By N Oji Mzilikazi
20 April 2015
As an issue of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and European colonialism; people whose roots and cultural DNA white people sought to deliberately excise, and to a great extent successfully did, I enjoy the PBS documentary, Finding Your Roots.
I marvel how researchers can pick up the broken paper trail of their subjects; delve deep into the crevices and recesses of the past and bring forth clearly astounding information. I get a kick out of their subjects’ reactions, especially when they recognize they have the same internal drive/predilections as one of their newly discovered ancestor.
Although I am glad for them, every time I watch Finding Your Roots, my mind is temporarily invaded by thoughts of the millions of people of African descent whose roots are permanently lost; broken in many places by historical forces over which they had no control.
Since descendants are not responsible for the actions of an ancestor, one would think that Finding Your Roots would be truthful and honest, even if the path to discovery reveals painful episodes in an ancestor’s past. That was not the case when Ben Affleck was a subject.
Viewers were told Affleck’s people participated in the American Revolution and the American Civil War, and that his mother was a Freedom Rider in the Civil Rights era. Ergo, Ben Affleck is from “righteous” stock. Not publicized was that one of Affleck’s ancestors owned slaves.
As revealed in Wikileaks posting of leaked Sony emails, Ben Affleck wanted the producers of Finding Your Roots to edit out details of how his ancestors were slave owners even though it was a breach of PBS editorial rules.
Interestingly, the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were launched in School Ties (1992), a film about a student hiding his Jewishness to fit into prep school.
Rather than demonstrate testicular fortitude and say, “No, can do,” Henry Louis Gates Jr, the producer and host of Finding Your Roots reached out to Sony chief executive Michael Lynton for advice.
Lynton’s email to Gates reads: “I would take it out if no one knows.”
Gates is a professor at Harvard. Gates also makes his living from African American and race issues. He of all persons knows the deliberate historical vagueness that envelops slavery, and that peeling back the curtain — especially when not from a shaming perspective is good.
Gates of all persons knows there should be no equivocation in that regard. Yet, her suppressed the slave ownership in Ben Affleck’s ancestry.
What a betrayal by Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr!