On Ben Affleck and Slavery

April 21, 2015 § 173 Comments

A few years back, I was contacted by the producers of Who Do You Think You Are?, a popular TV genealogy show, to help them with an episode.  The show was predicated on tracing the ancestry of celebrities, attempting to capitalize on the boon in genealogy amongst the masses, and was based on a popular British version.  For an upcoming episode, they were working with Rosie O’Donnell, whose Irish ancestors had passed through Montreal, living for a time in a long-defunct neighbourhood in the city’s east end.

So I met with people from the show when they came to Montreal, spent the good chunk of a day with them, showing them what mid-nineteenth century architecture in the city looked like, using Pointe-Saint-Charles in the stead of this defunct neighbourhood, which was destroyed by the expansion of rue Notre-Dame in the 70s.  Not surprisingly, the majority of the Montreal part was excised from the show, but I did get a wonderful brunch at Quoi de N’Oueuf.

In preparation for their visit, they had sent me the very first episode of the show, from 2010, which looked at Sarah Jessica Parker, then riding high on Sex and the City.  It turns out her ancestors had been in Salem in 1692.  As the show went to commercial, Parker was waiting on tenterhooks in the archives.  Was her ancestor the accused or the accuser?  Turns out her ancestor was the victim.  I have always wondered how this episode would’ve played out had Parker’s ancestor been one of the accusers?

Would Parker have responded to learning her ancestors were involved in dodgy dealings like Ben Affleck?  Affleck was on PBS’ Finding Your Roots last year.  The show, hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is a lot like Who Do You Think You Are?, though perhaps more erudite, given the host and the network.  Anyway.  Emails released out of that hacking of Sony’s servers a few months back reveal that Affleck is the descendant of slave owners, but he wished that part of the story kept under wraps.  No doubt he was embarrassed by this fact.

According to The Boston Globe, Gates emailed the Sony USA’s boss, Michael Lynton as to what to do with Affleck’s request that his ancestor’s slave-owning past be excised from the show.  As Gates noted,

One of our guests has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors — the fact that he owned slaves. Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?

This led to a discussion about what to do, as Lynton said the information should be kept out of the show; Gates noted the moral problem with this kind of self-censorship.  Nonetheless, the episode aired last October, minus the information about Affleck’s slave-owning ancestors.

Now, I get why Affleck might be embarrassed by this information.  However.  Here we had a wonderful opportunity to have a discussion about the legacy of slavery and imperialism in this country.  If Affleck had stood up and said “Yes, some of my ancestors were slave-owners, I’m not proud of that, but it is what it is,” we could’ve discussed the fact that a good number of Americans, including some African Americans, are descendants of slave owners.  We could have faced up to this ugly part of history.

History is full of all sorts of uncomfortable things, which should be patently obvious to anyone.  Dealing with these uncomfortable truths is part and parcel of coming to terms with history as both individuals and societies.  Take, for example, the case of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.  Here we are, at the centenary of the genocide, and Turkey, the nation descended from the Ottoman Empire, which committed the acts, refuses to acknowledge its actions.  At this point, given the régime change at the end of the First World War, I am not entirely sure why Turkey is so steadfast in its denial.  On the other hand, Germany has faced its ugly past in terms of the Holocaust.

Facing ugly histories is the only way we can face understanding and healing.  It is the only way to come to terms with the past.  And Affleck, who fancies himself a humanist and an activist (and he has done some good work), has missed a wonderful chance here in the name of saving himself some temporary embarrassment.


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§ 173 Responses to On Ben Affleck and Slavery

  • Miss Donna says:

    It seems we share the same thoughts from different perspectives. Great post.

  • Akire Bubar says:

    Great post. I sometimes think that the very sensation of being made uncomfortable by something in our past, or our ancestors’ past, is a flag showing us where we need to explore further. Plus I also find that’s the best way to get past the discomfort. Get it out there. Talk about it.

  • demiannee says:

    I find it hard to understand why sometimes people are held accountable for their ancestors behaviour, in no way should it reflect negatively on him, he didn’t own them. But I like you post

    • Thanks! I guess the issue comes from systemic things, like racism, which is deeply institutionalized in this country, and arises out of slavery. But. While I think as white people we have a responsibility on this issue, it’s not Ben Affleck’s fault his ancestors were slaves. Obviously.

    • amommasview says:

      You are right, it shouldn’t. Still it’s done everywhere. Look at the U.S. re slavery or Germany re Hitler…

    • Ad Dawg says:

      They are sometimes held accountable because many times they are the beneficiaries. In our case, White Americans enjoy the systemic discrimination created by slavery, the failed Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, et al. It is known as “White Privilege.” No one doubts Ben Affleck’s 21st Century bona fides. But he should have owned up to his ancestry.

