• White nationalists are using DNA testing to prove their racial identity - but aren't always happy with the results. (Getty Images North America)Source: Getty Images North America
Some are not as "white" as they thought they were and suggest the tests are a misleading "Jewish conspiracy".
Alyssa Braithwaite

18 Aug 2017 - 2:48 PM  UPDATED 18 Aug 2017 - 2:49 PM

As genetic ancestry tests have become more accessible, there has been a rising trend of white nationalists using them to prove their racial identity.

In a new study, Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, sociologists from the University of California in Los Angeles, investigated how these white nationalists reacted to the results they received from genetic ancestry tests (GATs).

As the researchers told the annual American Sociological Association conference in Montreal on August 14 (coincidentally, just 48 hours after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville), they are often disappointed when the results are not as "white" as they'd like. 

Panofsky and Donovan studied years' worth of posts on white nationalist website Stormfront in which people had posted the results of their genetic test.

"You might think that they would avoid GAT, since genetics has decisively shown the common African ancestry of all people," Panofsky writes in Genes for Racists? in an article for Cultural Anthropology. 

"So how are GAT interpreted by people with a strong belief in race as a biological essence and the defining characteristic of individual worth and social relations?"

Panofsky and Donovan's paper, When Genetics Challenges a Racist's Identity: Genetic Ancestry Testing Among White Nationalists, is currently being peer-reviewed, but a pre-print is available online.

The authors and their team searched through 12 million posts written by more than 300,000 members, with Donovan estimating she spent some four hours a day reading Stormfront in 2016. 

While about a third of the people posting their results were pleased by what their test revealed - "Pretty damn pure blood," a user called Sloth reportedly wrote - the majority (two thirds) were not happy, the sociologists found.

Some took a hardline approach to those with unwelcome results, along the lines of this response to a user who found they were 61 per cent European: "I've prepared you a drink. It's 61 per cent pure water. The rest is potassium cyanide... Cyanide isn't water, and YOU are not white." 

But generally the forum communities were more focused on helping the person. Many challenged the validity of the test itself or suggested they were a misleading "Jewish conspiracy".

"See, THIS is why I don't recommend these tests to people," one user called FadingLight wrote, according to Panofsky and Donovan.

"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."

Some in the Stormfront community maintained that an individual's knowledge about their own ancestry is better than what a genetic test might show. 

"They will talk about the mirror test," says Panofsky.

"They will say things like, 'If you see a Jew in the mirror looking back at you, that's a problem; if you don't, you're fine.'"

However, others took a more scientific approach to their critiques, questioning the method by which companies who provide these tests determine ancestry.

"It would be a serious mistake to view white nationalists as ignorant or stupid or as straightforwardly wrong in the way they are interpreting GAT and population genetics," the authors write.

Summing up their findings, Panofsky and Donovan suggest that the scientific community may need to find new ways to challenge racist interpretations. 

"The information population geneticists have produced is quite available for racist interpretations," the researchers write.

"Challenging racists’ public understanding of science is not simply a matter of more education or nuance, but
may require scientists to rethink their research paradigms and reflexively interrogate their own knowledge production."
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