Thursday, April 30, 2009

Study Finds No Evidence of Indian Genes in African Americans

By Farooq A. Kperogi

An interesting study of African genetics published today has just confirmed what I've always suspected: that, contrary to widespread claims, many African Americans have little or no "Indian" blood running in their veins.

Since I've been living in this country, I'm yet to meet an African American who hasn't told me that they have some kind of Indian stemma in their ancestry. Here in Georgia, I have met many African Americans (including dark-skinned ones) who have proudly told me that their great grandparents (whose pictures they have allegedly seen) are American Indians!

Well, the genetic study found that "There was 'very little' evidence for American Indian genes among African-Americans."

According to the study, "about 71 percent of African-Americans can trace their ancestry to western African origins." This is, of course, an all-too-obvious historical and phenotypic fact. The earliest African presence in the Americas is decidedly directly traceable to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

By all historical accounts, this inhuman trade took place primarily in West Africa and specifically around what is today Nigeria. So it's not surprising that 71 percent of African Americans trace their ancestral provenance to West Africa.

What is surprising to me, though, is that, according to the study, only between 13 percent and 15 percent of African Americans have a European ancestry. I thought the figure should be a little higher than that. In fact, previous studies had suggested that a little over 20 percent of Black Americans have a European ancestry. Well, as they say, appearances can be deceiving. We live and learn.

Of course, as the study itself confirms, there a few African Americans who may trace their roots to parts of Africa other than West Africa. For instance, it's a historical fact that a sizable number of Africans were also enslaved from such central African countries as Angola and the Congo. And there were a few black South Africans who emigrated to the United States in the early 1800s, not as slaves but as indentured servants.

It is these disparate black African populations that have fused, over many centuries, to constitute the bulk of what we call African Americans today.

Having said that, I have often been amused by the farcical, self-hating my-grandparents-were-Indian fiction that many African Americans cherish about their ancestral origins. But just why did the myth of an Indian origin for African Americans, absurd as it is, start and spread?

Well, my sense is that the narrative about the consanguinity of African Americans with Indians is less about historical facticity than it is about a rhetorical strategy to achieve two inter-related goals: to run away from the shame that identification with "primitive" Africa inspired in early America and to share in the symbolic capital that comes with being identified as the original inhabitant of the United States.

Well, my attitude is: if the fable of an Indian ancestry helps our estranged cousins negotiate their complex identities in America's ethnic cauldron, no one should begrudge them. After all, most collective identities are the products of grand fictions that have been sanctified over several years.

For example, the Hausa people have their exotic Bayyagida myth of origin, which says that they are descended from some ancient Iraqi adventurer. The Yoruba have their Lamurudu/Oduduwa fiction, which traces their ancestral roots to Egypt.

My own people in Borgu cherish their Kisra myth of origin, which says we are descended from some Arab infidel who fled Mecca to Borno and then to what is today Borgu after purportedly rebelling against the prophet of Islam. And, of course, the Igbo, not wanting to be left out, have recently embraced a myth of origin that locates their provenance to Israel. Ibo (Igbo), they say, is the corruption of Hebrew.

Although all extant scientific evidence points to Africa as the birthplace of humanity, black Africans are enamored of myths of origins that locate their provenance to places other than Africa.

Perhaps, African Americans are also enacting their own version of this black African self-hatred by tracing their ancestral origins to American Indians.

Below is the full Associated Press story, originally titled "Africans have world's greatest genetic variation":

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON – Africans have more genetic variation than anyone else on Earth, according to a new study that helps narrow the location where humans first evolved, probably near the South Africa-Namibia border.

The largest study of African genetics ever undertaken also found that nearly three-fourths of African-Americans can trace their ancestry to West Africa. The new analysis published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science.

"Given the fact that modern humans arose in Africa, they have had time to accumulate dramatic changes" in their genes, explained lead researcher Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania.

People have been adapting to very diverse environmental niches in Africa, she explained in a briefing.

Over 10 years, Tishkoff and an international team of researchers trekked across Africa collecting samples to compare the genes of various peoples. Often working in primitive conditions, the researchers sometimes had to resort to using a car battery to power their equipment, Tishkoff explained.

The reason for their work? Very little was known about the genetic variation in Africans, knowledge that is vital to understanding why diseases have a greater impact in some groups than others and in designing ways to counter those illnesses.

