Ancestry pulls slavery-era ad following online backlash

Ancestry has pulled an ad from a new Anomaly Toronto campaign following complaints it presents a romanticized depiction of slavery-era America.

The ad was one of three executions that showed hypothetical dramatic moments from personal histories. The idea behind the campaign is that many individuals will find remarkable stories somewhere in their family history—stories that can be revealed by researching your DNA.

The ad that generated backlash online was set in the slavery-era U.S., and showed a white man encouraging a black woman to run away to Canada so they could be married. Critics pointed out that while many black people in North America may find white DNA in their bloodline, it’s more likely because of sexual exploitation and rape during slavery than interracial marriage.

The Salt Lake Tribune was among the first to report on the controversy and the decision by Utah-based Ancestry to pull the ad. “They’re hinting to something that’s really a history of sexual exploitation and disempowerment,” Noel Voltz, an assistant professor of African American history at the University of Utah, told the newspaper. “Most black people in the world are mixed because of rape that happened in slavery.”

The campaign launched in Canada on April 2, but the backlash only erupted this week—with people pointing out that the ad presents the man as a white saviour and ignores the horrific reality most black women encountered during the era. Ancestry announced it would pull the ad Thursday and offered this statement to media: “Ancestry is committed to telling important stories from history. The ad was intended to represent one of those stories. We appreciate the feedback we’ve received and apologize for any offense it caused. We’re indeed pulling the ad from television and have removed it from YouTube.”

By Friday, Ancestry was responding to complaints on Twitter with the same short statement. Anomaly did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Message.

David Brown