      • demiannee says:

        On studying civil rights I am aware of the implications of this. But because Ben Affleck had no direct involvement as he was still a sperm should not make him feel inclined to put his career in jeopardy due to the ancestors that follows him. No one should be haunted by a past they did not create or ask to be part of.

  • It is good to know the past so we do not repeat it

  • Hello.
    Denial and censorship are two horrible things that modern day people try to do in regards of the past. And I guess that’s why society is doomed to repeat the past.

    Thanks for the moderation.

  • Lady Dunamis says:

    Very good read and I appreciate the straightforward-ness minus the hype, unlike how they sensationalize it on television.

  • Eli Hitler Razcon says:

    That tv show is staged. They don’t really do geneology research on people.

  • northwoodsdeals says:

    History is filled with things that make us uncomfortable. To deny history is to deny learning from past mistakes. A very good post.

  • Although it is extremely unfair to hold someone accountable for their ancestors action, this was a great read!

  • Enjoyed the read. Some lovely points. I totally agree with ancestors not always being the people we may desire. But we are all human, people make mistakes. I am not proud of my last name as it is Lynch i take the name from my family in Barbados. Barbados is where William Lynch slave traded. So the names of the slave were branded with Lynch so like a product. So now it is almost impossible to ever find out my ancestors before slavery. I also have to carry the name of the slave owner knowing that my ancestors were once slaves. But i hold know resentment towards slave owners i just have the understanding that they were only humam and people make mistakes. There acts were down to ignorance maybe a bit of brain washing a lot of greed, and a lack of human nature. I can only feel blessed that i dony suffer with those flaws. Anyway i really enjoyed your post.

    • Well, I’m not sure slave owners made ‘mistakes,’ they committed grave human rights crimes, but that’s from our perspective today. I don’t want to excuse slavery, it’s not alright, but it has existed throughout history until it began to be abolished in the Western world in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was acceptable, oftentimes considered a right of war and victory, a necessary evil, etc.

      • I also see them as “grave human rights crimes” i could never excuse slavery. My ancestors were ripped from their home country ripped from their original language riped from their families, riped from their pride. Made to believe they were less. Made to adopt the western religions. So maybe you read what i wrote in the wrong context. Evil is yes infact the word i would want to use. But as you pointed out there are people who are ancestors of slave owners i guess i was being polite to those people. The word mistake is used because that is as basic as it is when you view humans as gods creatures. We are given free will. And some people abuse that. That therefore is a mistake to have chosen that path. Of course there are alot of words that go with that. But as individuals on individual paths when we follow a road of evil. We are making a mistake. My choice of word has a deeper meaning then maybe you were able to see

      • Oh, no, sorry. I wasn’t accusing you of anything. It comes more out of caution, any time I’ve written about slavery, black history, misogyny, etc., I have also got my share of loonbats accusing me of everything. So, while I still say what needs saying, I’m a bit more careful with language.

        But. I agree with you completely.

      • Nor, for the record, am I accusing YOU of being a loonbat, but I have had other people read my comments and then send me hate mail, death threats, etc. from what I say on this blog. So. I’m just careful these days is all.

      • Ermm ok. Well i enjoyed your blog and i found it interesting. So i thought i would share with you. That i agree with us not always having the ancestors that we desire. So i explained that whoever our ancestors are they were only human at the end of the day. That is referring to all ancestors. But i understood you took that as my views on slave owners themselves. So i tried to explain how and why i feel towards them in particular.

        In sorry to hear you have had death threats and hate mail. You should have the freedom to speak. But i guess not everyone understands eachother completely. Just like i feel you didn’t understand my comment completely.

        It was a good blog. I do wonder how Ben Affleck would feel about it. It may help him come to terms with who his ancestors were.

      • Thanks! I appreciate it.

        As for Affleck, he has issued a statement, saying he is embarrassed for trying to cover up his family past, etc. It’s actually a pretty good statement: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/04/21/pbs-probes-slave-owning-issue-affleck-expresses-regret/A5Ud6mJ3s8XRV24B8JMviP/story.html

    • Nancy says:

      Those people were evil, a lot of greed and to have power. There was so many different ways to have grown cotton and profit. There was plenty of poor “White people” who could have used the work. But then the lower class would become middle class and maybe even rich had they used the wages to build their own farm or business, but then the plantation owners wouldn’t be so elite. The whole slave thing was about power and control and to keep the group of wealthy elite above everyone else. Great read but its a lot more uglier than that!

