‘Finding Your Roots’ – Racial purity does not exist
Season 5 of “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” brings forth a fresh set of cultural icons to learn surprising facts about their family lineage.
Premiering Tuesday, Jan. 8, on PBS (check local listings), the 10-episode season features everyone from actors (Laura Linney, Andy Samberg, Marisa Tomei), comedians (Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro) and filmmakers (Michael Moore, Alejandro Innaritu) to journalists (Christiane Amanpour, Ann Curry), authors (Sheryl Sandberg) and politicians (Marco Rubio, Tulsi Gabbard, Paul Ryan).
In fact, Gates reports, one of the more eye-opening episodes saw Ryan bowled over by what he discovered about his family.
“Paul Ryan, pretty white guy, right?” Gates said to a recent gathering of journalists in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Three percent Ashkenazi Jewish. You could have knocked him over with a feather, and then he was very proud of it. Somebody said, ‘Well, he’s going to run for office again, get more constituents.’ ”
But, adds Gates, three percent in genealogy terms is an easy calculation.
“The three percent of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with Paul Ryan is the equivalent of a third-great grandfather,” he says. “So, what it means is if we have an ideal family tree, your number of ancestors doubles each generation, so you have two parents, four grandparents … 32 third-great grandparents. So, if you have an ideal family tree, there would be 32 individuals on the level of your third-great grandparents. One of those for Paul Ryan would be a Jewish person.”
In fact, no one in this or any season can claim purely North American lineage, not even Native Americans. His point is we are all immigrants in one way or other.
“Even the Native Americans migrated here 16,000 years ago down across the Bering Straits,” he says. “So, we are a nation of immigrants, and the two subtexts of ‘Finding Your Roots’ every week … one, we are a nation of immigrants. We are all a nation of the other. And the second, through the DNA, is that we’re all related at the level of the genome. From time immemorial, we all have been sleeping with each other. There is no such thing as the white supremacist fantasy of racial purity. It does not exist.”