Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lost Ancestry: I am a descendant of slaves

Several times a day I see an advertisement for ancestry.ca.  The purpose of this site is to give people the ability to trace their family lines.  The people pictured in their ads are always White.  Each time I see this commerical I feel a nagging tug in my heart.  At first I wasn't sure why all of the White centric advertisements hurt me, until I had a conversation with the unhusbands nephew.  He spent a few months tracing their family line and was able to give the unhusband several facts about their family that no one had known about.  He even found a lost branch of the family a couple hundred miles away that he plans to reconnect with.  We asked for a copy of his research, because we thought it would be great for our boys to learn about their roots.

A few months later I was having a conversation with Sparky.  He mentioned that his mother was extremely interested in their family bloodline and had managed to trace his fathers side of the family back ten generations.  As a White Anglo Saxon family, the records were just waiting to be gleaned.  I found myself filled with jealousy.  As we were talking, the Ancestry.ca advertisement played again and I knew why those ads had always filled me with rage.  No matter how many times I type in the information that I know about my family, I will always hit a brick wall, because I am a descendant of slaves.  My family were considered property, and therefore; were little better than livestock and certainly not worthy of taking note of. Ancestry.ca was built to trace White families

I will admit that because my family is Caribbean of descent, our records would certainly be harder to trace, but even if we had been in Canada for generations, tracing them would still be difficult.  This site was built to trace White ancestry confirming once again that white bodies matter.  I cannot even recall seeing a single person of colour in any of the advertisement for this business.  I think I am especially irked every time they point out that  someone found a military relative.  It smacks of suggesting that people of colour have never done anything to support Canada. 

There are a multitude of unacknowledged facts in Canadian history and sites like this perpetuate the invisibility of people of colour.  So many don't even recognize that Blacks were slaves in Canada.  We have virtually swept this fact away to focus on the underground railroad, as though this eliminates the stain of human bondage from Canadian history.  The connections that have been broken can never be repaired, but the failure to even acknowledge this, is like a knife in the heart. The pain is real and lasting

Like many Africans of the diaspora, I will have to settle for a cheek swab to find out which African tribes show up in my DNA.  It will probably give me a few hits from various countries, but I will never know the names of tribes, and I certainly will never know individual names.  I will never learn anecdotes that will help make these people real for me and there are no grave sites that I can visit to pay my respects.  My past is gone and is forever a mystery to me.  I am sick and tired of being reminded of this every time I see an ad for ancestry ca.

I have never been a slave, but that does not mean that the scar which I carry is any less painful.  This is not a simple matter of humanity moving onward, with certain knowledge lost over a series of time.  This is the purposeful cultural erasure and human disconnect of millions of people.  I try and comfort myself with the knowledge that I am here; a living testament to all of those who went before me. In blood, though unknown to me, are their hopes and dreams and I am here to experience the freedom that they could only dream of. It seems that it would be a small token of apology to mention what was lost and why all of these White people can so easily trace their roots.  Tell me again how post racial we are, or colourblind this nations is when it continually runs from its own history.