      • Again i could have gone into detail about what i felt over the slave owners in particular. But i was focusing on ancestors. So maybe i should have explained that better. As i have passionate veiws but wasn’t trying to concentrate on the who were our ancestors etc. Rather then talk about slavery in itself. I am aware of the evilness behind slavery so everything u said is right. Also the africans were used was to rip africa of the fortune it had as a country. Dumb down the people of africa and erase their history. So it appears the lower race in society and for a period it was like that. Black people were kings and queens all over even in europe. But they erase all of that knowledge so when you look back at black history you get slavery. But there is a more powerful history behind the cover up.

      • kennynines says:

        Hi Wednesday,
        I would be interested some of this history. Would you recommend a good title or author to me?

      • Hi Kennynines you can watch a documentary called hidden colours.

      • kennynines says:

        Great, Wednesday. Thank you.

      • Dippadedoda says:

        So true but my point is that the powerful elite don’t care about ANYONE but their family’s and their company’s, money and control. The lower class which I find in just it’s title “lower class ” very uphauling…for whom are you to put me or anyone in a category! They are sick people with Hitler ways there’s no compassion for the people of the world nit from the high and mighty elite class the real rulers of goverment. Be what it may… if not for Jesus we would be in big trouble the Lord says you cannot come into my peoples land and eat their grapes as if they were yours. So the true King will be the truth and all that have stomped out the meek will wither like the grass.

      • It’s refreshing to hear other people passionate about the real ways of the world. Sometimes I feel surrounded by people who are not interested and happy to get on with their lives. For me I find that hard especially when I feel trapped in a system. I don’t like to be categorised either!!!

        I have listened to a lot of lectures on religion and sciences. According to science we have entered a new are in space which has heightened the energy of the earth and the people. With more and more people waking up. Religion speaks of the same and how an awakening is near. I believe we are about to see some crucial changes.

        As long as we stay true to ourselves and God we will be fine. Those who made evil choices will get their comeuppance.

  • Into the mild says:

    Great piece and great analysis without trying to demonize or lionize Affleck. Thanks.

    • Thanks. I don’t want to demonize Affleck, who has admitted his embarrassment now (though I think that’s more for being caught). I think his response was very human. But, given his stature, he needs to do more, I think.

    • LifeLoofah says:

      This is what I was going to say too – it would be easy to shame him, but this post took the high road and saw it from both points of view. Great writing, and great thought-provoking post.

  • Reblogged this on theblackgoldsin and commented:
    not a surprise.

  • I have to agree with your view that Ben Affleck should’ve spoken about his ancestors, however given the way the show would have announced this, I think he was right to keep it out. Having said that he missed a golden opportunity to talk about it outside the show where he could’ve controlled how it was reported.

    • I’m not so sure about that, how the show would’ve announced this. As Gates’ email says, a good number of the guests last season were descendants of slave owners, including Ken Burns. And in most of those cases, the issue was dealt with. Remember, this is PBS, and the show is hosted by a Harvard historian, it’s not mainstream network TV.

  • amommasview says:

    Oh that’s not really smart! I agree, he missed out on a great opportunity. Makes you wonder thought what he really thinks about it…

  • DICooper says:

    Great piece. Do you mind if I reblog?

  • Ben’s humanitarian activism is about his Empire. Iranians are great people too, they don t seem to be included in his humanism.. Ugly history: Every ruler took care of “his” people..

    • That may be true, but no one can do everything, Affleck does a hell of a lot of work in Africa. We can’t expect everyone to do everything, there is so much pain and misery in this world.

      • I m sure Ben does great work. We all try. Just disappointed with his #Argo propaganda. It’s ALL about loving and less on promoting my “own” (Empire) views. My dear Iranians agree.. Anyways Thanks for your post!!

      • Ah, I get that. As a Canadian, I have to admit I liked Argo, but for the role of the Canadian ambassador in the Hostage Crisis. But, on the whole, I agree that Iranians get demonized here. I have been interested lately in the NY Times series of looking at the lives of Iranians in Tehran. As usual, once you get past the bullshit, it turns out that people are all very similar no matter where we are.

      • The NYT series see -with thousands of reasons as facts- through a very dark filter: its own system. I rather go to Iran, talk to the locals, experience and share with them a full life, aiming to understand (love) them. Always keeping an open-minded perspective. It takes more time but closer with what Iranians may be… which has nothing to do with the depressing [hard] facts that any system keeps selling (i.e. NYT, Argo, etc.

  • Really enjoyed this! With the world so connected to each other today with technology as great as it is, Ben Affleck should realize that, one way or another, unless a person is extremely careful and, even the. It is difficult, will find out about him or her. Photos that were taken when in college just to be goofy have come back to be detrimental in one ‘s life is the example that comes immediately to mind as an example. I understand Affleck’s reaction to finding out that there were slave owners in his family’s past. However, we cannot control what others do, especially from the past. Therefore, Affleck should have responded to finding out about this information pertaining to his ancestors in the way you mentioned. I cannot think of a better way to do so. Thank you for writing and listing such a wonderful article. I look forward to reading more from you in the future and have even “starred” your blog as a favorite so that I will be reminded to do so. Please take care.

