When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity - Aaron Panofsky (UCLA)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Location: Cohen Hall 237


Aaron Panofsky

Abstract: Since the advent in the mid-2000s of genetic ancestry tests (GATs) available directly to consumers, researchers have considered what their effects would be on individuals’ conceptions of their own identities and their understanding of race and ethnicity. Studies have focused especially on the impact on African Americans and more recently on differences in reception among individuals from diverse backgrounds. This study focuses on a different population: white nationalists posting and discussing GAT results on the web forum Stormfront. This is a self-selected population that ostensibly has strong ideological commitments to notions of racial distinctiveness, purity, and hierarchy and where genetic information might put individual identity at risk. Despite their essentialist views of race, Stormfront posters infrequently use GAT revelations as occasions for individuals to denigrate each other’s identities. Instead they expend considerable energy and employ considerable ingenuity to repair individuals’ identities by rejecting or reinterpreting GAT results. At the same time, however, some Stormfront posters use the particular relationships made visible by GATs to re-imagine the collective boundaries and constitution of white nationalism. This combination represents a particular twist on the “affiliative self-fashioning” observed in other populations’ uses of GATs. Stormfront posters do not interpret genetics in the same way professionals do, but their interpretations cannot be dismissed as simply ignorant.