Scott M. Williams of Vanderbilt University noted that constructing patterns of disease variations can help determine which genes predispose a group to a particular illness.

This study "provides a critical piece in the puzzle," he said. For example, there are clear differences in prevalence of diseases such as hypertension and prostate cancer across populations, Williams said.

"The human genome describes the complexity of our species," added Muntaser Ibrahim of the department of molecular biology at the University of Khartoum, Sudan. "Now we have spectacular insight into the history of the African population ... the oldest history of mankind.

"Everybody's history is part of African history because everybody came out of Africa," Ibrahim said.

Christopher Ehret of the department of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, compared genetic variation among people to variations in language.

There are an estimated 2,000 distinct language groups in Africa broken into a few broad categories, often but not always following gene flow.

Movement of a language usually involves arrival of new people, Ehret noted, bringing along their genes. But sometimes language is brought by a small "but advantaged" group which can impose their language without significant gene flow.

Overall, the researchers were able to study and compare the genetics of 121 African groups, 60 non-African populations and four African-American groups.

The so-called "Cape-colored" population of South Africa has highest levels of mixed ancestry on the globe, a blend of African, European, East Asian and South Indian, Tishkoff said.

"This will be a great population for study of diseases" that are more common in one group than another, she said.

The study also found that about 71 percent of African-Americans can trace their ancestry to western African origins. They also have between 13 percent and 15 percent European ancestry and a smaller amount of other African origins. There was "very little" evidence for American Indian genes among African-Americans, Tishkoff said.

Ehret added that only about 20 percent of the Africans brought to North America made the trip directly, while most of the rest went first to the West Indies.

And, he added, some local African-American populations, such as the residents of the sea islands off Georgia and South Carolina, can trace their origins to specific regions such as Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Advanced Computing Center for Research and Education at Vanderbilt University, the L.S.B. Leakey and Wenner Gren Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard and Burroughs Wellcome foundations.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The "Obama Effect" Spreads to Saudi Arabia: A "Saudi Obama" Emerges

By Farooq A. Kperogi

On April 10, the New York Times ran an instructive story of the appointment of an African, identified as Sheikh Adil Kalbani, as the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest and biggest mosque in Islam's holiest city.

This is the first time in the history of the Mosque, known in Arabic as Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām, that a person of African descent has been appointed to be its Imam. In symbolic significance, this is huge, very huge.

Consider this, for instance: It is toward this Mosque that over one billion Muslims across the world turn five times in a day in supplication. It is also the main location of the annual Muslim Pilgrimage called the Hajj. Of course, in Islamic teaching, there is nothing supernatural about the Mosque, except that it is also the location of the famous oasis called Zamzam, which has never dried since it was revealed around the year 2000 BC.

Picture of the Grand Mosque

In comparative symbolic terms, this is almost like appointing a Black man as the Pope of the Catholic Church. I have to admit, though, that the contrast of contexts is a wee bit overstretched here since the Imam of the Grand Mosque does not have the kind of political power that the Pope has. But being the spiritual guardian of the holiest sanctuary of the world's second biggest and fastest growing religion is a big deal. It is an even bigger deal if that spiritual guardian comes from a historically oppressed group.

To be sure, there have always been very well qualified black Muslims who could have assumed this emblematically significant position. But none had been considered worthy of the honor, probably on account of race. It's a well-known but rarely discussed fact that there is a disturbingly high degree of anti-black bigotry in the Saudi society--and indeed in much of the Arab world--although Islam explicitly denounces racism.

For instance, my friends from Kano, Nigeria's second biggest (and northern Nigeria's biggest) city who took up English language teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia about seven years ago told me how utterly stupefied they were by the rampant xenophobia, especially negrophobia, that they encountered in the Saudi society. One of them couldn't even wait for his contract to expire before running back to Nigeria. It was that bad. And these are devout Muslims.

The indescribable humiliation my friends said they experienced is almost reminiscent of nineteenth-century racism in Europe and America or Jim Crow in twentieth-century Southern United States.

So what has changed between that time and now? What has inspired King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to suddenly appoint a Black man to lead Islam's holiest Mosque?

Sheikh Adil Kalbani

Here is a short YouTube video of Sheikh Adil reciting the Holy Qur'an:

There is no doubt that the elevation of Sheikh Adil to this enviable position is a consequence of what has now been called the "Obama effect." In fact, according to the New York Times, it is now customary for people to refer to the 49-year-old Sheikh Adil (who is two years older than Obama) as the "Saudi Obama."