  • Love, love, love this post! I, obviously an African American, recently discovered that I am related to several slave owners through online research and I actually find it more interesting because it confirms even more that no matter who you are or what color your skin is…you’re certainly connected to some part of the evolving history and learning about it only increases our values as we assess who we truly are. Thanks!

    • Thank you! And, yes, one of my African American friends learned that he is 26% white European, and he said that kind of threw him for a loop for a bit. But, he came to the same conclusion as you. I’ve never had my DNA tested, though I am curious as to all that made me who I am, given where I’m from, I’m guessing some North American aboriginal is in with all the French and Irish, etc.

      • Ad Dawg says:

        I can relate to your friend, my DNA results showed 10% European with some Jewish roots as well as being 2% Native American. total shock to learn this. There is a debate raging on 23andMe regarding Black folk with Native American ancestry. Mostly, it is being denied even with DNA results upholding same. What a world we live in.

  • Growing Up Colored says:

    Great post! The fact that he covered it up has become more important that the fact that his ancestors owned slaves. Another good example that honesty is the best policy. Had this information been part of the show when it aired, it would have long since been forgotten.

    • Exactly. Well it’s out there now, he commented last night, and, really, the actual fact doesn’t matter, but we need to have this discussion publicly!

    • Ad Dawg says:

      Total agreement. But in a way, I feel for him. A Superstar Baseball player discovering his African/Black ancestry looked extremely uncomfortable…with his looking White and all. Just saying…..I could be all wrong in my assessment of his reaction.

  • Martian says:

    A great post

  • miabellablogging says:

    Reblogged this on miabellarunway.

  • Donrayvic says:

    This article is an excellent example and reflection upon the reason today’s descendants seek to shield themselves from the evils of their ancestors past, in terms of evil and immoral activity. There seems to be a legitimate shame for those activities, however, there may be a fear of retribution for the activity of their forebearers.

    It’s my opinion, retribution will never occur. Primarily, as a result of the magnitude of that responsibility, in terms of the number of descendants effected.

    My opinion also resides in the effect of truth and acclimation of those evil times as a fact of our historical reality. It seems logical that Affleck missed an excellent opportunity to begin a proper course of healing, as a result of his notoriety. Consequently, most individuals reviewing this matter may be his showing no remorse for the activity of his ancestors. I don’t believe a majority of folks would consider him responsible, in any way.

    • Yeah, I don’t see how it’s Affleck’s fault. But, it does lead to an interesting discussion of how deeply embedded the evils of slavery are in US culture.

    • Ad Dawg says:

      Retribution toward an individual who is the descendant of a slave owner is not the central point in this post – or at least it shouldn’t be. I could care less about Ben Affleck’s White supremacist relative (and that’s what he was owning slaves; and you can’t get around that fact.) As so often is said, a “teaching” moment was missed when such opportunities present themselves – and when we as a nation are embroiled in sorting out the evil of systemic racism and discrimination – and White Privilege – we need to discuss this issue. We MUST if our country is to move forward. The thing that distresses me, is folk on this thread trying to use the idea that he was responsible for his slave owning ancestors as a way to justify the systemic White Supremacy nature of our society today. This is the classic denial, blame the victim approach that is disengenous to its core.

  • The very reason why we learn history is to know the achievements as well as the foibles of the past. Refine the good and delete the bad and replace it with something that can benefit from society.

  • Reblogged this on Life Culture Express and commented:
    Learn from history, whether good or bad.

  • Interesting subject and great post. We’ve obviously come a great way to get to the point where we don’t just denounce slavery, but are embarrassed by having any association to it (however, small). That said, we still need to openly face any association, no matter how ugly it is, and it’s nice to know that Affleck came to this realization. As for Turkey’s inability to acknowledge it’s hand in the Armenian genocide 100 years on, their continued obstinacy is hardly surprising given they still hand out prison sentences to anyone insulting the memory of Atatürk 70 years after his death.

    p.s. nice to hear Quoi de N’Oeuf is still going strong 🙂 It’s been 2 years since I left MTL and their brunch is sorely missed!

    • Yes! I miss Quoi de N’Ouef, but I haven’t been there in years. I was in Montreal about a month ago, and it’s still there. We lived in Pointe-Saint-Charles, but we tended to go to Toi, Moi et Café more often.

      Anyway, that’s the rub about Turkey, though. Atatürk had nothing to do with the genocide, though many of those Young Turks did end up in his government and movement, so I guess there’s that.

