Modern white nationalists tend to equate skin color with something called “race.” The darker the skin color, they think, the further the race is from moral, cultural, biological, political and godly perfection. We’ve all seen the rhetoric (“balderdash” is a nice word to describe it)—God is white, Jesus was white, Europeans are the finest examples of humanity, and Americans with Anglo-Saxon roots are the finest examples of all. Judeo-Christian culture leads the world, and this fine heritage is mortally threatened by multiculturalism, immigration, Islam, liberalism, relativism. More rational people are aware that race does not exist in biological terms, and that the whole business is a social construct. Whiteness is ideology, not biology. And we’re all familiar with the catastrophes of the last century in which a formidably militarized racism wreaked havoc on humanity. My purpose here is to point out that some history doesn’t support that racist concept.
In the last few years, there’s been a good deal of exploration of the genetic heritage of a variety of social groups. Looked at as an aggregate, there have been some interesting results. The analyses suggests some interesting genetic flows (interested readers can consult the sites listed at the end of this post, for a fuller account of methodologies and conclusions used in the works I’ve used).
My belief is that we are all essentially human mutts. All of us are the results of thousands of generations of ancestors, and few of us know of those ancestors more than a few generations back. White nationalists dreaming about a lily white America would be shocked at the genetic shadows cast by African and Native American ancestry.
Take Europe, for example. Euroamericans who think whiteness is superior are probably unaware that chunks of the continent were under rule by non-Europeans for substantial periods of time, and genetic traces remain. Sicily and parts of Italy were under Islamic rule for generations. Parts of Spain were under Islamic rule from the downfall of the Visigoths to 1492 when the “Spanish kings” (those would be Ferdinand and Isabella who bankrolled Colombus in 1492, the same year they conquered Muslim Granada). The Ottomans ruled most of the Balkans from the 1300s through the late 1800s, and occupied Hungary for several generations. Large chunks of Russia were under Mongol rule from the time of the Mongol conquest (1237-1240) through the demise of the Golden Horde (a Mongol successor state) in about 1480. [The Hungarians themselves invaded Europe in the 800s, coming from the other side of the Urals]. These groups all left some genetic traces.
There are significant traces of North African genetic content (see the “gene flow” source) in southern Europe, particularly in Iberia and southern Italy. The Islamic conquest of most of Spain included Arabs but also native peoples from North Africa such as the Berbers. There is of course much more complexity. The Romans ruled most of Europe for centuries, and their empire included North Africa, Anatolia (modern Turkey), Syria, Palestine, and sometimes stretched into what is now Armenia and Iraq. The Romans moved military units around the empire and one means of Romanization was to settle veterans in colonies. This and large scale slavery moved substantial populations of people and their genes around the empire. What’s the point? Americans with European ancestry may well have ancestors from the Roman era that include a soldier from Anatolia or a slave from Syria or a merchant from Tunisia.
The research that got me thinking about all this is a report by Kasia Bryc, et al. The research involved a large group of customers of 23andMe. Some 80% had given permission for their genetic samples to be analyzed by group (See the links below for the study and access to the whole thing). The conclusions have to be read with care, but suggest that some Americans would be surprised. As a group, African Americans’ genetic ancestry is 73.2% African, 24% European and 0.8% Native American (there are significant variations by state). US Latinos (the term used in the study) are 65.1% European, 18% Native American and 6.2% African.
US Europeans (the term used in the report) are 0.19% African, 0.18% Native American and 98.6% European. But there are some subtleties. About 3.5% of European Americans have at least 1% African ancestry, rising to about 12% in Louisiana and South Carolina. Readers may recall the old Southern “one drop” rule, of any African ancestry at all defining that person as black. Henry Louis Gates wrote an essay discussing how many millions of white people might be “passing,” estimating that some millions were. Gates’ comments were based on the Bryc study.
A deeper probe into ancestry would be more disconcerting to people who claim the superiority of white European ancestry. Much of Europe was covered by glaciers, so it was populated later than some other regions (for example, aboriginal populations got to Australia about 50,000 years ago). Recent research on the genetic heritage of Europeans indicates that the ancestry came in several waves. First perhaps 30,000 years ago, came hunter gatherers from Africa into Iberia. Then farmers migrated into Europe some 8,000 years ago from the southeast, coming from the Near East, probably what is now Turkey. Then about 4,500 years ago came migrations of herders from north of the Black Sea (that would be the Black Sea steppes). The paleness of skin that has come to characterize Europeans is a matter of the last few thousand years—ancient Europeans had much darker skin. There’s also some genetic trace in modern Europeans from the Neanderthals. [See the Ann Gibbons article below].
So, white nationalists, anything to say? Your English language came ultimately from herders from the Asian steppes. Your skin color came largely from the Near East, that is Western Asia. A lot of the deep genetic heritge comes from Africa and from those primitive Neanderthals. Y’all are just as much mutts as the rest of us. And no, Jesus was not white and he didn’t speak English.
—Henry Louis Gates Jr. On The Root site 3/7/2014, “How Many White People are Passing?” [Might be best to visit the site rather than clicking on the link, I had some issues downloading it].
–Science magazine 12/2014 web site ancestry. Lizzie Wade, Genetic study reveals surprising ancestry of many Americans.” [This is a good summary of the Kasia Bryc et al study].
–Kasia Bryc in American Journal of Human Genetics, “The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos and European Americans Across the United States.” [This is the whole report, much of it quite technical].
–On gene flow from North Africa into Europe. Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, 2013, complete report. Quite technical). “Gene flow from North Africa contributes to differential genetic diversity in southern Europe.”
–Wikipedia on Islamic rule in Sicily and southern Italy, “History of Islam in Southern Italy.”
–Wikipedia on Mongol invasion of Russia. “Mongol Invasion of Rus’ “
–On genetic ancestry of Europeans, Carl Zimmer, NY Times, 6/10/2015, “DNA Deciphers Roots of Modern Europe.”
–On skin color , Ann Gibbons, Science website 4/2/2015, “How Europeans evolved white skin.”
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