Bioethics News

I’m glad I’m part Neanderthal

Do-it-yourself genetic testing with 23andMe.com can be useful for discovering susceptibilities to genetic diseases and for research into ancestry. What no one anticipated was that it would be popular amongst white supremacists in the United States.

A Vice journalist, Elspeth Reeve, spoke to a number of white supremacists and alt-right trolls who are conducting conversations on the internet about their ancestry. People are posting screenshots of the results of their tests to prove how white they are. As she points out, “if you believe in the superiority of European culture and white people, then it follows that one of the most important facts you should establish is that you are white yourself.”

As one poster said, “We alt-right types may have more at stake in our genetic results than the average deracinated Western white.”

What they value as “white genes”, however, can be a bit puzzling. There are disputes over whether Finns or Russians are “white”. And when 23andMe started to release the percentage of Neanderthal genes, the reaction was “counterintuitive”:

In an article for GeneWatch, published by the Council on Responsible Genetics, Keel noted “Just days after the discovery of the Neanderthal genome,” Stormfront commenters “claimed Neanderthal DNA was responsible for the ‘intellectual supremacy’ and ‘physical prowess’ of Europeans.”

It’s hard to distinguish between what the trolls really think and what is mere trolling. But the existence of unexpected genetic backgrounds has sparked theories that 23andMe is rigging the results. The entry for 23andMe on the racist conspiracy site Rightpedia claims, “This company likes to give people of European descent about a 1% nonwhite mongrelization, usually Subsaharan African.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.