From the New York Times news section:
What happens when white supremacists on the hate site Stormfront learn that they’re not as white as they thought? Two researchers investigated.
By Heather Murphy
July 12, 2019
On the hate site Stormfront, one of the largest online discussion forums dedicated to “white pride,” sharing DNA results with fellow members has become a rite of passage for some members.
But what happens when users’ results show that they fail to meet their own genetic criteria for whiteness? Are they still willing to post them? And if so, how do other users respond?
Such questions have long intrigued the sociologists Aaron Panofsky, who studies the social implications of genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Joan Donovan, whose research at Harvard University focuses on how information is manipulated on the internet.
“We had a puzzle,” Dr. Panofsky said in an interview this week. “If Stormfront says, ‘You’ve got to be all white or we’ll kick you out,’ how do they deal with these anomalies?”
Their findings, outlined this month in a study in the journal Social Studies of Science, show that yes, even members who fail to meet their own genetic standards will sometimes share the results.
In response, their fellow white nationalists tend to console them by offering potential reasons the results can’t be trusted. Among them: skepticism about the tests’ interpretations of the science or statistics, conspiracy theories about Jewish-owned genetic testing companies’ multicultural agendas, and reminders about alternative ways of measuring whiteness.
To Dr. Panofsky and Dr. Donovan, that meant trying to counter hate by getting white nationalists to consider that they actually are the people they hate was not going to work: Members of such groups are too determined to help each other see what they want to see.
The findings add to an already robust body of scholarship that shows how difficult it is to get people to alter pre-existing views, said Jonathan Baron, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study. “People go to extraordinary lengths to maintain beliefs to which they are committed,” he said.
“Science cannot save us,” Dr. Panofsky said, noting that in the years since he first began working on this study, genetic tests have increasingly been used to encourage the “mainstreamification” of white nationalism. “The political problem of white nationalism needs to be confronted on the level of values and law enforcement,” he said.
What Dr. Mercier, who was not involved in the study, found even more fascinating than users’ tendency to see what they wanted was that more than 50 people chose to disclose DNA results that contradicted their desired identity.
Sample size > 50.
“Maybe these posters aren’t 100 percent sure about their involvement in the white nationalist movement, and they want to make sure they’d be accepted,” he suggested.
It is impossible to know whether that was indeed going through their minds, however, because the researchers did not interview the posters directly. That also means the researchers cannot be sure that the DNA tests even belonged to the users who posted them.
Despite those limitations, Wendy D. Roth, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said it was well-executed study. In her own work, she has found an inverse dynamic: white people who take genetic tests hoping to find something that makes them feel more “exotic.”
But like the white nationalists, they were also inclined to use only the information that was convenient for them: If a bit of Native American ancestry seemed as if it would impress their friends, for example, then they would embrace it. If they worried they wouldn’t be taken seriously, or thought they might be criticized, then they wouldn’t.
Obviously, this type of selective retention is more benign than selective retention intended to rationalize acts of violence, social exclusion and racist hierarchies. Nonetheless, it’s far from consequence-free, Dr. Roth said. She called it “a new form of white privilege.”
… Dr. Roth also warned that the growing embrace of ancestral testing may broadly encourage a racist or ethnocentric worldview.
And now it’s time for the new, more intersectional, and dumber Stephen Jay Gould to sum up:
Angela Saini, the author of “Superior: The Return of Race Science,” made a similar observation on a recent episode of the NPR podcast “Code Switch.” “When we biologize identity, this is what the nationalists want,” she said.
Heather Murphy is a science reporter. She writes about the intersection of technology and our genes and how bio-tech innovations affect the way we live. @heathertal
Let me see if I have this straight:
As Angela Saini’s new book “Superior: The Return of Race Science” proclaims: Race does NOT exist genetically.
Except … when Stormfront readers find out their DNA isn’t 100.0% white, in which case we must believe DNA testing services’ results about race unquestioningly.