such as Rutgers University's Ivan van Sertima. The data they examine, the conclusions they draw may conflict to varying degrees with mainstream scholars' views, but hey, that's the glory of academic discourse. For those among us, and that's most of us, whose histories have not been avidly recorded and preserved, a certain amount of extrapolation from some few known facts and documents, plus lore, anecdotes, etc., is necessary to reconstruct our history. Pimienta-Bey however, has amassed a large number of documents and facts to support his discussion of interest.
As you may recall, I began researching my own family's hidden genealogy and history, when I finally realized that I could proactively DO something about finding out what my mother was so secretive about, even though all of the close relatives on that side of our family are either gone, or became separated from the family so long ago that they are essentially lost to us. What I could do was take an autosomal dna test.
The dna test showed a lot of Eastern European ethnicity with about an equal part of Arabian ethnicity, followed by Mediterranean and then Northwest European, North African and Sub-saharan African. I had expected to find Native American ethnicity, based partly on the mix in the neighborhood where I grew up, and the places where my mother's forbears lived in the Philadelphia and Kittatinny mountain regions of southeast Pennsylvania, but I didn't. I recently re-took the test, with the addition of Penta E and Penta D markers, and found that Northwest European had moved up to take 'Arabian's' place, Mediterranean remained in third place, followed by Arabian. Still, using their graphs for frequency of ethnicity in the general US population, I came out to be something like twice as likely as the general population to be of Northwest European heritage, something like three times as likely Eastern European, and TEN TIMES AS LIKELY to be Arabian. My North African and now East-African, rather than sub-saharan African, scores, while still very high for a Caucasian American were about equal to my likelihood for being Northwest European, which is what most people take me for, unless they take me for Eastern European.
Well, looking at the paper trail, the most likely 'Arabian' ancestor would be my great-grandmother Mary Carney Whittingham, who is supposed to be from Ireland, but who looks very Mediterranean. For whatever reason, back in the early part of the twentieth century, there was some question about our family's ethnicity, such that they felt they had to 'pass' as white people. Things were different back then, of course. The interesting thing is that 'racial' perception changes through time. Many people who consider themselves 'white' now, might not have been in 1920.
The point to 'passing' was to gain a better economic foothold in society, not to reject anyone, but I think a lot of 'rejecting' happened that was very hurtful in the process. Since my mother and grandmother never talked about this to me, I don't know how it worked in my family, but I do know that no one EVER spoke to me of any Whittingham or Carney relatives on my grandfather's side. So it's as if that branch of my family simply disappeared. I've done some research into the Whittinghams in particular, and have found various white Whittinghams who trace back to Great Britain, but nothing in their lines checks out with mine. A woman on rootsweb wrote, tantalizingly, 'well, there are the colored Whittinghams and then there are the caucasian ones,' and most of the Whittinghams in the Philadelphia area are black now, so I'd love to know if we are related, but am not sure how to go about finding out. This lady's email address on rootsweb is out of date now.
I think I mentioned in other posts that we had the coin necklace, the African weapon, the box with the star of Morocco, some old Moroccan wooden cosmetic vessels (and I have found a source in Berkeley to replace them - with new ones, of course, but they are so close to what I remember we had, and which I played with as a child), the Spanish combs, the key and door locket, and a small flag of Morocco in our living room when I was growing up. Also, I have my great grandmother's embroidery and quilt, everything done in geometric, non-representational designs. These and a few other assorted memories are all I have to go on, but I am persisting in my research.
You might ask why. Why isn't it enough for me to know that I was right about an ancestor belonging to a group that may have affected our family's social or economic identity around the turn of the last century and into the twentieth for a few decades? Yes, I think I have discovered that definitively. Well, the reason is that I want to get know these ancestors as well as I can, because both she, my great-grandmother, and her husband seem to have been spiritually present in our home when I was growing up. My mother was very much a product of their upbringing, and I experienced them as a very spiritual and very positive influence in my own early life.
It's interesting to me that someone, or something perhaps as well, who is so 'gone' could still exert influence into a future where they 'are not.' If they 'continue on' it is in some very subtle form, and perhaps meant only for me personally - because, after all, it's not like these people have been immortalized in an institution, a great work of literature, or an identifiable cultural tradition.
Yet as it turns out I may be wrong in assuming that they were not a part of some cultural movements that are still moving through time. Perhaps they are. Pimienta-Bey's book "Othello's Children in the New World" gives me many indications that, indeed, they may have been. I will write more about the discoveries I am making, courtesy of his book, in my next post.