Ancestry.com released an advertisement of a Black enslaved woman being stopped by a white man, in the rain, with him proposing to her that they go up North so that they could be together. The screen then goes black and the ad says, “Without you, the story stops here.” Yeah … needless to say, it did not go over well, and due to the backlash, Ancestry is in the mists of pulling the ad, but the internet never forgets.
ooooh my god LMAOOO who approved this ancestry commercial??? pic.twitter.com/Isy0k4HTMA
— manny (@mannyfidel) April 18, 2019
In a statement to HuffPost, Ancestry said that they are committed to telling important stories from history and, “This ad was intended to represent one of those stories. We very much appreciate the feedback we have received and apologize for any offense that the ad may have caused.”
Many Black people in the Americas and the Caribbean are descendants of chattel slavery, under which a slave is “an enslaved person who is owned forever and whose children and children’s children are automatically enslaved.” Due to being the legal property of white slave owners, Black women could be raped by their owners, and there were often children produced, who were enslaved due to laws passed that made the maternal line the one that decided freedom.
A 2016 study on African American genomic diversity found genetic evidence to support the historical record that “white slave owners routinely fathered children with women held as slaves,” The New York Times reported.
It is a dark part of Black diasporic reality that many of us have ancestors who were both slaves and slave masters. Romanticizing that in any way is both ahistorical and deeply ignores the history of rape, pain, and emotional distress that faced Black women who survived on slave plantations. You’ll notice that, in this commercial, the woman, Abigail, doesn’t even really speak. It’s her partner who is making the decisions, and we don’t even see her make a choice, not even allowing her visualized autonomy.
It’s frustrating, but we did get some good/thoughtful memes from it. The reality is that this kind of stuff is super problematic because it doesn’t tell the whole story of Black women’s experiences in slavery.
ancestry dot com: how can we overly romanticize & create an irresponsible, ahistorical depiction of the relationship between white men & black women during the period of chattel slavery that completely disregards its power dynamics & the trauma of sexual exploitation? https://t.co/s5BqnoSg9x
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) April 18, 2019
While it’s true that 1 in 4 black folks who test their male line through DNA end up finding a white man, it ain’t because of no damn slavery love story. I’m so tired of y’all. https://t.co/UwknpDDniL
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) April 18, 2019
One of about 1,000 awful things about this commercial is it ignores the fact that for black Americans – myself included – and for others in the diaspora, DNA and documentary ancestry information is as painful and traumatic as it is illuminating. These are not love stories. https://t.co/tuTpHwmnGk
— Kimberly Atkins (@KimberlyEAtkins) April 18, 2019
Miscegenation laws wouldn’t have mattered to him, and if he had money to buy a ring? He had money to buy her. “They were in love” is like the Cherokee Princess ancestor myth. Impossible & wildly inappropriate & ahistorical. https://t.co/gsLz2Tl27P
— ❄Mikki Kendall❄ (@Karnythia) April 19, 2019
As if stealing us from our land and chattel slavery wasn’t enough. As if selling our lost heritage/ancestry back to us wasn’t enough. Y’all are now creating slave-slavemaster love stories to explain the blips in our genomes. I- https://t.co/TgYenPKDAL
— Ashley Nkadi 🤠🐎🔙 (@hottienkadi) April 19, 2019
“Slavery is often described as a Southern problem. It was much, much more. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was a problem across the colonies. Even in the run-up to the Civil War, the North profited mightily from slave labor.” https://t.co/zM6TERBeQd https://t.co/RuRAXztQIh
— Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott) April 19, 2019
As someone who goes back and forth about investigating my own ancestry, this commercial highlights why it’s such a double-edged sword. These companies do not care about the historical issues that stop many people from not having a clear knowledge of their family heritage and are just looking to make money.
Also, if you think being up North meant stuff was great for Black Americans, you need to read The Warmth of Other Suns.
(via HuffPo, image: Screengrab)
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