It wasn’t long ago that white nationalism was a fringe political movement, Now, it’s gained new relevance.
With Twitter feeds on fire, tempers flaring and tiki torches being lit, we’re living in a time of “identity politics”. We’re also living in a time when it’s never been easier to get hold of a genetic ancestry test (GAT).
Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan are two sociologists from the University of California, Los Angeles. They have investigated the rise of white nationalists and their increasing use of these GATs with the aim of affirming their assumed ancestry and identity.
Unfortunately for them, white nationalists are often disappointed with their results.
Donovan and Panofsky shared their findings at the annual American Sociological Association in Montréal last week, which was fortunate timing given the events in Charlottesville the weekend before. Their paper was titled “When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic Ancestry Testing Among White Nationalists.”
For years they have been gathering data from Stormfront, a white nationalist and neo-Nazi online forum set up by a former KKK member. On this forum they observed over 600 people react to their GAT results.
Some people were pleasantly surprised with their results. For example, one posted:
“I was surprised there wasn’t more German. Evidently, the Y DNA said ‘Nordic’ and traces back to the Cimbri tribe, which settled in Denmark.”
Others weren’t so positive:
“See, THIS is why I don’t recommend these tests to people. Did they bother to tell you that there were Whites in what is now Senegal all that time ago? No? So they led you to believe that you’re mixed even though in all probability, you are simply related to some White fool who left some of his DNA with the locals in what is now Senegal.”
At times forum users hit out at each other when finding out their members were of “non-white ancestry”. After finding out that someone was 61 percent European, one poster responded:
“I’ve prepared you a drink. It’s 61 percent pure water. The rest is potassium cyanide… Cyanide isn’t water, and YOU are not White.”
Another common response was rejecting the legitimacy of the tests, suggesting they are a misleading Jewish multi-cultural conspiracy.
The researchers note that this response by white nationalists should not be blankly dismissed as sheer ignorance, even though their theories more often prove groundless, that they reflect more than a simple misunderstanding of the science, but a purposeful misuse of it.
“Most population geneticists would be appalled at the use of their variation-based research to build typological theories of human classification. But these scientists have produced tools open to such interpretations,” Panofsky says at the end of article.
“GAT rests on an infrastructure presumed to be good and evil in conventional ways: that is, good for citizens to learn about themselves, bad because of privacy threats and undisclosed, open-ended data mining. But what GAT also does is set up a whole new infrastructure for racists to endow their groundless theories with a high-tech scientific imprimatur and to convince each other of the myths that mobilize them as a social group in the first place.”