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News Organizational Misbehavior

Ancestry.com Apologizes for Romanticizing Slavery

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Ancestry, slavery, romanticized

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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1 Comment

  1. David A Betts April 24, 2019

    Thank you for this. I do appreciate the rpeorting you do on issues that get little other press.

    Reply

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