The whole Ben Affleck/Skip Gates Story is both troubling and instructive. Some good articles that describe what happened can be found here and here, and some idiotic commentary from CNN here — the short version is Affleck asked that a scene that revealed that he had a slave owning ancestor be cut from Henry Louis Gates' popular PBS series “Finding your Roots” and Gates complied. (After conferring not with PBS, but with Michael Lynton the head of Sony Entertainment) Why would a man who’s mother was a Freedom Rider, and who has serious liberal bonafides, be ashamed of a relative who lived lived over hundred years ago? I think that it speaks volumes about the complex nature of white Americans’ relationship to the past. It is almost as if acknowledging the realities of the past somehow calls into question the legitimacy of the present, and our place in in it. You are not responsible for your ancestors actions, only your own.
The really disappointing thing, is that the cut scene told a compelling story of how one family evolved over time - slave owners to freedom riders in just a couple of generations - that could have stood as a evidence that real and substantive change is possible. Gawker got its hands on the show's transcript, and the full article is really worth reading, but here is the scene that was cut from the show:
AT THE SAME TIME THAT ALMON WAS TRYING TO OFFER THE BEREAVED SOLACE... ANOTHER OF BEN’S ANCESTORS WAS LIVING 800 MILES DUE SOUTH. WE LEARNED THAT HIS LIFE HAD ALSO BEEN FUNDAMENTALLY AFFECTED BY THE CIVIL WAR—BUT FOR VERY DIFFERENT REASONS. THIS MAN WAS BEN’S THIRD GREAT GRANDFATHER, BENJAMIN COLE, AND HE WAS LIVING IN SAVANNAH, GEORGIA AT THE TIME. COLE WAS ONE OF SAVANNAH’S MOST PROMINENT CITIZENS—A WEALTHY LAND OWNER AND THE SHERIFF OF THE ENTIRE COUNTY.
AFFLECK: That’s amazing. I got a…we have a house in Savannah.