… in which Ben Affleck proves just how American he really is

Ben Affleck; John Goodman; Kyle Chandler; Barry Livingston; Tate Donovan; Alan Arkin; Victor Carber; Scoot McNairy, Rory Cochran

While taking part in a recent PBS genealogy show, actor Ben Affleck was shocked to learn that an ancestor six generations back had been a slave-owner here in Georgia. The discovery so horrified Affleck, a Bostonian with no prior knowledge of Southern roots, that he lobbied producers of the show not to include the information, and it was quietly excised.

But secret things don’t stay secret these days. Information about the episode came to light in a batch of emails stolen in the computer hacking of Sony Corp., and both Affleck and PBS are still dealing with the backlash.  In a Facebook posting after the revelation, Affleck acknowledged his discomfort, saying that “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.”

“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.”

First, let’s deal with the journalistic issues. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the host of “Finding Your Roots”, has claimed that he made the decision not to include the material about slavery solely on the basis that it wouldn’t be all that interesting to viewers, not in response to the Affleck’s pleas. In short, it was editorial discretion, not censorship.

But Gates is compounding a ethical mistake with a lie. Affleck’s clear discomfort at learning of a slave-owning ancestor would have made great and honest television. Moreover, the contrast between that slave-owning ancestor on his mother’s side and Affleck’s mother own history (she participated as a Freedom Rider to Mississippi back in the ’60s) would have been too delicious to overlook. That’s an American story that no competent producer would ignore. The leaked emails and a leaked script confirm that Gates intended to use the material but backed off under pressure from his celebrity guest, in violation of PBS policy.

Now onto the larger questions:

In the Facebook comments quoted above, Affleck argued that “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors,” and logically, he’s right. But consider the contrast when Affleck was told in that same show that another of his ancestors had fought bravely against the British in the Revolutionary War.

“That is really, really something. I love it. I’m developing this movie about, um, the Revolutionary War. Now, I see why I was drawn to it. … I have to say. It makes me feel a little more connected to the history of the country you know? It makes it feel less academic and more personal. …

So this is a big surprise and I’m really proud of it. And one of the things that’s interesting about it is we tend to separate ourselves from these things by going like, you know, ‘Oh well it’s just dry history and it’s all over now,’ and this shows us that there’s still a living aspect of history, like a personal connection.”

Affleck has taken some heat for his decision to try to hide the slaveowner in his family tree, and frankly his sensitivity struck me as a bit odd as well.**  But what I find interesting about his internal conflict is not what it tells us about Affleck the celebrity movie star, but what it tells us about Americans in general and how we relate to the past.

When presented with evidence of a brave and patriotic ancestor, Affleck is quick to identify with him and claim a personal, even spiritual connection. Yet a more recent familial link to a slaveowner is rejected as both embarrassing yet meaningless and has nothing to do with who he is today.

But if it was really meaningless, it could not be embarrassing.

We do that as a nation as well. We are the proud descendants of the Sons of Liberty, the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, the Greatest Generation, still defending and living out the noble ideals that they have passed down to us as part of our metaphysical DNA. They are part of our collective treasure as Americans.

But the two hundred years of slavery and one hundred years of subsequent repression through Jim Crow, the almost complete genocide of the Native American — that and more is ancient history that has nothing to do with who we are today as a nation. That is heavy baggage that we do not want to carry, although we carry it whether we acknowledge it or not. It too colors our attitudes and perceptions.

Earlier this week, for example, the state of Georgia officially marked Confederate Memorial Day. State offices were closed to honor the memory of those fought and died in the Civil War, which ended 150 years ago this month. But when we honor their bravery and sacrifice, we seldom want to acknowledge the truly ugly cause for which those sacrifices were made.

Like Affleck, we claim the good side as “heritage” and reject the rest as having being both meaningless and embarrassing.

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** As I’ve noted before, and should note again given the context, I’m aware of  at least one ancestor who was a slaveholder in Virginia. In fact, I’m writing a book based on his life story.  And it didn’t end well for any of those involved.

In 1842, a family slave named Daniel Wright killed that ancestor’s oldest son with a scythe. (Apparently the slave and the son had both been indulging in the product of the family still, and alcohol does what it often does.) Wright ran off but was tracked down, arrested, tried and convicted, and was hanged with more than 1,000 people in attendance, which would have been an immense crowd at the time in the hills of rural western Virginia.

Afterward, the Commonwealth of Virginia paid the family $320 as compensation for destroying its property, minus the $15 that it cost to provide Wright with a lawyer.

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1512 comments
St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

and, Hillary hires Robby Mook as campaign mgr

Left Turn Ahead

Brilliant

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

 JUST IN FROM OUR OH S*IT DESK:


The U.S. Air Force is keeping close tabs on Russia's tumbling, out-of-control space capsule as it comes closer to re-entering Earth's atmosphere. The robotic Progress spacecraft, which was launched earlier this week with supplies for the International Space Station, is expected to plunge from orbit sometime between May 7 and 11, according to projections from the European Space Agency.


The capsule — and the upper-stage rocket that was used to boost it into orbit — are circling the world about 125 miles (201 kilometers) lower than the space station. The Air Force says 44 pieces of debris also are orbiting in the same vicinity. An explosion or collision involving the capsule or the rocket could have resulted in the multiple pieces of junk. ESA said it couldn't exclude the possibility that parts of the Progress craft's structure would survive re-entry and reach Earth's surface



Better take your umbrella with you for the next couple of weeks.  Read more here:


http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/air-force-tracks-debris-failed-russian-cargo-spaceship-n351476


Captain-Obvious
Captain-Obvious

@Tuna Meowt I'm still amazed that after 50+ years of firing rockets into space, that these accidents happen. It's not like the Progress system is new technology. Guess that's what you get when you not only go lowest bidder, but Russian lowest bidder.