Similarly, Obama’s election has emboldened Iraqis of African descent (whom many people, including I, never knew existed) to contest for elective positions in their country for the first time ever. Many of the black Iraqi political aspirants told CNN that Obama is the inspiration behind their decisions.

It's amazing how much symbolic capital one man's election has conferred on an entire race in so short a time. Hopefully, some day soon, we will also celebrate the appointment of the first Black Pope.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Susan Boyle: The Woman Who Moved Me To Tears

By Farooq A. Kperogi

You see, I was brought up in a culturally conservative, patriarchal household in northern Nigeria where men were (and still are) supposed to conceal their emotions, where shedding of tears by a man, a full-grown man, was regarded as unacceptably sissy, as evidence of weaknesses.

I have internalized this emotionally oppressive cultural baggage from my formative years to now. However, I have had a few occasions in my life when I just couldn't hold back my emotions, when I shed tears--usually in the privacy of my room, of course.

One of such occasions was when I watched the performance by 48-year-old British lady Susan Boyle who wowed an initially cynical and snooty audience at this year's edition of "Britain's Got A Talent."

Here is a woman from a small village, who isn't exactly your specimen of stunning PHYSICAL beauty, who is unmarried (and has never been married), who lost her mother two years ago, who is unemployed, and who has never been kissed in her entire life. Yet, she embodies unbelievably enormous talents but seems innocently unaware of her rare gifts.

When I watched her perform, I couldn't hold back my emotions; I cried like a baby. I don't know why. But her story just touched me in ways words can't describe. I am still having trouble convincing myself that this is not some fairy tale--or perhaps an unreal an extension of my dreams into my wakeful moments.

Susan's humility is incredibly disarming. After her stunningly beautiful performance, she simply walked off the stage, satisfied that she had lived her lifelong dream of performing before a large audience, until she was told to return to hear the judge's verdict on her performance.

And, although she obviously enraptured everyone in the audience, including the usually fastidious judges, she seemed genuinely surprised by the well-deserved encomiums the judges lavished on her performance. Now, that's true humility.

In case you haven't watched the video before, which has now attracted more than 35 million hits on You Tube at the time of writing this blog, you can watch it here.

Each time I watch this performance, tears well up in my eyes. The innocence, rustic simplicity, authenticity and enormous musical endowments of this incredible woman inspire in me an inexplicably ethereal sensation.

Where has this singing angel been all this while? Why is the world just getting to know of her?

It has now emerged that 10 years ago, she recorded an equally moving song titled "Cry Me A River," which we are only just now discovering. Listen to it below:

In these moments of mass distress and disillusionment occasioned by the global economic crisis, diversions like this are therapeutic.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea Bag Parties Or Racist Conservative Convulsions?

By Farooq A. Kperogi

On April 15, American conservatives across the country staged what they called "Tea Party" protests ostensibly to register their remonstrance against President Obama's incipient economic policies. The protesters also railed against America's oppressive taxation.

The "Tea Bag" protests are putatively inspired by and modeled after the 1773 "Boston Tea Party" which is credited with being the immediate trigger of the American Revolution in 1776. The Boston Tea Party, among other things, was a spontaneous resistance against an unfair tax policy by Colonial Britain.

Now, I have no problems whatsoever with yesterday's "tea party" protests by American conservatives. In fact, if there is anything I share with America's fiscal conservatives, it is their professed repulsion against excessive taxation.

Well, I'd always thought that the issue of low taxes should properly be a top issue on the liberal agenda. It seems to me counter-intuitive that conservatives should be concerned about high taxes on the working- and middle-classes since conservatives are notorious for their spectacular lack of compassion, a fact that prompted former President George Bush to famously declare that his administration would inaugurate an era of "compassionate conservatism."

Bush was, of course, not the first person to talk of "compassionate conservatism." That philosophy actually dates back to 1977 when conservative American presidential historian and advisor Doug Wead first mentioned it in his book The Compassionate Touch.

What is important, though, is the fact that some conservatives had (and still have) a need to prefix the adjective "compassionate" to their worldview. This is clearly an admission that compassion and conservatism are mutually incompatible. It would be redundant, for instance, to talk of "compassionate liberalism" because liberalism and compassion are notionally thought of as mutually reinforcing values.