      • Used to live in Atwater myself – Toi, Moi et Café had great coffee! Re: Atatürk, didn’t mean to relate him with the genocide – I just think it demonstrates Turkey’s unwillingness to question its past. Until they’re able to question it, it’s unlikely current or future administrations will change their position on things like the Armenian genocide no matter how much distance they have from the event itself.

      • Oh yeah, I get where you were going with Atatürk. But, I think Turkey is also in a deeply regressive moment, and Erdogan is working against Atatürk’s secular democracy with his demagogic manner.

        As for that neighbourhood in Montreal, I miss it, I left three years ago myself. But I try to get home now and then.

      • Definitely agree with you on where Turkey is at the moment. Haven’t had a chance to go back to Montreal myself – (infrastructure aside) I really miss it 🙂

      • Definitely agree with you on where Turkey is at the moment. Haven’t had a chance to go back to Montreal myself since – (infrastructure aside) I really miss it 🙂

  • Crissy Dean says:

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed your blog. Im new here and I created the page Real Life Natural Wife. Come by and let me know what you think. Enjoy your day!

  • DICooper says:

    Reblogged this on The Chronicles of Six and commented:
    For some reason I just feel that this sums up the recent hubbub with Ben Affleck and the legacy of slavery very well.

  • Personal guilt for the actions of ancestors that have been in the ground for a century is a waste. I’m an Irish American whose ancestors fled the famine – feigning hunger pains and playing victim when the real victims are long dead is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

    • Oh Lord, the Irish! I am Irish Canadian, I teach Irish history. This narrative we’ve got in North America about how badly we were once oppressed because we’re Irish is tiresome. Drives me nuts sometimes!

      • I think that the historical oppression of the Irish is well documented, but the outrage that is expressed by the distantly emigrated Irish is tenuous at best. I bought into it in my youth and felt that I identified with the IRA and the millennium of Irish struggle for a number of years, until I grew up and realized that I was just a white American kid with an Irish name (my blog name is fictitious) that was reaching for some sort of ethnic identity. And then I did a deeper dive into my ancestry and found English all over the place – so I was both the oppressor and the oppressed, all rolled into one identity! This sh*t is just too convoluted and complicated, lol

      • Yeah, I agree. There is no doubt the English/British engaged in brutality as colonizers in Ireland, and did up through the Troubles in Northern Ireland. And it is true that when our ancestors came here, especially during the Famine era, they were horribly discriminated against. But. That was 150 years ago. The Irish in North America have been doing fine for over a century, on the whole. But, yeah, the interaction between Irish and English is insane. There is still this myth of the “pure Celt,” but it hasn’t existed for centuries. Ireland is such a cross-pollination of so many groups.

      • More on point to your article (which I think is great), during the course of my ancestry research I joined Ben Affleck in finding slave ownership. There was always the rumor of this growing up, as my grandpa (of English lineage of course) eluded to family wealth from a plantation in Kentucky prior to the Civil War. I do have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I personally have nothing to do with slavery, nor did the previous 3-4 generations of this line of my family. On the other hand, slavery is slavery, so I wouldn’t exactly want to print the slave ownership tax record of my distant ancestor and post it on the wall of my office! All of this is thought provoking, and I appreciate your blog on the matter.

      • Thanks! I agree, re: slavery and having slave-owning ancestors, but, like you said, you dig far enough, and we all have horrible things in our family histories. Personally, while I am an historian, and write and teach history, I have not done any genealogy work on my own family.

  • kennynines says:

    I wonder how many of us spring forth from a family tree all clothed in honor and righteousness. Maybe some of our ancestors were on the wrong side of history in some war or another. Perhaps we were conquerors who sold our defeated enemies into slavery across the sea, only to be conquered ourselves and sent off to toil in the fields alongside those we vanquished.
    We are not the worst thing we ever did, much less the worst thing some long dead ancestor did. We are defined, for good or ill, by what WE do in the lives that belong to us, in the time we have. Who I think I am comes from that, and rightly so.
    Ben Affleck is a good man who does good things. His only mistake was opening this big fat can of meaningless irrelevant worms in the first place. He must have been a total loonbat (Great word).

  • A Little Bit Of Life says:

    Great Post 😀

  • mellogic says:

    Really interesting. I find it strange for people to be sensitive about the subject given that who Affleck is today, is not affected by his ancestry. Besides, at that time, wasn’t owning slaves a norm? It wouldn’t really be much of a factor. 🙂

  • emiliogiler says:

    Ben Affleck in the new batman vs superman movie, your thoughts?

