Q: In doing DNA research it appears my family may have some connection with people from Ghana and Nigeria. I have started studying about slavery and am amazed at what I am discovering. It seems that the slave trade itself was primarily done by Europeans—and I always thought it was just an American thing. I also read a CNN article in which I learned a lot. I hear the term “systemic racism” but am not clear what that means. Thanks.

A: According to some researchers, skin color alone may not reflect a person’s heritage. One even opined that most people have some genealogical history that may not reflect skin color: many people with pale skin have some DNA from darker skinned individuals, and many darker skinned individuals have DNA from traditionally lighter-skinned individuals in their genealogical history. That is one reason I am personally pained by the divisions based on skin color (when all brains are the same color regardless of skin tones, for example) and find it unconscionable. When I had my DNA analyzed several years ago, the report said I was at least mixed English, Irish, French, and First Nation—well, I was born in Canada—and it makes me wish I knew more about my biological ancestors. I know I did very well in archery class in college. (Smile) To look at my skin you would have no idea, however.

My understanding is that “systemic racism” refers to a country or region that used slaves to help build their economy. That would apply to the United States (e.g., the cotton industry alone to say nothing of household slaves) and to many other countries. Some form of slavery is still practiced in a dozen or more countries, with the Global Slavery Index estimating that over 45.8 million people worldwide are living in a form of modern-day slavery.

Sad to say, the practice of slavery has been ubiquitous on Planet Earth for thousands of years. Nothing any country can be proud of. The 20:80 Rule I often speak about in lectures may have been first written about by a freed Greek slave who lived in the 2nd Century AD.

I am familiar with the CNN article you may be referring to—posted October 20, 1995 and titled “Researchers uncover Africans' part in slavery.” According to Irene Odotei of the University of Ghana, trading guns for people was a big part of the underlying motivation.

As of June 9, of this year [2020], Merriam-Webster dictionary reportedly is changing its definition of racism due to efforts by Kennedy Mitchum, a woman in Missouri.

Having been born in Canada, I learned in school that slavery had been practiced by First Nations people since ancient times. Reportedly, Britain was the first country in the world to abolish the international slave trade in 1807—yes, that was before my time—reportedly the first country in the world to do so. Slavery in Canada is said to have ended through case law in the early 19th century through judicial actions litigated on behalf of slaves seeking manumission (owners freeing their slaves). I have not yet located resources that say if slavery involved more than First Nations, although word-of-mouth says there may have been slaves on the Eastern seaboard of Canada kept by non-First Nations people.

Knowledge is power. My brain’s opinion is that each person needs to get up to speed with the history of slavery, systemic slavery in particular. While it is likely unhelpful to hold all individuals of one race—considering we are all quite mixed—responsible for what happened generations ago, it is helpful to use your vote to place individuals in power who are committed to abolishing the remnants of systemic slavery.

Following are just a few resources you might find enlightening: