Ancestry.com Apologizes for Romanticizing Slavery
Diversity missing from the executive team and one member ignored the warnings.
An ad for the service depicted a white man telling a Black woman in the 1800s that they could escape to the north and be together offended many. The ad, titled “Inseparable,” was published April 2 on YouTube, and the video went viral, resulting in backlash. It was pulled down after two days.
ooooh my god LMAOOO who approved this ancestry commercial??? pic.twitter.com/Isy0k4HTMA
— manny (@mannyfidel) April 18, 2019
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “The effort to reduce American slavery to a benign, romantic institution is a deeply rooted tradition. After the Civil War, Southern whites… erected tax-funded monuments that glorify the Confederacy. By this retelling, the Confederate cause was noble, the war was not about slavery, and enslaved people were happy, loyal, and should be remembered for their faithfulness to slaveholders.”
“What’s really going on here, is that the people behind these ads want to feel comfortable and find a happy place,” said Dianna Ramey Berry, a historian and professor at the University of Texas- Austin who wrote the books “Enslaved Women in America” and ‘The Price for Their Pound of Flesh’.
“They think this is who I would be. I would be the white man helping this black woman. Here’s a positive story about slavery. It’s “The Greenbook” of ads.”
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
A person interviewed by NBC, who requested anonymity said that the ad generated significant spikes in web traffic in Canada (the target audience), and an executive decided that they wanted to run it in the south. They were warned that it would be offensive but ignored the warning.
Ancestry.com’s executive team is mostly white and they’ve never participated in the DiversityInc Top 50.
“These kinds of problems are about hiring and they are about hearing. It’s about listening to the people in the room once you have hired and re-engineering leadership so that knowledge matters and when that one person of color in the room does speak up there isn’t a penalty. That’s when these ads stop happening,” said Jenelle Coy, the founder and managing partner of the advertising firm Spero.
My guess is that there was someone who brought it up and was summarily ignored because everyone else was super excited to green book it.
— Steve Javie burner (@hoopsshit4L8r) April 18, 2019
Shows a clear lack of diversity in advertising corporations & staff. Or they really just don’t care, like Gucci and Prada about offending black people.
— ME (@01towin) April 19, 2019
I have so many questions about this @Ancestry commercial. 1) Is she his slave? 2) is this a real story? 3) is she his slave? 4) did this test well in focus groups? 5) who were in these focus groups? 6) was there no other scenario that could illuminate the value of DNA testing? https://t.co/lOBzueu3JZ
— Melissa Murray (@ProfMMurray) April 18, 2019
Ancestry ranks attracting a larger number of Black and Latino customers as a business imperative. The DNA profiles the company sells rely on comparison samples from a large and diverse collection of people.
In their statement they explained:
“Ancestry is committed to telling important stories from history…both those that are positive and those that are more difficult but equally as important. Many of our ad campaigns are based on factual historical events. This ad was intended to represent a love story between two people who were not able to marry in the United States in the late 1800s and wanted to migrate to Canada, which had no blatant laws banning interracial marriage. We very much appreciate the feedback we have received and apologize for any offense that the ad may have caused.”
But the apology means nothing if you were warned about it.
I have all the frowns in the world right now. WTF @Ancestry Do you not know that most of the mixed ancestry of black families are likely from sexual assault and NOT the IR/slavery fairy tale you’re pushing with this commercial? Do better. pic.twitter.com/o68G2TwYdY
— Kharma Kelley (@kharmakelley) April 18, 2019
What the hell is this @Ancestry?
Why do white people insist on romanticizing my Black female ancestors experiences with white men during slavery?
They were raped, abused, treated like animals, beaten, and murdered by white men. Stop with the revisions.pic.twitter.com/cDEWdkzJPm
— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) April 18, 2019