Saturday, June 27, 2015

PBS suspends Finding Your Roots after Bem Affleck controversy

From the Washington Post:
When Ben Affleck volunteered to be featured on the PBS genealogy program “Finding Your Roots” last year, he was hoping to find “the roots of his family’s interest in social justice.” Researchers did turn up plenty for the actor-cum-activist to be pleased about: a mother who was a member of the Freedom Riders, an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. But they also found Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on his mother’s side. Cole was a sheriff in Chatham County, Ga., in the 1850s and ’60s, according to historical documents uncovered by Family History Insider. And he was the “trustee” of seven slaves. An attempt to cover up that unwanted detail has led PBS to suspend the show, citing Affleck’s “improper influence” on programming.
This reflects badly on execute producer, Henry Louis Gates Jr., an academic who's written some great books on African-American ancestry. Affleck himself should be held responsible, and in light of his outburst last fall on Real Time, where he accused host Bill Maher and guest Sam Harris racist, he looks more than hypocritical. but this speaks to a larger culture that allows white Americans sanitize their roots. This isn't to imply that he should atone for the sins of his ancestors, but white people -- white liberals in particular -- often trade honest discussion about race for activism points. He considers himself an activist. Having slave-holding ancestors "looks bad." No sorry, I'm not having a "liberal crush" on Affleck right now.  (For the sake of disclosure, I too have slave-holding ancestors as do most white Americans whose families have been here for generations. It's one of the ugly realities of American history.)