So, I find it a bit surprising that liberals have allowed conservatives to pride themselves on being champions of low taxes. The truth is that conservatives are no champions of low taxes for everyone. The people who drive the American conservative agenda--and not their ignorant, often simpleminded and hate-filled "base"--are only champions of low taxes for big corporations and don't care a hang if the working- and middle-classes are taxed to death.

The only reason Obama's tax plan is drawing the ire of conservatives is because it denudes big corporations of the massive, often unfair, tax breaks they enjoyed under Bush. In spite of the hypocritical protests and criticisms from conservatives, Obama's tax plan is actually the most progressive tax cut in American history. And Obama is, of course, as liberal as the day is long.

“Make no mistake, this tax cut will reach 120 million families and put $120 billion directly into their pockets, and it includes the most American workers ever to get a tax cut,” Obama said in response to duplicitous Republican conservative criticisms of his tax policy. “This tax cut also keeps a fundamental promise, that Americans who work hard should be able to make a decent living.”

He also pointed out that his $787 billion economic stimulus package will deliver a 95 percent tax cut for all working families. And his tax credit, entitled "Making Work Pay," will provide $800 for working households.

So what the hell are these conservatives protesting against in their "tea bag" parties? Where were they when George Bush, a fellow conservative, gave unprecedented tax havens to corporations and almost taxed the working- and middle- classes to death?

Where were they when Bush pigheadedly dragged a prosperous nation to the cesspool of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression? What happened to their fiscal conservative sensibilities when Bush initiated a pointless, even senseless, and unjustified war in Iraq that sucked and continues to suck billions of dollars from American tax payers?

Obama has not even spent 3 months in the White House yet; his economic policies are as yet only evolving and these conservatives who looked the other way when Bush bled their nation to near death are suddenly alive and protesting? Give me a break!

Where have they been for the past 8 years? And why didn't they protest when Bush also proposed billions to stimulate the economy he helped put in a state of coma. The stimulus package that is riling these "tea bag" conservatives isn't even the original idea of the Obama Administration; it was first started by the Bush Administration only a few months back.

So why are the "teabaggers" only now concerned? Why didn't they protest when Bush was president?

Well, if these questions agitate your mind, you need not look further than the pictures below to find answers. The pictures were all taken during the "tea party" protests across the country and speak for themselves.

The caption on this picture, in case you can't read it, is: "Stand aloof while some Kenyan [i.e. Obama] tries to destroy America?...

Is it any wonder that American conservatism is now practically indistinguishable from racism, especially anti-black bigotry? I have met only infinitesimally few self-identified conservatives here who aren't also racists, bigots, xenophobes and simple-minded twerps. A protest that is supposed to be against Obama's economic policies became an avenue for the ventilation of pent-up racist hate.

Now, I don't want to be understood as arguing that any criticism of Obama is evidence of racism. One of America's greatest strengths is the freedom it vests in its citizens to criticize their leaders without fear of consequences. Obama can't be different. He isn't the black president of the United States; he IS the president of the United States and therefore can't be insulated from what comes with the territory.

Anyone who is discomfited with criticisms of Obama would do well to advise him to resign as President of the world's oldest and most vibrant liberal democracy.

However, when criticisms of Obama are inspired by visceral racist bigotry, as many of the pictures above show,it is legitimate to be concerned.This is especially so against the background of the well-documented threats to the life of the President about which I have written on this blog.

Instructively, the "tea party" protests are occurring shortly after the CIA warned that the economic recession is fueling right-wing extremism in the United States, although the recession itself was caused by a former clueless right-wing president.

It is noteworthy, too, that during the "tea party" protests, the governor of the state of Texas, a bastion of some of the most virulent forms of racism and xenophobia, threatened to secede from the United States .

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Home Invasion Caught Live On The Internet!

Below is an interesting video of two burglars being recorded live via a surveillance feed on the Internet while they were burglarizing a Florida woman's home.I have been a victim of burglaries several times in the past and can't tell you how excited I am that these dregs of the earth have been caught pants down.What can't technology do? I will go get a live Internet video camera now! I think everyone should.

The link to the full story, which is reproduced below, can be found here.

