The revelation that actor Ben Affleck tried to pressure PBS to hide his familial connections to slavery in a documentary they were doing caused a predictable amount of controversy. Some have taken issue with PBS’ decision to censor the documentary – Finding Your Roots – to make the star happy, and some have blasted Affleck for trying to cover up a nasty part of his own history.
And some have taken complete leave of their senses in an attempt to draw a larger lesson from the scandal. Some like Demos President Heather McGhee, who got up on the highest horse she could find when she joined Alex Wagner on MSNBC Wednesday. “It is not actually surprising to me that Ben Affleck wanted to do this, because we do not, as a country, in our culture, have any collective acknowledgement that slavery happened, that it built our economy, and that every single one of us around this table – we all, as people living and working in this economy, and this democracy, are shaped by the legacy of racism in this country.”
She went on to say that it “makes sense to me that someone who’s sort of in the mainstream of our popular culture would feel like there’s no sort of safe room for him to even talk about it, because it’s an American amnesia and denial that we need to move past.”
One can only conclude that Heather McGhee lives in some alternative-universe version of the United States where one can even casually mention American history without someone sqwaking about slavery. One where the topic of racism is never brought up. Where the citizens all walk around and talk about how great it is that we have a history without any mistakes. Because back in the real world, she makes no sense at all.
Americans couldn’t be more aware of slavery if we were forced to walk through a museum every day before work. If anything, we are too aware of that history. We seem unable to detach ourselves from it. There is no one around today that ever owned a slave. No one who ever was a slave. Every individual has the right to forge their own identities – their own path in life – without being saddled with the misdeeds of their ancestors.
Not saying that we should ever forget what happened here. But it is ridiculous that we’re still carrying around this national guilt as if any of us had any say in it. Ridiculous that anyone would base their life around the oppression that their forefathers experienced. And ridiculous that anyone would think that the answer to what ails America is to talk more about slavery. To talk more about racism. To talk more about what a horrible country this is.
We’re never going to get “past” slavery until we decide to. But that’s the big difference between conservatism and liberalism. Conservatives believe that you aren’t defined by what color you are or what happened to your ancestors because of that color. Liberals believe that nothing else really matters.