For those who haven't seen the dozens of news stories online, Ben Affleck was featured on Henry Louis Gates' PBS show Finding Your Roots. During the course of filming, Affleck learned that he has a slave owner ancestor. Leaked emails from Sony between Gates and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton reveal that Affleck did not want this aired in public and wanted that part edited out.
You can read the emails yourself but basically Gates made it clear he didn't like the idea of hiding the facts (truth). The producer then said as long as no one else had seen it and it could never be found out, humour Affleck and don't use it. Affleck was referred to as a "mega-star" and both men worried about making sure he got what he wanted.
And so his true family history was hidden. Affleck got the white-washed version he wanted where all his ancestors were public-spirited justice-seeking good guys. And of course all genealogists know that's a crock! Our ancestors were real people. They include the good and the bad, the farmer and the daredevil. Some we would like if we met them, others ... not so much.
The bottom line is that what our ancestors did is no reflection on us. Just as we cannot blame ourselves if we discover we had a "bad seed" in the ancestor mix, nor can we take credit for those who did amazing things. We can feel proud of them, or we can feel sorrow over misdeeds. But we need to accept who they were, and that their actions good or bad were in a different time and place.
It is only by learning about the past that we can stop evil from happening in the future. We learn from mistakes and they should not be hidden or deleted from our family tree or from history.
It's a shame Affleck didn't adopt Bill Paxton's approach on TLC’s "Who Do You Think You Are?", when he learned he had a slave owner as an ancestor. Mr. Paxton's response was that it was a shame but "your history good and bad is your history" And that, Mr. Affleck is the point.
Embrace your history, both the positive and the negative! Learn from it. Don't attempt to create a fictional family tree full of heroes and noble ancestors.
But as the saying goes "Karma will out" and now Mr. Affleck's request for an edited version of his family tree has bitten him in the (ahem) with the truth now known world-wide. What would have been seen by a small number of viewers watching the show, and truly not a big deal has become a huge deal with many casting stones Affleck's way. The perception by many, including me, is that it was a misuse of celebrity status to facilitate censorship. And this is never a good thing.
Credit: Photo by Stoonn.