Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Tracy Clayton always heard that her ancestors were, in her mother’s words, “black, white and American Indian.” Like many black Americans, her immediate family didn’t have exact information on their roots — that heritage is difficult to trace through ancestors forced into the American slave trade. What little information Tracy’s family might have had was lost in a courthouse fire.
Tracy says she didn’t think about her ancestry very often until she moved to New York City, where she’s the co-host, with Heben Nigatu, of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round. New Yorkers, Tracy noticed, take pride in their ethnic identity. A number of her friends hang flags in their window, or march in pride parades based on their country of origin.
“Which parade do I go to? What flag do I put in my window?” she wondered. She enlisted Only Human to help her figure it out.
With the help of DNA ancestry tests and experts on DNA and race, Tracy explores her own ethnic background. She accidentally upends her family lore — it turns out her she has very little Native American ancestry — and she also discovers why the mix of “black, white and American Indian” is such a common heritage myth among black Americans.
In the end, Tracy finds her flag, and discovers that her ethnic identity is more complex than she originally thought. The data revealed by DNA ancestry tests complicates the way she thinks about herself and her family’s history, but she also realizes that these tests don’t hold all the secrets to understanding ourselves and our heritage. The stories passed down over generations can be just as integral to the way we think about ourselves in the modern world.