Friday, April 24, 2015

How does the historical truth Affleck me?

News item (from the Hollywood Reporter):

Ben Affleck has responded to the controversy surrounding his episode of PBS' Finding Your Roots.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, the actor-director wrote that he was sorry for asking the Henry Louis Gates Jr.-hosted show to censor his slave-owning ancestor from his installment, which aired Oct. 14, 2014.

"I didn't want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves," Affleck wrote. "I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth."

How this affects me:

Now that our parents have both passed, my sister and I often go through old documents, pictures and ephemera left behind. Neither of us knows much about the family tree, and she is interested in finding out who sawed off some of the branches of it and I am not.

We never met our paternal grandparents, both of whom died while Dad was off fighting WWII. Our mom's parents, though, lived to ripe old ages, and from my grandfather I got the love of reading, incredibly corny jokes and practical gags, and collecting junk from sources such as buying used stuff at Goodwill or finding used stuff in dumpsters.

He did not live long enough to enjoy The Simpsons, but I know he would have loved Bart's motto, "Poorly guarded construction sites can be gold mines."

From my grandmother, I got the love of cooking, watching TV in the daytime, and a certain detached way of looking at the world. Her motto, recited every time someone did something preposterously stupid, was "And they shot Lincoln!"

But what I know of their parents would fit into that little watch pocket in a pair of jeans. And beyond that - nothing.  And that suits me fine, because, even though genealogy web sites abound, I don't really want to know what would tell me about my long-gone kinfolk.

And it's not that I suspect anything nefarious would turn up by turning over some pages in yellowed crumbling ledger books.  My father's father was born in Macon, GA, but I never heard of any sprawling plantations in the family name, and certainly no Aunt Scarlett or Uncle Rhett.  

I'd hope not to be related to a slave owner, or a bank robber, or a despoiler of young women, or a South American military strongman.  I agree with Affleck that we deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors.  But pretending that stuff good or bad didn't happen is to deny the truth, and no good comes from that.

Rooting for the family tree
Why, just the other day, to prove that point, I got a letter from an attorney representing a man said to be my great-uncle's second cousin Randolph Clark-Barr.  Apparently this old relative was so deluded as to believe he was a moth, and went to a dentist to seek help.

The dentist said, "You should be going to a psychiatrist.  I'm a dentist. What are you doing here?"

And Randolph said, "Your light was on." 

1 comment:

rower said...

I tend to agree Mark, to claim fame or misfortune by "association" via blood line has always eluded me as well. No intention to discredit those that came before me, I certainly appreciated the love & care given to me by my parents and their close friends, had no Aunts or Uncles, and enjoyed learning the little I knew of their childhoods, even enjoyed and benefited from knowing some distant cousins...but can't say any of their successes or failures were mine. I've had grade school teachers influence my character, as Mr James Doran did, as much if not more than a past relative...I give credit to all I have met in life for who I am today and thank all those that took the time to show me who they were so that I might have learned from them. No bloodlines are needed to befriend another and show them a way, whether their example is followed is of little importance. It is a generous act, the gift of example, to offer others an option for future consideration with no consideration in exchange.