I Knew It! I'm Really a Nubian Princess (… Well, in a Previous Life)

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I Knew It! I'm Really a Nubian Princess (… Well, in a Previous Life)

Magazine article

By: Angella Johnson

Date: March 2, 2003

Source: Johnson, Angella. "I Knew It! I'm Really a Nubian Princess (… Well, in a Previous Life)." The Mail on Sunday (London), March 2, 2003.

About the Author: Angella Johnson has written for numerous British publications including The Times, London Daily News, and The Guardian. She is also a popular speaker.


Men and women throughout history have been judged and evaluated based on the identity of their parents. Monarchies thrived based on the assumption that royalty was an inherited trait and that only certain individuals, descended from royalty, were fit to sit on the throne. The caste system of India dictated certain life roles depending on one's family, and birth into certain classes doomed one to a life of poverty and social rejection. Families frequently passed occupations from generation to generation, gradually developing a surname associated with their trade, such as Carpenter (woodworker), Cooper (barrel maker), and Ferrier (horse shoer).

In some cases men and women of mixed ethnic heritage have been required to prove their membership in a certain group based on their ancestry; individuals wishing to prove their membership in a Native American tribe can do so by demonstrating that they had a Native American ancestor within several previous generations. Hawaii's famous private Kamehameha School has long given preference to applicants of Hawaiian descent, even in cases where an applicant can claim only a tiny degree of Hawaiian ancestry. Recent court cases have challenged the policy as being discriminatory.

Southern states attempting to stop blacks from voting in the years after the Civil War frequently employed Grandfather Clauses, which stated that the descendents of any man who voted prior to 1867 could vote in current elections; because no blacks could vote prior to 1867, this policy effectively allowed voting by otherwise ineligible whites but no blacks. In some states residents of mixed ancestry were considered white only if they had a certain percentage of white ancestors, otherwise they were labeled black.

In attempting to advance the so-called Aryan race and exterminate the Jews, Hitler and the Nazis needed a clear definition of exactly who was Jewish. The standard they chose defined a Jew as any person with three or four Jewish grandparents, or who was married to a Jew. Those with one or two Jewish grandparents were considered inferior to non-Jews but not to the degree of an actual Jew. In order to be accepted as a true Aryan, a member of Hitler's so-called superior race, one had to prove his Aryan bloodline back to at least the year 1750.

The discovery of DNA in 1953 and subsequent advances in genetic research have vastly broadened the understanding of individuality and how human characteristics are passed from generation to generation. DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the material within human cells which contains the genetic blueprint for growth and life. DNA is found in all human cells, making it particularly useful to criminologists who might use the DNA from a strand of human hair to identify a criminal. In one of its most significant applications DNA evidence has exonerated numerous men from serving time for rape and other crimes. On July 11, 2006, James Tillman was released from a Connecticut prison after serving eighteen years of a forty-four-year sentence after DNA tests proved that Tillman could not have committed the rape which led to his imprisonment.

DNA tests are also helpful for mothers wishing to identify the father of a child. For about $100, numerous labs will analyze DNA samples from a man and a child, then determine whether the man is the child's father. DNA testing is also commercially available for partners wishing to determine whether a spouse or partner has been sexually active with another person.

In the early years of the twenty-first century several companies began offering DNA analysis to determine a person's historic anthropological group. While not always specific in its findings this test allows an individual to determine where her ancestors originated, providing potential clues to her racial background.


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The science of DNA continues to advance at a rapid pace. Among the more profound findings was the discovery that the individual differences known as race have little to do with genes. Differences in skin color and other physical differences between different races are actually no larger than many differences found within specific racial groups, meaning that two white women may be less genetically similar than a white woman and a black woman from the same region. The Nazi goal of keeping Aryans racially pure was based on the false assumption that white Germans had only white ancestors, a possibility now considered virtually impossible. Ironically many Germans in the Nazi regime probably shared more genetic similarities with the Jews they were persecuting than with each other.

DNA evidence received its most public exposure during the 1995 murder trial of former football star O.J. Simpson. Blood and other evidence collected during the investigation appeared to place Simpson at the crime scene and blood from both victims was also found in Simpson's automobile. Despite what appeared to be an airtight DNA case, prosecutors attempting to interpret the DNA findings for the jury struggled to explain the process's complexity, and Simpson was ultimately acquitted despite the seemingly conclusive forensic results. Later trials have used DNA evidence more successfully.

2003 witnessed the conclusion of a thirteen year project to decode the structure of human DNA. Called the Human Genome Project, this massive undertaking sought to identify and map all 20-25,000 genes in human DNA. The completion of this international research project was expected to set the stage for significant advances in disease diagnosis and treatment.



Smolenyak, Megan, and Ann Turner. Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to Explore Your Family Tree. New York: Rodale Press, 2004.

Stebbins, Michael. Sex, Drugs, and DNA: Science's Taboos Confronted. New York: Macmillan, 2006.

Watson, James, and Andrew Berry. DNA: The Secret of Life. New York: Knopf, 2004.


Kalb, Claudia, et al. "In Our Blood." Newsweek. (February 6, 2006): 46-55.

Lemonick, Michael D., et al. "Who Were the First Americans?" Time (March 13, 2006):44-52.

Wade, Nicholas. "In the Body of an Accounting Professor: A Little Bit of the Mongol Hordes." New York Times (June 6, 2006): 95-97.

Web sites

Forbes. "DNA Evidence Clears Wrongly Convicted Man." July 11, 2006 〈http://www.forbes.com/business/commerce/feeds/ap/2006/07/11/ap2872434.html〉 (accessed July 13, 2006).

Nature. "Double-Helix: 50 Years of DNA." 2003 〈http://www.nature.com/nature/dna50/index.html〉 (accessed July 12, 2006).