This is a post about race. If you’re not into that, you’re welcome to leave. Not in a rude way, I’m just warning you. Social justice is important to me and it’s part of who I am, therefore it’s part of this blog.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Ben Affleck was featured on “Finding Your Roots” and wanted the producers to omit the fact that his ancestors owned slaves. Once word got out, Ben himself decided to issue the following response:
via Ben Affleck’s Facebook
So I wrote this letter to Ben. Here goes nothing.
Dear Ben Affleck,
I get it, man. I really do. Finding out your ancestors owned slaves is SO embarrassing and triggers a whole heck of a lot of white guilt.
I know this because I experienced it about a month ago when I decided to research my family tree through Ancestry.com. I only did the two week trial so I had to get as much info as I possibly could during that time and some of the things I saw were really heartbreaking. I’m so bummed I don’t have a screenshot, but I literally saw a list of all the slaves owned by one of my ancestors. Every single one. Their names on a sheet of paper in front of my face. And there were a lot. Like more than twenty. It brought me to tears.
I pushed down a whole lot of feelings and it was really hard for me to deal with. I’m white so I’ve always known the likelihood of my family owning slaves was pretty high. But (like most people, I assume) I was holding out that maybe my ancestors were some of the “good ones.” Let’s be honest though, those people probably didn’t exist.
So I know how you’re feeling. You’re a super high profile guy. I have NO reach and I was still too embarrassed to talk about it on this little old blog. If they had left it in the show, you were scared somehow people would come after you…like everyone in this country didn’t already assume that your ancestors owned slaves?
Get real, if you’re white, your family probably owned slaves.
That’s why affirmative action exists, my friend, Ben. Because your family was a bunch of jerks who owned slaves. They held people captive and forced them to do free labor. Your family’s inherent wealth and success was based on FREE LABOR FROM OTHER HUMANS. Mine was too. HEAVY STUFF, BENJAMIN.
It’s a lot. It’s a whole lot to deal with. I’ve been grappling with it for a while. I am such a hard worker, but the success that was given to me can literally be traced back to the free labor of others. Insert white guilt.
White guilt gets a bad rap but I think it can be really helpful as long as it doesn’t just stay guilt. Turn the guilt into something useful. Figure it out. Don’t just sit there and feel bad about what your ancestors did, do something. Educate yourself. More importantly, learn about the repercussions it has on your life today. Figure out why you’re where you are today. Because of your own hard work? Of course. No one’s trying to take that away from you. But that’s not all.
“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.” No one thinks YOU owned slaves, Ben. Obviously. But it’s time we (white people) just straight up realize and admit that we DO still get some benefits from slavery and that’s really messed up. Two hundred years ago wasn’t that long when you’re talking about family wealth.
Here’s what I’m saying, dearest Ben, stop pushing the feelings away. Be a little embarrassed (because it’s SO embarrassing….like, really) but if you’re really that embarrassed, you need to get yourself involved in racial issues in 2015. Because it’s allllll connected, broski. You can read some stuff I wrote about Ferguson here but people way way smarter than me have written so much good stuff so just start Googling.
If you have any questions, you probably have some really important friends who can help you understand. I don’t think you’ll be reaching out to me anytime soon but if you want to, you can contact me via the form on this here blog or just leave a comment.
PS Please don’t mess up Batman.