  • thenewmirror says:

    Reblogged this on thenewmirror and commented:
    I thought this was a wonderful piece on having the courage to acknowledge the “skeletons” in family closets. By addressing prior “wrongs”, we illustrate just how much we positively evolve as individuals, families and society at large through the generations.

  • escapee2020 says:

    I love Ben he comes off as a great actor and guy. I know he was ashamed and hurt by his past. Its sad in some way because he wanted to leave it in his past but it came to light anyway. A lot of emails came to light I bet Sony wishes they could have prevented this

  • armenia4ever says:

    “Here we had a wonderful opportunity to have a discussion about the legacy of slavery and imperialism in this country.”

    So you are sincere in an actual “discussion” on the issue which doesn’t essentially entail to berating and guilt-tripping the “offenders”?

    One thing I’ve noticed online is that when people want to talk about uncomfortable history, they want to preach and not discuss – specifically the social justice crowd.

    “Facing ugly histories is the only way we can face understanding and healing. It is the only way to come to terms with the past.”

    Think about this statement. Does it really?

    I know what the Turks did to my ancestors. It doesn’t “heal” the results of what happened anymore then our history books ignoring the 400k+ Irish slaves in America does for their current progeny.

    • This is what I do for a living, I teach history, I deal with these contentious issues every single day in the classroom.

      As for Armenia, the Turks committed genocide. Yet, they refuse to admit and acknowledge, and that would go a long way to sorting out the past, to recognise the wrongs done to the Armenians.

      As for Irish slaves, that’s not exactly what happened.

      • armenia4ever says:

        What in your view then actually happened to the Irish slaves? (Considering the one’s sold into slavery after Cromwell?)

        I also discovered it wasn’t just limited to them: https://allkindsofhistory.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/blonde-cargoes-finnish-children-in-the-slave-markets-of-medieval-crimea/

      • Well, my issue is more that I haven’t actually seen much to verify the idea of Irish slaves in large-scale numbers. I am an Irish historian, and while there are certainly cases of Irish being put into bondage, or sent across the Atlantic as indentured servants, there is nothing on the level of African slavery. A lot of this comes from what some Irish historians call the M.O.P.E syndrome, which stands for Most Oppressed People Ever, which is something the Irish, especially the diasporic Irish (I am a Irish Canadian) like to trumpet.

        Now, in terms of the Middle Ages, definitely. Slavery was a truism of life from the first societies of humans until the 19th century. I’m just saying be careful of Irish claims that we were shipped to North America as slaves.

    • curiosetta says:

      My first thought was how stupid of Affleck to want to cover up something that he was in no way responsible for or connected to (except via strands of DNA), but thinking about it his career is (was?) dependent on public opinion and when it comes to the issue of slavery the public is nor very rational.

      As you seem to be pointing out, it’s almost impossible to use facts to bring *balance* to the established historical narrative that portrays whites as monolithic oppressors and all other races as monolithic victims of white supremacy. Never mind that the African slaves were already enslaved by Africans before being transported to the coast and sold on to end up as slaves in the New World, as well as South America and the East.

      The very fact that the slaves who ended up in North America were able to survive – as families – to eventually become citizens shows that they were (at least) treated better than the slaves who were sent East who tended to be put to death the moment they served no productive use. And for all their sins, it was those evil white Europeans who spearheaded the end of slavery and went out in ships to actually stop the practice they had once been involved in.

      I believe ‘whites’ (including the Irish) were still being treated as slaves last century when they were forced to join the army and march into a hail of machine gun fire or else get shot for desertion.

      But the ‘white privilege’ narrative prevents us from considering this as an example of slavery …… just as the ‘male privilege’ narrative prevents us from considering it an example of the oppression of men, despite the fact that women had at the time the right to vote for wars and have men forced to fight them. Imagine if men had had the right to vote for wars and force women to fight them while the men got to stay at home – with women as young as 18 being forced to go ‘over the top’?

      But despite all evidence to the contrary, this narrative of men – and particularly white European men – as all-powerful oppressors cannot be challenged. And it is for that reason that I’m guessing Affleck feels he cannot dare to reveal his ancestral past.

      As for the social justice / PC brigade……playing the perpetual oppressed victim can be very, VERY profitable, especially in modern morally progressive, yet heavily socialised countries. This is basically a strategy of PARASITISM, based on the idea of being somehow ‘owed’ reparations or special treatment based on claims of historical oppression.

      When choosing a target group to aim your ‘victim narrative’ at (like any parasite choosing its host), it obviously pays to choose the most productive group who can provide you with a sustained supply of resources. And white ‘western’ males are the most logical target because they are men, and men are very good at working hard and being productive, and because they live in the west which is the most technologically advanced – and therefore most productive – part of the planet. And because the west is so heavily socialised, which means there are always big patriarchal governments willing to transfer wealth and rights from men to every other group of voters in society, in return for them voting for a bigger and more socialised government in the next election (Brave New World here we come!).

