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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ben Affleck Attempts to Change the Course of Genealogical History

...Or, at least slightly "edit" away the unseemly stuff in his family tree.

From NYTimes: Saul Loeb, Getty Images: Ben Affleck

Since my last posting about Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s show, "Finding Your Roots" hosted by PBS, a case of "improper influence" has arisen concerning celebrity guest, Ben Affleck, in regards to his attempt to "mega-star manage" how his family history is portrayed on Gates' show.

The New York Times today reveals an investigation, and an "editing" of PBS editorial staff, due to the incident.  PBS also announced the suspension of Gates' show.

In fact - in genealogical facts - an ancestor of Ben Affleck was a slave owner.  Uncomfortable about this fact, Affleck requested this particular information NOT be included during his hour on Gates' show.

This is all in past tense.  What actually happened was that Gates, or his editorial staff and management, bowed to Affleck's wishes and focused on other, more laudatory members of his family tree during the show that aired last year.

Photo: Steven Senne/AP:  Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Yesterday, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. issued an apology for the incident.  You can read that here in an LA Times article dated June 24, 2015. 

Affleck certainly wouldn't be alone in being embarrassed by the life or actions of an ancestor.  We all may have a few "black sheep" in our families.

Or, maybe he was concerned a negative response to the news of his slave owning ancestor might result in a backlash that would endanger his own family.  (One hopes this may have been behind his actions, anyway.)

However, it seems to me Affleck's personal history is an opportunity for greater understanding of the slave era in our country, and the relationships between African Americans and Whites today - especially at this most crucial time following the shooting in South Carolina. But, this exists only if we are allowed to hear all sides of the story - celebrity or not.

Ben, whom I generally admire by the way, wanted to lie.  And he convinced a few other key folks to lie right along with him.  In the end, what he has done is to be untrustworthy.  PBS now appears untrustworthy. And we are left with a nagging, free-floating feeling of mistrust in the media and maybe human kind, in general.  Not a good thing.

When the truth is edited out of history, we lose a valuable opportunity to learn. Most importantly, we lose an opportunity to develop compassion and tolerance for others by having a fuller, deeper understanding of the woven threads of humans and circumstances that came before us - all of which serves to create who we are and how we act,  today.

To Ben Affleck - be a braver man for us.  In the words of none other than George Orwell:

"In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

To read about the story of PBS, Gates Jr., and Affleck:  visit NYT here.

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