Misleading Genetic Distance Claim

July 22, 2020

Raveane et al. (2019) show that genes mirror geography, but then they make a misleading claim implying that genetic distances (Fst) within Italy are as great as those "across the whole of Europe". To Nordicists who wrongly believe that only their corner of Europe is "fully European" and the others are "mixed", that kind of distance perpetuates the myth of racial differences between Northern and Southern Italians.

But we already know that all Italians cluster between Spaniards and Greeks, which would make "across Southern Europe" a more accurate statement. So what exactly are the authors talking about?

They base their claim on the finding that the median Fst between all of their Italian clusters is 0.0044, which is about the same as the median Fst between all of the European clusters (excluding outlier Finns), and higher than within any of the other countries examined (0.0001 to 0.002). They say that they got similar results after also excluding outlier Sardinians and Basques, but don't show the data.

However, they're still including the Northern Italian clusters from the small regions bordering France, Austria and Slovenia that have many outliers as well, which increases the genetic distances. If you just compare typical Northern Italians (from Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto) to deep Southern Italians (from Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily), Fst between them ranges from 0.001 to 0.0054, with a median of just 0.0024, and an average of 0.0029.

That's not too much higher than the maximum distances within the other examined countries, and it's a lot lower than truly cross-Europe Fst, which ranges from 0.005 to 0.011 between Iberia and Eastern Europe (med. 0.008, avg. 0.0077), and from 0.004 to 0.008 between Greece and Northern Europe (med. 0.005, avg. 0.0055).

It also happens to be the same as the Fst between Southwest (Spain) and Southeast (Greece) Europe (0.002 to 0.003, med. 0.003, avg. 0.0029), which is itself lower than the Fst between Northwest (Britain) and Northeast (Baltic) Europe (0.003 to 0.007, med. 0.005, avg. 0.0049).

[NOTE: The highest in their data is 0.02 between Finns and Basques, both of which I excluded from all the above calculations, along with other outliers like Orcadians and Mordovians.]

So even though genetic distances in Italy are somewhat high for a single country, they're not as extreme as implied, and they don't represent any kind of "racial" or other significant difference, but merely a normal cline that's entirely within Southern Europe and likely related to the ancient spread of Indo-European languages.

"Dark" and "Swarthy" Italians Are Still Light

July 3, 2020

We've seen how olive skin is misunderstood by people to mean "tan" or "non-white", now let's look at the same thing with words like "dark" and "swarthy" used to describe the complexions of Europeans. Applied mostly (but not exclusively) to Southern Europeans, people treat them as evidence against "whiteness", but they're really just exaggerations of reality, like in this passage from White on Arrival about how Italian gangsters were portrayed in the media:

Al Capone was constantly portrayed in books, magazine articles, pulps, and movies as having a "dark" or "swarthy" complexion. When he appeared in court in 1929 in Philadelphia on charges of having concealed a weapon, the Chicago Daily News noticed that his "face, which is rather dark, assumed a dull reddish hue." No one emphasized Italians' dark features more than popular writer and former newsman Walter Burns. In his book, The One-Way Ride, Johnny Torrio was "a slight, dapper, dark young man"; gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi had "dark faces"; the Genna brothers were "swarthy, black haired, black eyed, looked not unlike Arabs, and probably had in their ancestral strain a strong dash of Saracenic [North African] blood".

From these descriptions you'd probably picture really dark Saudi Arabians or maybe even mixed-race Berbers, but here's what those people actually looked like (the rare mugshot of Capone has been skillfully colorized to show his blue eyes):

Al Capone
Genna Brothers

Johnny Torrio
John Scalise and Albert Anselmi

This kind of exaggeration is similar to English ideas about the so-called "Black Irish". They're really just white people from the British Isles (not just Ireland) who have dark hair and eyes and a Mediterranean appearance — like Colin Farrell, Catherine Zeta Jones, Sean Connery, Mr. Bean, Russell Brand and many others — but old school Nordicists used to claim that part of the Celtic physiognomy was "black-tinted skin".

Benjamin Franklin was even more extreme, basically lumping all whites who weren't Anglo-Saxon into a "swarthy" group with non-whites, including some who are probably lighter than English people:

All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.

So the lesson is to not take descriptions like that literally or as meaning something "non-white". Europeans (including Southern Europeans) actually have the lightest untanned skin in the world, so even when they're "dark" or "swarthy", they're still lighter than everyone else.

Related: Al Capone: From "Dark" to "Fair"