Is that white supremacist part black?

By Razib Khan | November 12, 2013 11:45 am

Goebbels, Nordic superman! Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild

Goebbels, Nordic superman! 
Credit:, Bundesarchiv, Bild

Many of you probably know about Dave Chappelle’s black white supremacist sketch (NSFW video!), though fewer are aware of Leo Felton, a white supremacist (ex, after he was outed) with a black father (a less tragic outcome than Dan Burros, the Jewish American Nazi). I know, these sound like they’re out of South Park episodes, though the last two are actually not fictional. But now the media is exploding with news that a DNA test has suggested that a notorious white supremacist is 14 percent black. The same one who was recently profiled in The New York Times promoting a separatist racial vision in a small North Dakota town. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t think that these results will hold up. (though personally I would think it was rich and very funny if they did, just like everyone else).

Credit: ScottH

Credit: ScottH

The reason is the chart to the left. It’s from 23andMe‘s data set. Out of their ~100,000 white American individuals tested, ~5% have any evidence of African ancestry. Of those, you see the distribution of results. If Craig Cobb, the white supremacist, is ~14% Sub-Saharan African, he’s in the less than 0.1% of white Americans with this sort of pattern. If he was a Latin American white, or a identified white person of Arab ancestry, I’d be willing to accept the results as plausible on the face of it. But the reality is that European Americans with relatively well documented histories usually do not have a high probability of having African ancestry. And if they do, 14% is a great deal. I have seen this among my friends (or more honestly, 5-10%, which is not far off), but that was due to a cryptic (though somewhat known within the family) non-paternity event.

The media isn’t consistent about which firm tested Craig Cobb, so I’m not going to make accusations specifically, but he says he’s getting other tests done, and he’ll release the results. I’ll be curious to see the raw results. To me this is reminiscent of the constant Facebook shares I get from the Daily Currant from friends who confuse satire for reality because of their biases (not to say those biases are unfounded or not). Just because the story is awesome does not mean we should set skepticism to the side, and not evaluate the probability of alternative outcomes, given what we know prior.

Related: Has anyone followed up the old story that James Watson was part black? The timing was a little suspicious to me.

MORE ABOUT: Craig Cobb, Race

Comments (9)

  1. dxie48

    “I would think it was rich and very funny if they did”

    An interesting case involving a member of European Parliament, discovered through family history rather than DNA testing,

    Visited Auschwitz,

    Converted to Judaism

  2. stevesailer

    I looked at the ample genealogical evidence about Watson in 2007 and came to the conclusion that it was extremely unlike that he was 16% black and 9% Asian:

    Greg Cochran figures that, considering all the enemies Watson has made over the decades, maybe somebody spit in his DNA sample’s test tube.

  3. Luis Aldamiz

    Octoroons have passed as “pure whites” before (in most cases no traits would be apparent in the individual phenotype). How much does that guy know from his actual ancestry? I can track my lines to great-great-grandparents with great accuracy in most cases but that’s not too normal and even that would mean no guarantee against whatever unexpected admixture (adoption, illegitimacy or just legitimate ancestors before my ability to track). It’s also possible that it’s a prank, of course but I would not be surprised if real: racial discrimination causes people not to be honest about their real ancestry when they can pass as something else with more rights.

    Whatever the case it’s funny how he dismisses the results as “mere noise”. Pathetic!

    • razibkhan

      Octoroons have passed as “pure whites” before

      this is why i didn’t mention phenotype. so thanks for addressing an argument i consciously avoided.

      • Luis Aldamiz

        Stating the obvious is one of my favorite passtimes, I guess – it’s not my style being cryptic. Anyhow, what is critical in this case is that, if he is indeed an “octoroon”, the most likely case would be that one of his parents would be a “quadroon” (~28% African for this particular data point), and these people should show some physical traits of admixture. Does anybody know of his parents’ photos?

        Of course there are decreasingly likely possibilities, such as two of his grandparents (one per each line) being “quadroons”, or all four of them being “octoroons”, or a randomized and unlikely concentration in recombination from two “quadroon” grandparents (one per each line, because recombination happens before fecundation). But in general I would discard them for being very unlikely (not 100% impossible but almost).

        So his parents’ photos should shed some light on the matter and establish the likelihood it is all nothing but a prank. A good one admittedly.

  4. Antonio

    I do not see the surprise at all. First, in many countries, racists are “mixed race” themselves. I think this is a well know fact in latin america, africa, and elsewhere. Secondly, even when they belong to the same “race” – say, irish and non-irish white-americans – they can discriminate each other and think they belong to a different and, of course, superior race. ( And there are many other examples, for example the nazi against other northern europeans). So, what is new here?

    • razibkhan

      I think this is a well know fact in latin america, africa, and elsewhere.

      which is why i distinguished between latin american or middle eastern cases, as this i an american instance with its own peculiarities.

      • Antonio

        I see, but my point is that you guys have the same here! When Irish and british discriminate each other it is basically the same logic as in latin america: identical people claiming that they are racially superior to each other. The same goes to Nazi and etc. Cheers


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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