Just after President Trump made his disparaging remarks about limiting immigration from “s---hole” countries (a statement now confirmed by both Democrats and Republicans in the room with him at the time), I received the results of a DNA ethnicity test that revealed, much to my amazement (and utter delight), that I have ancestors from Nigeria — yes, one of Trump’s “s---hole” countries. As surprising as that result was for me, my guess is that my ethnic mix is not that unusual for someone named Burleson who is a fifth-generation Texan. On both my paternal (Burleson) and maternal (Blanchette) sides are great-great-great-grandparents — who I can identify by name — who migrated to Texas in the early 19th century. So I wasn’t surprised that my DNA test estimated that about 75 percent of my ancestors came from England, Wales and France. I have always marked “white” or “Anglo-American” on the demographic forms I’m occasionally asked to fill out.
There was, however, a smaller percentage of my ancestors who came from Scandinavian countries (apparently acceptable to President Trump). My results also revealed — again to my surprise and delight — that I have ancestors from the North African Arab region — perhaps from Morocco, Tunisia or Libya. (Recall Trump’s drive to ban all Muslims?) Therefore, it’s almost certain that some of my ancestors were Muslim. This also came as both a surprise and a delight. While I didn’t choose any of my ancestors or their accompanying ethnicities, it is a source of wonder, joy and pride to know about these grandmothers and grandfathers whose names I do not know. At least yet. Over the coming years I hope to learn more about them, if possible. Without my African grandmother or Arab grandfather, I would not be here today. Nor would my children or grandchildren.
What about you? Where are you from? Unless you’re 100 percent Native American, you have ancestors from somewhere else. Do some of your ancestors come from President Trump’s “s---hole” countries like some of my ancestors apparently did? Maybe your mom or dad is from Haiti or Nigeria or Mexico? The 2010 U.S. Census indicates that Texans’ ethnic makeup is 42.69 percent white, 39.1 percent Hispanic, 12.6 percent black and 4.8 percent Asian. While I have no vested interest in any of the companies such as Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com that provide DNA ethnicity testing (at a cost usually less than $100) and other genealogical research tools, I highly recommend their services since knowing who you are and how you got here is important knowledge to have.
And since democracy is “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” an educated citizenry is indispensable. Perhaps when you learn where your many, many ancestors are from (after all, America is a “melting pot”) you will hear President Trump’s continual racist remarks in a new light, particularly if you’re white. Chances are that Trump has denigrated members of your own family tree — your grandmothers, your grandfathers, maybe even further back. I point you to a New York Times essay from Jan. 15, 2018, titled “Donald Trump’s Racism: The Definitive List” by David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick. I quote below a few of the many examples on this list:
- Trump’s real-estate company tried to avoid renting apartments to African Americans in the 1970s and gave preferential treatment to whites, according to the federal government.
- Trump treated black employees at his casinos differently from whites, according to multiple sources. A former hotel executive said Trump criticized a black accountant: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks.”
- In 1989, Trump took out ads in New York newspapers urging the death penalty for five black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a white woman in Central Park. He argued they were guilty as late as October 2016, more than 10 years after DNA evidence exonerated them.
- In the 1990s, Trump took out advertisements alleging that the “Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented.” At the time, he was fighting competition for his casino business.
- He spent years suggesting that the nation’s first black president was born not in the United States but in Kenya — a lie that Trump still has not acknowledged as such.
- In December 2015, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” including refusing to readmit Muslim-American citizens who were outside of the country at the time.
- Trump said a federal judge hearing a case about Trump University was biased because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.
- After David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, endorsed him, Trump was reluctant to disavow Duke even when asked directly on television.
- He began his 2016 presidential campaign with a speech disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and “rapists.”
- Trump hired Stephen Bannon as his campaign head and later White House chief strategist. Under Bannon’s leadership, the website Breitbart made white nationalism a central theme. It featured a section, for example, on “black crime.”
- In June 2017, Trump said 15,000 recent immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” and that 40,000 Nigerians, once seeing the United States, would never “go back to their huts” in Africa.
- Trump endorsed and campaigned for Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate who spoke positively about slavery and called for an African-American Muslim member of Congress not to be seated because of his religion.
Yep, my guess is the president of the United States has denigrated either you or someone in your family tree through one or more of these actions or statements above.
If you’re a proud Texan like me, you’re proud of our state for many reasons but in part because we have a vibrant mix of cultures and ethnicities stretching back centuries. That is our heritage; that is who we are. The list of distinguished Texans who are from or whose ancestors are from Trump’s “s---hole” countries is large. Think of what Texas would be like without, say, late congresswoman Barbara Jordan or World War II hero Doris Miller. This list could go on and on.
And think of what Texas would be like without you. You — whether predominantly of one ethnicity or another — very likely have a grandmother or grandfather from one of Trump’s “s---thole” countries.