By now (courtesy of WikiLeaks) most of the world has heard that when actor Ben Affleck appeared on Finding Your Roots, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., he persuaded Gates and the other producers to omit the revelation that his third great-grandfather, Benjamin Cole, owned slaves in Savannah, Georgia. For the show, it was a missed opportunity not only to illustrate the true complexity of our history but also to demonstrate that each of us has a choice in our own actions. Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor is on his mother’s side, while his mother herself was an activist who traveled to Mississippi during one of the most dangerous phases of the Civil Rights movement.
Among the hundreds of responses to the outing of Affleck’s secret, here is one of the best, by Michael W. Twitty at Afroculinaria. Even more amazing are the family stories posted in the comments that follow. Really, it’s like poking an anthill: just one good jab and the truth of our history comes pouring out.
Its unfortunate because of a massive internet hack we are in this particular place discussing your ancestral past. It’s horrible that your private matters were exposed because of something beyond your control. That’s untenable in any situation, but we need to address something right quick…this slavery thing. You were embarassed, and that’s reasonable given the situation and the circumstances that produced it. But Ben Affleck, take it from a Black guy; with a platform like yours, don’t you dare be embarrassed to come from an ancestor who held enslaved people. Because….We need to know.
I don’t think many Black people really understand the profound guilt, shame or embarassment some white descendants of slave holding families feel. It’s not just that many assume personal responsibility for the past or that they grasp that their privilege or power is not just based on perceptions based on skin color. Clearly these…
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