Ancestry.com romanticizes slavery to sell you a DNA kit

Slavery is good marketing for Ancestry.com, the outfit that sells DNA tests. It’s not a good look for the firm. Whitewashing never is.

Clint Smith, a Harvard PhD candidate, tried to tweet some sense into ancestry.com

So did Josh Crosson, the senior policy director at EdAllies, the Minnesota organization that advocates for better education for the underserved.

Bishop Talbert Swan provided a history lesson to the company.

Last evening, Ancestry.com apologized, but how do you even produce the ad if you have even a thimblefull of historical knowledge?

“Ancestry is committed to telling important stories from history,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

(h/t: Paul Tosto)

  • This makes me wonder if Ancestry produced this commercial in-house or if they used an ad agency. Maybe the whole process is more spontaneous and ad hoc than it used to be in the past, when there would have been a focus group to review it prior to release. In any case, we are left to wonder how it made it through to air. You would think there would be a historian to run it by…!

    • BJ

      Heavy LDS influence in the foundation of Ancestry Com – but is now mostly owned by a UK and other foreign investors. All three things probably form a great lack of cultural experience.

    • Barton

      considering until quite recently many historians were still pedaling the “white savior” myth (some still are, btw), it could be possible that they did run it by a historian – just not a social historian or one that studies American slavery or even gender roles…..

      • jon

        Even a legitimate reputable historian may have said something to the effect of “Well yeah, that could have happened. Though it would have been a fairly unique story. The norm would have been more rape, and power imbalances in such a relationship…”

        a group who already liked the idea well enough to bring in some one to review it would have heard “That could have happened! It’s an amazing unique story!”

        • All the better then to have a diverse focus group weigh in. But you are right – groupthink at the executive level could hear whatever it wants to hear.

    • Gary Leatherman

      One look at their executive board is all you need to know. Nary a black voice in the group.

      https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/about-ancestry/our-team/executives

      This was definitely produced by an ad agency but that only means more white voices of privilege with no path for diverse input or feedback. If there is one, it usually is but one voice, and in order to speak out that voice has to feel supported and heard in the past. Not gonna happen with a group of like ancestry.com.

  • Barton

    I have so many not-good feelings about DNA testing and the false story about race/ancestry/heritage that I cannot even begin to unpack them here. But I did see this ad on TV and my jaw dropped.

    We have a not-similiar-but-sort-of story in my family history. A male ancestor basically stole a Native woman from her family in what is now northern Ohio, took her to what is now northern Missouri, and kept her as his wife (there is a marriage document). My grandmother’s generation used to tell the story as “he saved her from the savages,” who were of course her own people & all she knew… At least (most) of my generation is acknowledging the fact that she was completely kidnapped and taken to the Louisiana Territory to live near no other people or settlements.

    It may not make for fun conversation at family reunions when you try to change accepted narrative….

    • tarry_on

      Upvoted especially for that last line.

  • Mike

    Comically ridiculous in so many ways, not the least of which is the idea that a mixed-race couple would have been accepted in the free states of antebellum America. It wasn’t until 1967 (Loving v. Virginia) that interracial marriages became legal nationwide.

    • Joseph

      Although wasn’t interracial marriage already legal in most northern states by the time of the Loving Case, with the southern states being the ones holding onto the rules of a bygone era?

      • Mike

        Probably, but I don’t really know the extent of state laws on miscegenation in 1967. I’m guessing that several states still had the laws on the books but weren’t enforcing them (similar to sodomy laws until the 2003 Supreme Court decision that rendered them unconstitutional).

        That being said, interracial marriage was socially unacceptable in most parts of the U.S. in 1967.

        • jon

          Some states never had inter-racial marriage laws…
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interracial_marriage_in_the_United_States
          MN for one also NY, VT, NH…

          However there is the law, and then there is social acceptance…

          Also worth noting that the sodomy laws are still on the books in MN, and will remain there as unconstitutional (and thus unenforceable) until the legislature actually repeals them.
          https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/cite/609.293

          • Mike

            It’s interesting to note that both Loving v. Virginia and Lawrence v. Texas reversed previous Supreme Court decisions that upheld the states’ ability to outlaw, respectively, miscegenation and sodomy.

            In the case of the latter, there were only 17 years between Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which upheld states’ rights to have sodomy laws, and Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which nullified those laws.

            While my belief is that civil liberties are always imperiled in every era (because there are always people who want to use the government to enforce their personal preferences about morality), we should feel some amount of satisfaction in the progress our country has made since the 1960s to make the guarantees of the Constitution truly universal.

          • RBHolb

            The laws against fornication and consensual sodomy stayed on the books partly at the behest of prosecutors. They said that the laws were useful for plea bargaining in criminal sexual conduct cases when the proof was not as clear-cut as would be needed for a conviction.

          • jon

            That may have been the case before it was deemed unconstitutional… (or at least an excuse for it.)
            Afterwards it’s mostly just the legislature not wanting to appear pro-sodomy by repealing it…

            Since ’01 it’s not applicable to private, noncommercial acts by consenting adults.

            That leaves prostitution, and public acts (which are probably covered by public indecency laws of some sort).

            For prostitution if you can’t confirm that the sex act was commercial in nature then the sodomy laws won’t hold up if they can’t prove prostitution.

            I mean maybe we’ve outlawed certain types of porn from being created in MN… but that’s the best I got for the applicability of the law as it currently exists…

          • RBHolb

            “Afterwards it’s mostly just the legislature not wanting to appear pro-sodomy by repealing it…”

            That was always the unstated motive a lot of legislators had in refusing to move forward on repeal

        • EarthToBobby

          Actually, there’s a map for that.

          http://www.lovingday.org/legal-map

    • Comically ridiculous in so many ways, not the least of which is the idea that a mixed-race couple would have been accepted in the free states of antebellum America.

      As already pointed out in the thread, the “border” they are talking about is the US/Canada border.

      They are trying to flee to Canada.

      The website at the end is Canadian.

  • Neil B.

    Watch till the end – you’ll see the advertisement is for ancestry.CA and that the white man obviously has a Canadian accent. “Across the border” doesn’t mean northern states, it means Canada.

  • Guest

    SHEESH