      This, I humbly submit, is why western men are targeted by SJWs, feminists and other groups (who are on the look out for free resources), with their constant narratives designed to create a strong sense of guilt and shame in the target group …. which can only be relieved by emptying their pockets and generally placing others’ needs and wants before their own. An ingenious and subtle form of slavery, if you will 😉

  • […] On Ben Affleck and Slavery. […]

  • As a big fan of genetic psychology, I do believe that our ancestors and their genes influence our personality, good or bad. But it all comes down to what one learns from ones heritage and what choices does one make. We are free to choose to honor them by being better or just sulk and loose self esteem because of some black sheep in a herd some 300 years ago.

  • ofopinions says:

    Wasn’t a great-grandfather or uncle of Nathaniel Hawthorne an accuser in the Salem witch trials? I believe he wrote about his difficult relationship with it, though he downplayed the connection in real life. On the other hand, in the British version of Who do you think you are? actor David Tennant was also revealed to have such problematic ancestors which was dealt with in great detail.

  • Apoorva says:

    One of the best I’ve read so far, thanks for sharing John. I do agree with accepting your past and saying it is how it is, celebrity or not.

  • blackraymie says:

    Reblogged this on blackraymie and commented:
    And the relationship to 12 years a slave…

  • piercejohn says:

    Like your post. I don’t think Affleck should be uncomfortable about something that he had no control over. He can be responsible for his actions only. He seems like a good man.

  • It is perhaps worth pointing out that none of us expects our emails be made public to the entire world; all of us have an email we wished we’d never sent; few of us would want to have our names so recognizable that anything we did which we later regretted we did instantly became fodder for discussion by anyone and everyone. Fame is that which makes one person recognizable to everyone, while that one person knows nothing of any of them.

    I have an in-law whose parent was killed while an SS officer. It is for him a shaming experience, one never spoken of to even his closest friends, much less revealed to strangers. In truth, within each of us is the ability to rationalize slavery, rationalize ignoring victims of Ebola, rationalize glancing away from other humans, rationalize living in certain neighbourhoods and not others, rationalize commenting on others when in fact there is no ‘us’ and ‘they’–only ‘we’. For I am Ben. And Ben is me. At that, I fall silent.

    • Yes, I agree. And we’d never have been any the wiser had Sony’s servers not been hacked. But, I’m not so much interested in assigning blame or demonizing Affleck as noting the lost opportunity, though he has since come out and discussed this.

  • iDikko says:

    Excellent, thanks 😉

  • Americans only want “truths” when it favors them or their opinion.

  • ustabe says:

    About a month ago, I posted on my blog how a cousin had done geneaological research on my own family and had discovered our heritage could be traced back to the 3rd crossing of the Godspeed to Jamestown. i noted with sadness how a good number of my ancestors were slave owners.


    There’s not much you can do about your past. The only thing I could find comfort with was that I was a living example of Marting Luther King’s own “dream” … that the son of a former slave owner could sit down at dinner with the son of a former slave.

    I agree with and share your opinion that Affleck should have been more forthright about his past. It does no one any good not to acknowledge reality!

    Thank you for your post.


  • Reblogged this on The Past in the Present and commented:
    Facing the complexities of your own ancestry can be difficult, but I’d argue it’s worth facing. It’s not as though you can change it, so why hide it?

  • ferddhie says:

    I agree with you. i can also understand why Affleck may have felt he didn’t want that news released to the public.

  • Reblogged this on fashionxclusives and commented:
    Great post

  • Admin says:

    Reblogged this on Top.

  • tylerp7083 says:

    This was a awesome post!

  • I agree with your post thanks for sharing. A short and sweet piece

  • Leslie says:

    Thank you for this post! Mike Twitty also has a post about this on his blog, Afroculinaria. You may like it!

  • coolenuff says:

    Carrying around the guilt and shame of our ancestors is a very natural and human thing, I do understand th way he feels, But with that said he cannot be held accountable for anyone else’s actions even if they are his ancestors

  • darpinion says:

    I think the mature thing for Affleck would have been to admit this embarassing fact, as was stated in the article, but I understand why Ben Affleck wanted it to be kept out of the public’s eyes and ears. It has been almost two hundred years since slavery has vanished in the United States, but there is still a bitterness about it that I suspect will take many more years to eviscerate from our society. I don’t blame Affleck for wanting it to remain “under wraps”.

  • Reblogged this on Life in arrghland and commented:
    On. Point.

  • lhvi340 says:

    Reblogged this on 2PalmsKeyLime.

