Ancestry.com's racist ad tumbles into a cultural minefieldBreaking News
ON THURSDAY, THE world’s largest DNA testing company, Ancestry.com, pulled a video advertisement amid a cascade of criticism on social media. The ad, titled “Inseparable” and cinematically shot to portray a gauzy, gothic moment on the streets of the antebellum South, depicted a white man offering a black woman a ring and imploring her to “escape to the North” with him. In the captions, they are referred to as “lovers.” As the video ends, a stylized Canadian marriage certificate for the two characters dated 1857 appears and the voiceover urges the viewer to “uncover the lost chapters of your family history with Ancestry.”
The ad appeared online earlier this month, but as BuzzFeed first reported, it didn’t draw much attention until critics on social media began sharing it in outrage this week. They decried it as a whitewashed, revisionist account of the traumas that stamped interracial sexual relations during America’s centuries of violent chattel slavery.
In a statement to WIRED, Ancestry said it had removed the video from YouTube and was in the process of pulling it from television. “Ancestry is committed to telling important stories from history,” the company said. “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.” Ancestry did not answer WIRED’s questions about the ad or about the demographic makeup of its 14 million-strong DNA database.
Among the offenses catalogued by Twitter users were the myriad historical fallacies Ancestry crammed into the 30-second clip—the idea that black women could only be rescued from slavery by a white male savior; that most mixed-race people in America today descend from loving, consenting relationships when the biggest historical reason is rape; that interracial romance was even possible in slave-holding states given the extreme power asymmetries of the institution; that the “North” was some promised land of equal opportunity (spoiler alert, it wasn’t). But there was another fairy tale that Ancestry was selling too—that in exchange for a few tablespoons of spit, the company could magically fill in the branches of family trees severed by the transatlantic slave trade.
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