I rarely get personal when it comes to Genealogy Adventures. I definitely don’t air political views, although I have an enormous interest in politics. Genealogy Adventures is my baby and, like any parent, I’m probably a bit over protective of it. Yet, American events over the past year or so provide me with a unique opportunity to discuss race/ethnicity, politics, and genealogy. Yes, those are three very odd bedfellows. A curious current national zeitgeist brings all three into a perfect alignment.
So yes, this article will be political…but not in the way you think it will be.
Around the time that Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy, I discovered that I was related to him through his mother’s Scottish ancestry. Due to the volume of ancestors we share, she was a cousin many-times over. She was a 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th cousin quite a few times removed – the degree of cousin changes depending on which common ancestral line you look at. Her Stuart/Stewart, Gordon, Hamilton, Bailey, and McKenzie lines are threaded throughout my colonial ancestry. The reason is pretty straightforward. It all has to do with the Highland clearances after the failed bid by Charles Stuart to take the British crown during the Jacobite rebellion. The other reason for our shared ancestry were our Scottish ancestors who were Covenanters; Scottish Presbyterians whose faith fell foul of the established Church of Scotland. The last common set of ancestors we share were Scottish Quakers who left Scotland for the same reasons as the Covenanters.
Each group arrived in the American colonies. Some would go on to became enslavers. Of those who became enslavers, more than a few fathered children by their enslaved women. I am the product of some of those unions in the American colonies. I am also the product of such unions that occurred throughout the 18th Century and 19th Centuries in the American south.
I am far from being the only African American or person of color to be related to the presidential incumbent. He has more relations within communities of color than he could ever imagine. If I had to make a conservative bet, I would wage that number runs into the high hundreds of thousands.
Would knowing this change how he speaks about African Americans? Would it change his rhetoric? Would he set aside the proverbial dog whistle his melanated cousins hear loud and clear?
I am not looking to shame the man. When has trying to shame an adult really ever worked? It’s also not in my nature to shame. I prefer to educate. I would hope this knowledge would make him think. Think about what? Well, what this actually means, for starters. To take some space and let this realization sink in and percolate for a bit. For instance, I would hope that he would look at his immediate family, and extended family members he knows…and then think about hundreds of thousands of melanated Americans who are also part of his (very) extended family. Would that change his rhetoric? Would that enable him to see melanted Americans as something other than a monolithic ‘other’, you know, seeing us as “The Blacks”? Would that be enough for him to make our social justice issues his own? I wonder. And yes, I also hope. Some of the same blood that runs his veins also runs through our own. I would hope that would give anyone pause to think.
Had he known this, would his first response to Charlottesville have been different? Would his recent NFL and NBA comments have been different? Instead, would he have said “I hear you. I share your concerns and the issues that you face. And here is my roadmap to change the set of historical and current experiences your communities have faced within this country.” He doesn’t like sports players kneeling in protest? Fine. Be the change agent. Roll up your sleeves and start tackling the root causes that underlie the protest. Start addressing the causes that led to sports personalities to take the knee in the first place.
It is easily in his power to do so. It merely requires the will for him to do so. Playing to the gallery of 30% of Americans won’t change a thing, and the social injustice train will continue to roll down the tracks it’s been on forever in this country. If I were to ever meet him, which is absolutely highly unlikely, I’d simply tell him that if he wanted to go down in the history books in the right way, the best way possible, being the president who tackled social injustice and inequality in America would secure that for him. The hardcore 30% of Americans who form his base can never give that accolade to him. In fact, they are keeping him from ever achieving this. It’s a numbers game. And as one cousin to another, he’s been focusing on the wrong set of numbers.
I don’t know if he will ever see this article. I hope he does. And I hope it makes him think. If he sincerely wants to be the ‘Uniter in Chief”, I couldn’t think of a better place to start that process.