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When DNA Evidence Challenges Ideas of A Person’s Racial Purity, White Supremacists Use a Decision Tree to Affirm or Discount the Results


Newswise — Now that science can determine a person’s racial and ethnic origins from a cheek swab, those devoted to ideas of racial “purity,” are employing methods of mind games and logic twists to support their beliefs despite facing evidence of their own multiracial heritage.


Researchers Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan of UCLA looked at the way members of the white supremacist website Stormfront handled finding out the results of their DNA tests. Panofsky explained that due to the potential for conflict over their very identity, these test takers were often supported in several ways that, frankly, are obviously not true.


“When a subject would take the genetic ancestry test (GAT), the results to this group were good or they were bad,” Panofsky said. “Sometimes it was a matter of ‘Well I thought I was Irish, but actually I’m Norwegian, so I’m still very white, hooray.’ But if the news was what these white supremacists would consider to be bad, defined as evidence of heritage from, for example, Middle Eastern peoples, this is where it would get interesting.”


The first method to maintain the idea of racial purity was simply to reject GAT as a basis of knowledge about an individual’s heritage.  Trust in family history and records were deemed superior to “some test.”


Another way that white supremacists maintain their race identity in the face of an undesirable result was what the researchers call, “The mirror test.”  Basically, if you look white and you don’t appear to be Jewish or black, then you’re not.  After all, the mirror doesn’t lie.  Of course, this would imply that the tests are not accurate.


So-called racial purists also say they don’t believe in the tests because there exists a Jewish conspiracy.  Panofsky explained, “Some of these people have said, ‘Well you know 23 & Me is Jewish run and operated and they just simply can’t be trusted. They want to make white people doubt their heritage, so the tests just can’t be true!”


When the news, however is such that a person laments, they may be “only 71% Caucasian,” there are a number of racial ideologues on the sites who accept that their fellow members can’t help the fact that there is race-mixing in their family tree.  Instead they’re embraced for being true to the fact that there is a majority of “white” in the bloodline.  The clear irony seems to be lost on a group that prides itself on standards of racial so-called purity.


“You’d think that the members of this site would say, ‘Get out! We don’t want you,’” Panofsky said. “Instead, they find ways to support their community members and keep them as part of the group.”


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The paper, “When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic Ancestry Testing among White Nationalists,” will be presented on Monday, Aug. 14 at 10:30 a.m. in Montréal at the American Sociological Association’s 112th Annual Meeting.

To obtain a copy of the paper; for assistance reaching the study’s author(s); or for more information on other ASA presentations, members of the media can contact Johanna Olexy, Senior Communications Associate, at (202) 247-9873 or [email protected]. During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 12-15), ASA Public Information Office staff can be reached in the on-site press office, located in Room 449 of the Palais des congrès de Montréal, at (202) 386-8392 (cell).

Papers presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not yet been published in peer-reviewed journals.