APRIL 9--A Florida woman who used a live Internet video feed to monitor the interior of her home was shocked yesterday when she saw two men burglarizing her residence in real time. Jeanne Thomas, 43, was seated at her office desk when two strangers appeared in her living room (the intruders got into Thomas's Boynton Beach house through a doggie door at the rear of the home, according to the below probable cause affidavit). Thomas, who set up the live video stream after her home was burglarized last October, immediately called 911 to report the burglary (click here to listen to her conversation with a police operator). Cops raced to her home and arrested the two men inside the house: Curtis Williams, 20, and Steven Morales, 19. Two other suspects--Scott George and Jonathan Cruz, both 20--were nabbed at a nearby residence and charged with helping plan the burglary. The amazing surveillance video from inside Thomas's house was uploaded to YouTube by the Boynton Beach Police Department and can be seen above. Click here to see mug shots of the four perps, who were booked into the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office lockup. (2 pages)

The Other Out-Of-Protocol Obama "Touching" the Media Ignored

You won't see this photo on CNN. Everyone is too busy showing the Queen being touched. This was a moment of "touching" that won't be forgotten by this bobby.

"This is the most powerful photo in the series. Remember they are not supposed to shake hands, but the two brothers couldn't resist the historic moment. The black royal cop never imagined in his wildest dream that he would usher a black American president into the British corridors of power. Nice."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bye-bye to Privacy on the Internet as UK begins archival of all emails today

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The disturbing visions of a rigidly regimented world in which every citizen's conceivable utterance and action will be monitored by "Big Brother" first projected in the imaginary fictional space of George Orwell's magisterial dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is now here--literally.

Yahoo! Tech has just reported that the UK has launched a frighteningly massive project to archive every single Internet communication that emanates from the UK!According to the report, government will not only have access to but will archive information about the identity of every email sender and receiver in the UK, the Web addresses they visit, records of their Internet-based telephone calls, etc.

Now, that is scary, really scary.

The report says this project, which formally took off today, is, in fact, a European Union directive. The UK is merely the first country to carry out this directive. In the next couple of months, perhaps weeks, other European countries will follow suit. It's entirely conceivable that, in no time, this practice will spread to most, if not all, parts of the world.

AS Yahoo! Tech's Christopher Null notes, "The privacy implications of the rule are enormous, as everything UK citizens do online will now be under the watchful eye of EU's powerful Home Office."

The data collected from snuffing the computers of all Internet users in the UK will putatively be used to fight "crime and terrorism."

Now, let me be clear: I absolutely have no problems with governments devising creative ways to fight the increasingly sophisticated and transnational character of the evils of crime and terrorism. What I do have problems with, however, is the idea that we must violate the basic liberties of even law-abiding members of the society in our bid to fight crime and terrorism.

There has to be a way to monitor suspicious communication on the Internet without gratuitously transgressing into people's safe spaces.

It is counterproductive, in my view, to be overzealous in the defense of what you believe to be the truth. Iron-clad censorship in defense of the Truth inflicts incalculable violence on the Truth. It was John Milton who famously declared in his Areopagitica (a 1644 polemical tract against censorship) thus:

And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?

Let's see the outrage this latest assault on privacy will generate in the world, especially in the "civilized world." When China, Iran and other absolutist regimes regulate what their citizens can see and can't see on the Internet, they are often rightly condemned by advocates of free speech.

In fact, when it came to light sometime ago that Yahoo and Google cooperated with the Chinese Government to censor search results and reveal the identity of dissidents, they were roundly condemned by all lovers of freedom and guardians of privacy rights, including the governments of the EU who have now unleashed by far the most intrusive invasion of privacy on the Internet.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Master's Degree in Twitter and Facebook Studies?

Inside Higher Ed has a curious article about a UK University that has introduced a new master's degree program in "Twitter Studies." But upon closer reading, the MA is actually in Twitter and Facebook studies. Hmm.

Guess how much it will cost? A walloping $5,930 (that is 876,000 naira) for one year.

I can understand the utility, in fact the necessity, of introducing students to the exciting new world of social media as part of the journalism curriculum. But an entire MA in "Twitter and Facebook Studies"? Have UK universities run out of courses to teach? Read the story below:

Birmingham City University, in Britain, is attracting attention and some skepticism with its announcement that it is starting a new master's degree program in social media, with an emphasis on training people to work in marketing or consulting for those who want to better understand Twitter, Facebook and other popular online services.

One student told The Telegraph: "Virtually all of the content of this course is so basic it can be self taught. In fact most people know all this stuff already. I think it's a complete waste of university resources." One faculty member responded (on Twitter, of course) that the student was "uninformed."