That racists are obsessed with race will surprise no one.
As reported by Vice’s Elspeth Reeve, white supremacists of various stripes who congregate on parts of Reddit, 4chan, and elsewhere are using the genetic testing service 23andMe to prove to each other and themselves just how white their ancestries are. The testers use the forum to commiserate as they anxiously wait for results, hoping to be deemed 100% European heritage.
It’s the inverse of what young black Americans are doing with the genetic tests, which my colleague Cara DeFabio wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Testers of African descent are using Ancestry.com and 23andMe to try and learn about their family via genetics because there often aren’t records of where their more distant ancestors were from before America. For them, evidence of European ancestry that dates to the 1700s and 1800s can be traumatic, the proof in their DNA that their enslaved ancestors were likely raped by the people who bought and sold them.
Reading the two stories side by side illuminates a disturbing contrast in how sexual violence in the past is viewed. The Vice piece describes what happened when a former moderator of a racist subreddit discovered that his ancestry was not as European as he believed:
A user named “eagleshigh” reposted his ancestry chart on voat.com, on a board that replaced the banned subreddit. “Oy vey. My ancestry dna results are back,” Eagles wrote, linking to a chart showing 7 percent African ancestry and 22 percent Native American. Someone reassured him, suggesting he hadn’t come by the genes by choice: “There is no way that anyone’s lineage avoided rape. While there is no way to prove that, I am positive it’s true.” Another said he was “deffo mostly White.”
Contrast that with one of the black women DeFabio wrote about who discovered she had more European ancestry than she expected when she got a report back from Ancestry.com.
“The fact that I am only African and European, is really emotional for me,” she said in a Facebook Live video about her results. “I just kinda feel like my ancestors were brought over here as slaves and then raped. I’m not being very eloquent, this is kind of a lot.”
“There is something really weird, surreal, spiritually challenging about it. If a man did not rape that slave, I would not be here,” she said later.
The difference in the two reactions is telling. For her, the discovery that a rape may explain part of her genetic makeup is a cause for horror, an impetus for thinking about an ancestor who was enslaved and raped and another who was a rapist.
For the white supremacist posters on alt-right forums, rape isn’t a horrific crime so much as it’s instrumental. “There is no way that anyone’s lineage avoided rape” is a dismissal of the victim of rape who’s one of the original poster’s ancestors. The act of rape is subsumed as just another part of the posters’ particular conception of whiteness.
As horrifying as this is, it isn’t particularly surprising given the source. 4chan has a long history of allowing rape jokes and playing host to threads full of GIFs of rape and other sexual violence. Other sites with similar user bases have followed suit to varying degrees.
But it’s worth drawing out a comparison because despite how explicit they are, these commenters aren’t unusual. They’re a dark, brutally honest look at how many on the American right think of sexual violence. For them rape isn’t a horrific action, it’s a means of control.