Ancestry.com Slavery enslaved thegrio.com
Screenshot | Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com is the latest company to prove what happens when no Black people (or no Black people with sense) are on your creative team. The genealogy company earned ire and incredulity with its latest advertisement that proved common sense ain’t always so common.

The 30-second spot is set in the Civil War era and features a white man and a presumably enslaved Black woman  moving in a hurry. The man stops and says, “Abigail, we can escape to the north. There’s a place we can be together. Will you leave with me?” It concludes with the sentence, “Without you, the story stops here.”

 

Nah, the story stops when Black Twitter says it does, and we’re still a bit flummoxed that multiple people of any ethnicity green-lit this commercial in 2019. The Clio Awards should create its first-annual “Whose Mans is This?” honor for this ad.

 

 

 

For those of you reading who actually aren’t aware of the problem with the ad (Twitter reveals that you do, indeed, exist), the muddled nature of African-American ancestry – and the reason sites like Ancestry are able to thrive – is directly correlated to the wanton rape of women by masters and other white men during American chattel slavery. In 2014, the American Journal of Human Genetics published a report indicating that, on average, African-Americans who identify as such are 24 percent European.

The mere fact that these human beings were being held captive negates any “love” an enslaved person would show toward a master – it’s the essence of Stockholm syndrome. It’s almost certain that few if any of these “relationships” resembled the One Life to Live bullshit in the Ancestry ad.

The most jarring part of the ad is when Tom (let’s call him Tom) makes his suggestion and doesn’t let Abigail get a word in edgewise when she attempts it. That’s apropos considering Abigail is a considered property and has literally zero autonomy. My guess is someone on Ancestry’s team thought that it would be wrong-minded to have an enslaved woman talking like an enslaved woman in a 2019 commercial without realizing that the whole damn thing needed to hit the recycle bin.

(By the way, Abigail’s eyebrows are tight. I didn’t know people who were bought and sold like property had access to threading.)

Of course, this ad has plenty of company in the Fail Olympics: Heineken got into trouble last year for an ad that depicted its light beer sliding past several dark-skinned people only for text to hit the screen reading “Sometimes lighter is better.” And we’ll never forget that infamous Kylie Jenner Pepsi ad that suggested the myriad problems dividing police and people of color can be solved by a pretty white girl sporting a soft drink.

Unlike those ads, which could charitably be dismissed as well-intentioned but not nearly well-considered, the Ancestry ad is like a cheetah running full-speed toward a river full of crocodiles. Following the backlash, Ancestry pulled the ad and issued an apology, but I’m still blown away at the number of people who could’ve stepped in as the concept germinated and just…didn’t.

 

 

 

A more meaningful and candid conversation regarding the sad story of Black American ancestry is a natural, and important, corollary of Ancestry, 23andMe and other genealogy companies providing answers about that ancestry. People who didn’t have a seventh-grade history class on slavery, as I did, should not make it to adulthood without understanding that our great great great great great grandparents couldn’t just swipe left and dismiss the men who would eventually impregnate them.

 

The always-on-time Bree Newsome used the ad to come through with a gospel thread about how we perceive interracial relationships as the fulcrum of racial harmony – a separate but also important conversation.

 

Viewed through the lens of education, perhaps Ancestry’s faux pas is a good thing. Still, if I were in charge over there, my first order of business on Monday would be to put out an all-call for a new ad agency and maybe cut a few heads in the creative department. Because Jesus was this a preventable failure.