That SpaceX group is doing pretty well, though. Not perfect, but for a small private group with new tech, they seem to know what they're doing.

_GodlessHeathen_
_GodlessHeathen_

@Captain-Obvious @Tuna Meowt I saw some documentary about a US Astronaut going to Russia for a ride to the ISS.  The launch area was bizarre.  It was like it was out in this cow pasture.  Lots of Russians hoisting vodkas and just hanging around. 

alexander2
alexander2

@Tuna Meowt I was reading about the later years of spacestation MIR, man what a potential disaster, we were lucky that people didn't die up there..

Brosephus
Brosephus

Listening to the States Attorney in Baltimore, and I am sickened by the description of the officer's actions in this case.  We're trained to never leave anyone handcuffed in the prone position because of the risk of positional asphyxiation.  They not only cuffed Gray like that, but they left him laying down on the floor of the transport van for the entire ride.

In addition, there was no probable cause for arrest based on her statement from details of the investigation, so his arrest was unconstitutional from the jump.  Geez...

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

@Brosephus 

Well  I don't like to criticize but it might be relative to training as I saw a picture
 of the police with riot shields and on one the POLICE was upside down....

Brosephus
Brosephus

@barkingfrog 

What she described is Training 101.  As soon as you have a person in handcuffs and search them for weapons, you sit them up so they can breathe.  When you transport them, you secure them in the vehicle as you're responsible for their health and safety because you've taken away their ability to protect themselves by handcuffing them.

I don't think their actions were intentional or deliberate as there's no proof of such.  That doesn't excuse officers from performing the most basic of tasks though.  Those actions have to be as much of a reflex action as breathing or blinking.

alexander2
alexander2

@Brosephus If true should have hit the national news, I didn't see it. Can this be confirmed by someone that does not want to remain "anonymous" ?

_GodlessHeathen_
_GodlessHeathen_

"Accidents happen (at any rate of speed). The unfortunate part of life. Personally, I'm not that crazy about laws (and punishment) that are designed to "prevent" something that has not occurred from happening (their are a few exceptions). I would think that the "freedom lovers" would feel the same way."

Build your own road and drive as fast as you damn please on it.

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

Bernie's policies are so popular, Hillary's going to run on them.

Either way, Left Turn Ahead

alexander2
alexander2

@St_Simons_he-ne-ha  Popular to whom and does Hillary really need to turn left  if she already has the left vote regardless of whom the repubs elect?

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

@alexander2 @St_Simons_he-ne-ha  good point. But Hillary has a different problem than Barack. Hillary is already viewed as centrist, plus she's gonna kill the female demo. She needs the liberals & social democrats to show up. Brilliant strategy.

alexander2
alexander2

@St_Simons_he-ne-ha @alexander2  Possible but I do think she's got the left already and she needs the undecided and they won't appreciate a hard turn to the left..IF Kascih runs it could be fun !!

UncleLeo
UncleLeo

Yeah, Ben didn't think this through very well. Clearly, he must be a democrat.

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@UncleLeo President Bush didn't think the invasion of Iraq through very well.  Clearly, he must be a democrat.


/dypshyt


td1234
td1234

@Visual_Cortex As Biden said a year later, 


""I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government," said Biden.

LeninTime
LeninTime

@UncleLeo 

How's that Iraq invasion to set up a beacon of democracy for the Middle East looking about now? 

RonnieReagan
RonnieReagan

Ben is a Liberal....... they tell lies & when they get caught they weasel out of it.

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@Bruno2 It doesn't sound as if the parent(s) were called during the school day to advise them of the infringement of the rules.  Am I mistaken in that?


Brosephus
Brosephus

@Bruno2 

Dunno...  My girls have spaghetti strap dresses they wear.  The school or daycare has never had a problem with them wearing the dresses either.  

Don't know what to make of the article as I'd do the same as the dad, but if it's against dress code, then the school acted appropriately minus contacting the parents.

TicTacs
TicTacs

@Bruno2  None of my business, and unless It is it doesn't matter.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Brosephus @Bruno2 The conflict I see is between "individual expression" vs "following established rules".  I didn't focus on whether the school followed procedure correctly in calling or not calling the parents.

P.S. I don't have any kids (by choice), so am speaking from the sidelines.

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@Brosephus @Bruno2 "then the school acted appropriately minus contacting the parents."


Agree.  With a five-year-old, IMO the school should contact the parents before forcing the kid to change clothes.  If the parents can't or won't come to the school to address the problem (either by taking the kid home for the day or bringing a change of clothes), only then should the school undertake to re-dress the issue and the kid (haha).


Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Brosephus @Bruno2

 if it's against dress code, then the school acted appropriately

Sounds like the thing that bothered him the most--forcing her to wear jeans under this full length dress--was a little excessive, though.

Not a great bit of reporting, though, given that they didn't even bother to solicit a comment from the school itself (or if they did, they didn't mention it in the article.)

alexander2
alexander2

@Bruno2 Doesn't sound as if biases are all neat and tidy  and that is a great thing to show that people are actually thinking the problem...

Numbers_R_Us
Numbers_R_Us

@Bruno2 I don't see anything about violating anyone's 2nd amendment rights or about discussing birth control versus chastity in class, etc., so I don't know why this boils down to a con v lib scenario.

Brosephus
Brosephus

@Bruno2 

Well, you can enjoy individual expression in most places, but I think that, in schools, it has to be within the established rules.  Otherwise, we'd basically need no rules at all.