I’m not a devotee of This American Life, but I do listen to the podcast from time to time. Last week’s episode was called Family Physics. Act I–“Occam’s Razor“–is what I wanted to call to your attention.
I suppose I should now say “spoiler alert” so that if you want to listen to it without knowing where it is going, you can do that now. (I’m not sure if you can listen for free after the week it is on.) There’s really no chance I can tell this story anywhere near as well as it was presented on the radio. But I’ll try.
The story is about a young man who was, in fact, biracial. His mother and her husband were both white. You’d think the fact of the child being biracial would clue people in that his genetic father was not the white husband. But for many years, this is not what happened. Instead, everyone in the family clung to other explanations.
It turned out that his mother had been dating a young Black man while she was in high-school (or just after?). She was also dating the man she eventually married. She became pregnant. She didn’t know which man was actually responsible for the child, but in her Italian family and in a time of racial polarization, she married the white man. The appearance of a non-white child would have caused a great deal of trouble. And so everyone had a good reason to assert that the child was white.
Eventually the truth came to light. That’s really the story of this piece. The boy–now a young man–was able to locate the man who was genetically related to him.
What was actually most striking to me is that none of the players in this drama are angry. Not the white man who raised a son that was not genetically “his.” Not the Black man who didn’t get to see the boy who was genetically related to him for many years. Not the young man who was, for so many years, kept from knowing something pretty important.
There’s been so much conversation here about the meaning of genetic connection and all that. This is, of course, only one story. But it is a very interesting one.