Last week it was leaked that when Sony’s emails were hacked, there were emails regarding Ben Affleck and the PBS show, Finding Your Roots, involved. It seems that Ben found out he had slaveholders as ancestors while working with the PBS television show Finding Your Roots hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates. Nothing like a little scandal in the genealogy community to get everyone up in arms. Since then, the plethora of comments and discussions on Facebook have been nonstop. Some of the discussions have been pretty heated and those on either side of this story are really making sure they are heard.
Here is how I see it
Ben is a celebrity, a man with a pretty clean reputation. Dr. Gates is a professor and a celebrity with a pretty impeccable reputation as well. Yes, there was that arrest that led to the Beer Summit at the White House, but that was not Dr. Gates fault. So we will let that go.
Neither of these men knew what would be found when they started the journey through Ben’s family. Maybe that is where they went wrong. Maybe Ben did not contemplate that they would find something he would not want out in the public. Maybe he did not think about how he would explain things to his young children. We don’t know the full story and that is alright. It is not our story to tell. These are not our ancestors.
But, I think that as Ben weighed out the information and what it can do to him, possibly his career and his reputation he tried to make the best decision for him and his family. He is entitled to do that. When we find things that make us squirm, we take the time as well. We do not have to face it on television in front of millions of viewers. I think Ben is entitled to take some time with what he learned as well.
What we should think about
As genealogists we go to any means to uncover the truth about our family members. We leave no stone unturned in search of the truth. That is the life we decided we wanted. Our family members have become good at the glazed eyes and shaking of the head when we discuss all we find. That’s alright, it was our decision to air the dirty laundry of our family and we have every right to do so (as long as we are not hurting someone who is living).
For Ben, he is not a genealogist. Maybe he signed onto this without really thinking about what could be out there. Maybe he did not know his family was here that long. Heck, do you think he knew he would end up being cousins with Matt Damon, Prince William and Mark Wahlberg.1 Especially Matt Damon, they have been friends since they were kids.
What I am saying is this, Ben might have signed up for the Finding Your Roots on PBS. He did not sign up for a lifetime of fact-finding (truth) about his ancestors. Lets cut him a break and move on. Heck this show aired almost a year ago.
My thoughts to the community
To those of you telling others to email PBS with your aggravation, I ask you this. Are you prepared to lose the show? Do you understand what a ton of negative attention will get you?
Personally, I want the show to continue. I want Dr. Gates to continue looking into the lives of others. Maybe they need to work the front of the show better and have a better disclaimer about what the outcome of searching can be and that they have the rights to air anything they find.