Speed Reads

Rude Awakenings

What happens when white nationalists receive uncomfortable genetic ancestry tests results

When you order a test of your genetic makeup from Ancestry.com or 23andMe, the results you get back are often a surprise. When you are racial purist like white separatist Craig Cobb, that shock can be pretty upsetting, as Cobb found out on Trisha Goddard's talk show in 2013:

Cobb didn't just protest that his African ancestry was "statistical noise" on British TV, though. Like dozens of white supremacists, he went on the white nationalist website Stormfront to dispute the results, reports Eric Boodman at Stat News. Generally speaking, if you want to be a member of the Stormfront community, "you have to be 100 percent white European, not Jewish," says sociologist Aaron Panofsky, who read thousands of Stormfront posts with partner Joan Donovan to find out how white supremacists handle the news that they aren't as white as they think — which happens about two-thirds of the time. They presented their research, coincidentally, on Monday at a conference in Montreal.

Some of the Stormfront users' critiques of the accuracy of spit-in-a-cup genetic ancestry testing are similar to ones by scientists, at least when it comes to determining race. But others have folksier ways to dispute the results, Panofsky says, like the "mirror test" — "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'" — or calling genetic tests a Jewish conspiracy "to confuse true white Americans about their ancestry," he explains. Boodman continues:

For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as "white." That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn't "mate," or only had children with certain ethnic groups. [Stat News]

You can read more about how white nationalists navigate the news they aren't all-white at Stat News.