Thursday, June 16, 2005

People who say stupid things, part 2
Oprah Winfrey:
DNA experts have questioned Oprah Winfrey's belief that she is a member of South Africa's Zulu nation.

The African-American chat-show host announced during a recent visit to South Africa that she had had a DNA test that had shown her to be a Zulu.

She also told South Africans she felt "at home" in the country.


"I'm crazy about the South African accent," she said. "I wish I had been born here."

If she had been born in South Africa, the benefits she would have been able to enjoy along with that cool accent would have been no education, abysmal poverty, no meaningful political representation, and a segregation system that made the American South of her childhood look positively warm and fuzzy. Until she was in her mid-thirties, she would have been banned from entering 80% of the country and would have needed a passport to travel between the isolated enclaves she was allowed to visit. She would have been banned from most professions (even if she could have acquired an education). If she traveled for work, she would not have been allowed to bring her family. She would have had none of the career opportunities that have made her a household name.

Just as an historical aside, it is extremely unlikely that Oprah has any Zulu ancestors. Most of the slave trade into the American South came from West Africa (the area between Gambia and Nigeria). The limited slave raiding that did happen among the people who later became the Zulu nation went to Brazil. Her DNA might share some similarities with someone in a data bank calling themselves Zulu, but it is far more likely that she and that person share a white ancestor or share the same DNA markers with a large portion of Sub-Saharan Africa.

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