I don’t believe Ben Affleck was being entirely honest yesterday when he explained in writing that he asked Finding Your Roots producer Henry “Skip” Gates, Jr. to ignore the fact that one of his ancestors was a slave owner because he “felt embarassed…the very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.” That may well have been the case, but the main reason, I strongly suspect, is that Affleck feared — understandably, I would add — that the outrage culture crowd on Twitter would tar and feather him as a scion of a racist bloodline, however moronic that notion sounds.
If Finding Your Roots had decided to reveal this particular lineage, would it make a lick of sense for the p.c. crowd to scream “Affleck is descended from racists so he must be a closet sympathizer”? No, it wouldn’t. That would be a bone-dumb assumption, to say the least. But you know that at least some lefty Stalinoids would suggest this all the same. They won’t tolerate the slightest manifestation of anything that doesn’t express a morally correct, ethically forward-thinking representation of humanity or history in any film, TV show, political discussion or what-have-you. And they don’t want to know from nuance.
“Outrage culture” is running wild these days and Affleck, no dummy, is fully aware of the potential. Time and again the p.c. mob has read things in a kneejerk, cretinously simple-minded fashion and made absurdly broad conclusions as a result. For all Affleck knew, this “scion of racists” idea could become an urban legend like Richard Gere putting a gerbil up his ass, and it could affect his financial and creative future.
It’s nuts out there, really nuts. But Affleck didn’t want to characterize Twitter culture as stupid or deranged, which in itself could land him in hot water, so he decided to use the “really embarassed” line, which is true, I’m sure, as far as it goes. Who wouldn’t feel shamed by this knowledge, but then again who was walking around during the early to mid 1800s with the moral convictions of a decent 20th Century person, let alone a veteran of our own time? Not everyone, I assure you.
If I’d been Affleck I would have allowed the slave-owner heritage information to come out, but I would have said in a statement following the broadcast date that “I am not my ancestor’s keeper and certainly not his defender…he lived by his own concept of morality, which I regret and feel quite badly about what can I do about it? I can only say for sure that I’m living by mine.”
Affleck could also mention that slave-owning was fairly common among Southern plantation owners and other business-minded persons from the late 1700s to the end of the Civil War. He could mention that from the late 1700s to mid 1800s 12 U.S. Presidents owned slaves and eight of them owned slaves while serving as president.
Affleck’s formal statement:
“After an exhaustive search of my ancestry for Finding Your Roots, it was discovered that one of my distant relatives was an owner of slaves. I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.
“Skip decided what went into the show. I lobbied him the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use. This is the collaborative creative process. Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with. In the end, it’s his show and I knew that going in. I’m proud to be his friend and proud to have participated.
“It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news program. Finding Your Roots is a show where you voluntarily provide a great deal of information about your family, making you quite vulnerable. The assumption is that they will never be dishonest but they will respect your willingness to participate and not look to include things you think would embarrass your family.
“I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery. It is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don’t like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country’s history is being talked about.”