You know how when you watch Hulu they torture you with the same commercial again and again at the break? Lately the one with a pleasant looking white lady with short brown hair – in essence – says, “Well, shucks! I’m related to George Washington!”
She expresses no sense of tempered excitement, no regret at the history of pain and carnage reeked by Washington and his contemporary European invaders.
Come on, white family. We must do better.
It is a privilege to be able to log in to Ancestry and find one’s family members documented, with full names, addresses, occupations, and birth places. I experienced this privilege in summer of 2012 when – as my family can tell you – I went down the Ancestry rabbit hole every night for hours, uncovering addressees, neighborhoods, and relatives we didn’t know about. It was like a fun detective mystery game, trying to connect the dots of my relatives.
This is a privilege that many non-White folks do not have. Some of their ancestors may not have had full names, not have had documented birth dates and places, not had addresses. Whatever the reason, the result is similar: less than full humanity.
To have one’s ancestors regarded as less than fully human, whether they were interred at camps, stolen from their home countries and forcibly relocated, or pushed from their homeland by untenable economic situations or war, is horrifying.
There are too many people for whom looking into their family history is a painful reminder of the brutality of United States empire. And- honestly- for that nice, white woman with the brown hair, the discovery that George Washington is in her family tree should also be a painful reminder of the brutality of American empire.
We will not be able to move forward without communal reconciliation of the brutalities and injustices done by white people to non-white people in the United States of America. All together, we must face the history. White folks need to apologize, and we need reparations.
On a simple note, Ancestry commercials that acknowledge pain in family trees would be a step.