  • aleckzandra says:

    Facing ugly histories is the only way we can face understanding and healing. It is the only way to come to terms with the past – very true.

  • minimolls96 says:

    I think it’s rather silly how he acted. Rather than give the the viewer the opportunity to be educated and shown a tragic yet important part of American (and English for that matter) history he decided fully knowing the implications, (maybe hiding it for his own political agenda?) to hide it . Not one family is perfect and every family tree has individuals who did not positively impact society in their day. From my family trees I know some of my ancestors went to America and know full well there is a chance they might be slave owners but would I if I was famous hide this like some dark family secret no I wouldn’t because that is the life of a person who for one lived 200 odd years ago so unless they are a vampire I’ll never meet them and two their past and history has frankly nothing to do with how I turned out anyway.

    I remember a previous episode with I believe Kelly Clarkson who was utterly horrified at the prospect of an ancestor fighting on this particular side of the civil war ( the one that wanted to continue slavery I believe, apologies for the history majors among you because I don’t know much about American history) I found this response in a way far more strange than Affleck’s simply because the guy had NO CHOICE really as it was a civil war. When she found out he wasn’t her relief was almost like the guy was still alive!

    Affleck demonstrated in a very odd way what not to do if you find that out. Is Affleck a bad person, no he’s not, he comes across as a very nice and talented man who I’m sure didn’t mean much when he wanted this hidden. Do I think the response was a bit OTT, yes I do. I understand that some may feel more of a personal connection with that particular time in history maybe more so if you are an American but what Affleck needs to realise is that the rules and views held today in society were not the same back then. It was sadly normal to own slaves and luckily our world has moved on greatly.

    I think rather than hiding it Affleck could have used his influence on entertainment to make a very good point about American history and that no matter who you are now the implications of what happened then can still be found in peoples history, no matter how famous you are.

    I found this article very interesting 😀

  • Francois says:

    The self preservative reflex of trying to hide what is bad about our ancestors does not help but rather puts us in a bad light. They were human beings they did sruff that today is known to be wrong, it doesnt make thwm less human just human…..

  • Reblogged this on Human Relationships and commented:
    On Ben Affleck and Slavery

  • Great perspective. When I initially heard over a morning news show that Affleck had asked to censor this piece of his ancestry, it upset me that the media did not respect this. Not because I can relate, more so because the constant sensationalism around everything celebrities say or do is sometimes ridiculous and, in my opinion, seldom newsworthy. However, I appreciate the perspective that you’ve offered about healing and facing our history. Thanks!

  • Davina Lyons says:

    You stated, “Facing ugly histories is the only way we can face understanding and healing. It is the only way to come to terms with the past. And Affleck, who fancies himself a humanist and an activist (and he has done some good work), has missed a wonderful chance here in the name of saving himself some temporary embarrassment.”

    When I first heard about the Affleck situation, I had the same opinion. What an opportunity he missed to really use it in a positive way. I wonder how he feels about his choice now.

    • Thanks. Well, Affleck has come out and noted how wrong he was, but that was about it. I wish he’d have done more to start a discussion, as it would have been helpful to have a larger framework as we watch what’s happening in Baltimore right now. All this anger we’re seeing since Ferguson is all part of the same history of racism and white supremacy in this country.

  • I believe he should not be judged by something he had no control over. In fact, he could have used it as an opportunity to to create positive publicity and awareness. Instead, we learn about his past online and don’t get to hear his side of the story.

  • mdtcreative says:

    Great post I love your ability to open up a conversation on an issue that really needs to be addressed. We all have those pesky ancestors who do something really off the wall (maybe not to this extent but hey). I love your writing style and look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • mdtcreative says:

    Reblogged this on mdt creative and commented:
    I would like to share an article with you which I really enjoyed.

  • If you can’t deal with bad stuff you shouldn’t go digging into the past. And owning slaves didn’t always make a bad person. Washington inherited slaves but looked after them so well he lost money on th, then freed them on his wife’s death.

  • msmaliha says:

    Great article. You are so correct in that he wasted a great opportunity to open up a discussion about the past and his stance on it all. I was actually surprised when you brought up the Armenian genocide because a friend from high school went back to Armenia to study his roots and created a film about it. I’m providing you with the link to his project. I hope you find it interesting and worth your time. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/34660747/bogosian-a-journey-to-find-our-armenian-roots?ref=video. Best wishes.

  • shrinidhinn says:

    Great post…loved it!

  • mustaphabarki2014 says:

    Reblogged this on Engineering WordPress 2015.

  • LAnthony says:

    Reblogged this on LAnthony, Mystery Author and commented:
    The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

  • MsDjHoodie says:

    Reblogged this on ExMeOut.

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