Geneticists Criticize Use of Science by White Nationalists to Justify
‘Racial Purity’
An image from a video showing men chugging milk. White nationalists are
using genetic research — like the ability to digest lactose in milk as
adults — as a sign of racial identity.

By Amy Harmon <>
Oct. 19, 2018

In an unusual statement on the role of science in the resurgence of white
supremacy in America, the American Society of Human Genetics on Friday
denounced “attempts to link genetics and racial supremacy.”

The statement, which appears in the November issue of the group’s
scientific journal, The American Journal of Human Genetics, said the
concept of “racial purity” was scientifically meaningless. The group has
about 8,000 members and is the largest professional organization of
scientists who study human genetics.

As newly visible and often-virulent groups of white nationalists have
invoked genetic research to claim racial superiority, some geneticists have
suggested that the field was not doing enough to counter the claims.

Some white nationalists have used research on the ability to digest lactose
in milk as adults as a sign of racial identity. And some white nationalist
messaging falsely suggests that the existence of genetic markers in people
whose ancestors came from different continents mean there are genetic
distinctions in behavioral traits like intelligence.

Though science is not much in evidence when white nationalists take to the
streets chanting slogans like “You will not replace us,” scholars of racist
ideology say contemporary white racism draws on the trope of “natural”
racial hierarchy used to justify the enslavement of African-Americans, the
American eugenics movement in the early 20th century and Nazi “racial
hygiene” laws.

The topic has been much discussed on the side at the group’s annual meeting
this week.

“As human geneticists, we cannot ‘just focus on our research,’” one
geneticist, Melissa Wilson Sayres of Arizona State University, said
Thursday night on social media
<>. “We cannot
pretend that our research isn’t being misused. Doing so is being actively
complicit with white supremacy/nationalism.”

The statement by the genetics association came after an article in The New
York Times
examined how scientists who study human genetic diversity were struggling
to respond to the racist misuse of science, even as their tools to discover
how human populations vary genetically become more powerful.

In a widely read Op-Ed in The New York Times earlier this year, the Harvard
geneticist David Reich wrote that “arguing that no substantial differences
among human populations are possible will only invite the racist misuse of
genetics that we wish to avoid.”

*[**Read: Why white supremacists are chugging milk, and why geneticists are

The genetics group’s statement is a step toward trying to equip the public
with the tools to understand the evolutionary processes that give rise to
patterns of human genetic diversity, geneticists said. It explains that
genetic variation between human populations is linked to patterns of
migration and the mixing of populations throughout history. Given how much
mixing has occurred, it says, the white supremacist notion of racial purity
is “scientifically meaningless.”
It also explains a distinction between race and ancestry that geneticists
say has been muddled by the rise of commercial ancestry tests.

“Although a person’s genetics influences their phenotypic characteristics,
and self-identified race might be influenced by physical appearance,” the
statement said, “race itself is a social construct,” meaning it has no
biological basis. “Black,” for instance, is a socially defined term that
includes many Americans who have a majority of European ancestry.

The statement encourages human geneticists to begin engaging with the
public on questions of race, ancestry and genetics.

“In public dialogue, our research community should be clear about genetic
knowledge related to ancestry and genomic diversity,” it says. “There can
be no genetics-based support of claiming one group as superior to another.”