Opinion: Your DNA Is Not Your Culture

This is a bit of a follow-up and a rebuttal to an article I published a few days ago: Discover Your “Musical DNA” at https://blog.eogn.com/2018/09/24/discover-your-musical-dna/:

Writing in The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang points out that “A Spotify playlist tailored to your DNA is the latest example of brands cashing in on people’s search for identity.”

Zhang points out that your ethnic origins shown by DNA have little to do with your present-day persona, especially if you were born a few generations after your ancestors left their old homeland. Zhang writes, “If you speak no German, celebrate no German traditions, have never cooked German food, and know no Germans, what connection is there, really? Cultural identity is the sum total of all of these experiences. DNA alone does not supersede it.”

As to the DNA testing companies, she writes, “They’re just trying to sell stuff, shrug.”

You can read Sarah Zhang’s article at: http://bit.ly/2zvZLWy.


I’ve had 4 DNA tests done. One of them showed me a survey of my genes compared to others and came to the conclusion that I would not do well in music. AND I’m a degreed music teacher! So much for DNA telling you your aptitudes.


I was very annoyed when I responded to the “Discover your Musical DAN” post yesterday and know why that post didn’t surface. Yes, these people just want to sell stuff. As the article linked to todays piece mentioned, people have some incorrect perceptions of what DNA can tell you and it’s actual impact on who you are. Just part of the long running debate of Nature vs Nurture. I, in fact, do like a lot of Irish music and I know that 3/4 of my grandparents were or Irish decent. On the other hand, one batch of my family at that the grandparent level (was very into Irish culture and I know I absorbed that interest because I was exposed to it since infancy including the strong concept of extanded related family. One reason I have gotten into the DNA side of genealogy is to find more of that extended set of relations. Where they are and what present nationality is not a driving part of that. I also understand that even the last 1500 years means that where my DNA came from bears little resemblence to the nominal country my ancestors came from based on who went where and why. Make that 2500 years and it’s still mostly a stew of a lot of people who were sucessfull enough to have survived long enough to have at least one child in whatever their situation was- and where it was. Linking DNA to the many injustices of the past (as determined by present perceptions of right & wrong, justice or injustice and any of a long series of historical conflicts and movements of people around the world is, for the most part somebody looking to profit or gain some measure of power by manipulating what happened into something they can use for self aggrandizement. That includes playing the victim even of the individuals or group who were victimized lived 150 years ago. It’s playing to a potential political power base and worse.


I am listening right now to a BBC radio program on the power of music, Theybhave just interviewee members of an organization in the UK called “Playlist for Life,” which uses customized musical playlists to aid people with dementia (https://www.playlistforlife.org.uk). Their work is based on actual scientific studies that have shown the powerful beneficial effect of music on the brain. Thing is, the effect seems to be the related to nurture, not nature, as the “resonance” between the music and the brain is strongest with music that the listener grew up with and absorbed before they turned 30.


I’m having trouble understanding what all the brouhaha is about regarding suggested playlists that reflect a person’s ethnic heritage. Music is an ancient form of human expression. I am enjoying listening to my Swedish/German/Baltic playlist and am not concerned that spotify is somehow nonsensically accessing my DNA. We can learn about and experience the culture of our ancestors and music is one avenue, along with food, dance, art, architecture. With so many terrible things going on in the world today I’m amazed at the manufactured outrage over inconsequential things, like Ancestry teaming up with spotify to create a playlist reflecting broad national regions.


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