I vaguely remember the brouhaha when the emails surfaced but I quickly moved on as celebrity gossip barely interests me, but something about this article from The Week really bothered me.
Kudos (I guess) to PBS for owning up to letting some spoiled celebrity exert undue influence on them, but seriously Ben Affleck? What kind of asshat isn’t man enough to step up and say, “these are my people and they made choices I disagree with but thank God we’ve learned the lessons of history”. Or something.
I guess it bothers me too because I was in the same boat. You see I’m adopted, so my first genealogy is that of my adoptive parents. The family who raised me, whose culture has become mine, whose celebrated ancestors and pioneer spirit I appreciate and wear with pride. My pioneer ancestors left England to settle the American West, they packed all of their possessions into a hand cart and with their 4 children (all under 6 years old) walked from Iowa to Utah. Of the 576 that started the trek in their company, 145 didn’t make it. We are incredibly proud of our pioneer heritage and the strength it took not only to go west but to settle and try to make a life… and yet.
And yet the land they settled wasn’t abandoned, there were tribes already living there. My ancestors and their fellow settlers participated in a war against these indigenous people. There is also a shame I feel at what my ancestors did to our the name of ‘progress’. Genocide is ugly. So is slavery.
Several months ago as I started to do my biological family’s genealogy I realized early on that my biological father may have served his country proudly as did his father and grandfather, but his ‘people’ were from the south… Alabama to be exact. I felt it in the back of mind, this unsettling thought, that if they’d lived there for a few more generations that there was no doubt which side of the Civil War they would have been on. And then I found it… a census listing the number of persons in my great, great, great…. grandfather’s household. 7 slaves.
Growing up in Utah we always knew that if you trace your ancestry back far enough you’d find polygamists. Hopefully it wasn’t something really icky (like super young wives and really old husbands) but it’s there, and we both laughed and cringed at our history, but we owned it. Mormon’s didn’t own slaves (at least I’ve never heard of them owning slaves). So looking at that census really took my breath away. Those were my biological people. My. Blood. Owned. Slaves. as painful as it was to realize it for myself, I realized that I couldn’t deny it. There may be nothing I can do to change the past or apologize or try to set right (although I am open to reasonable suggestions), the very VERY least I could do was to accept it. Accept that my ancestors were racists who thought it was acceptable to OWN another human being, it was an awful blight in our country’s history and our soul, it was morally wrong; and Ben Affleck, you are a total pussy for not being man enough to own your history (right and wrong) and then brow-beat producers with your celebrity to rewrite history. Shame on you.