23andMe’s services were initially quite expensive — $999 for consumer genetic testing when the company was founded, in 2006. But in late 2012, it dropped the price for ancestry testing to $99, and not long after, screenshots of DNA testing results began appearing on white nationalist message boards — first on Stormfront, then occasionally on subreddits related to white nationalism, and most frequently on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” board /pol/, from which many alt-right memes originate.
On the alt-right, the concept of “redpill” is important. It comes from the scene in “The Matrix” when the protagonist must choose between the blue pill (comforting illusion) and the red pill (horrific reality). To the alt-right, being redpilled means being stripped of politically correct illusions about diversity and buying into ideas that run on a spectrum from opposition to immigration to full-on white supremacy. And 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.
Sometimes these threads are mostly a joke. Much of the alt-right emerged from message boards that highly prize shock value — a joke about a sacred idea or an unspeakable tragedy, something like the recurring line, “The Holocaust didn’t happen, but it should have.” Even people who’ve spent years playing the troll game tell me they often don’t know whether someone is ironically racist or actually racist. So when someone posts a 23andMe screenshot and asks users to rate his whiteness, it’s meant to be funny, as are comments telling him “gas yourself” because his results show a tiny percentage of Ashkenazi heritage.
But sometimes the 23andMe threads devolve into a deep discussion (or a flame war) about what it really means to be white, underscoring what a slippery concept race can be…