So What If Your Ancestors Owned Slaves, What Have YOU Become?

A lot is being made Ben Affleck’s efforts to cover up fact that in the antebellum past his ancestors owned slaves. Affleck reportedly asked the producers of Finding Your Roots, an ancestry show, not to include that in his segment. The revelation is complicated by the fact that Harvard history professor Henry Louis Gates did not include that story in his PBS show. Gates even went so far as to email a senior Sony executive voicing ambivalence when Affleck asked not to have that information included..

It is normal for people to be repulsed by an ugly part their family history. I know I certainly would not want to see that promoted. But the sins and indiscretions of the father should not obligate the child to be held accountable, especially if the behaviors, actions and deeds of the progenitors have no bearing on the present. True Affleck and Gates missed an opportunity to make a statement on the impact of slavery on America but frankly, the show was not designed to be a forum for such discourse. Gates issued a statement saying the slavery angle was not included because the information was not substantive.

There is a counter-plot. Is this a censorship scandal? It all depends on the standards that PBS applies to the show. If this were a news program or news documentary program, there would be a lot of explaining to do. But this is essentially a reality based show loosely emulating a documentary where creative discretion might curve in the direction of what’s best for the show. But that’s for PBS to sort out. We’ll get that verdict and the news cycle will be full tilt debating the merits of that decision. In the end, the viewers will decide by either continuing to watch or seek other forms of (dare I say it) entertainment.

But Ben, don’t take on the burdens of your slave owning great, great relatives (whatever branch of the Affleck family they spawned). Make your own history. Put flowers on your tree!

You can follow Will on Twitter: @willjwright

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