Friday, February 5, 2010

Who Do I Think I Am?

This morning, after reading the exquisitely-written Open Letter to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., posted by my friend, Luckie Daniels of Our Georgia Roots, I found myself responding with a comment on her blog that ended up sounding more like a post in itself, so I've decided to copy my response to my own blog.
The topic here was the new show, Who Do You Think You Are?, which will be airing on NBC, beginning on March 5th.  The show will feature "the quest to discover the roots" of seven celebrities.  I strongly believe that, although the intentions of the network (an extension of the original program aired in Canada via the BBC) are good; they, and other shows, like the African-American Lives series, by the well-respected and honorable Dr. Henry Louis Gates, miss a veritable opportunity by not opening their programs up to feature "regular" American researchers, who are working so hard to discover our often elusive roots.  So, in response to Luckie's letter to Dr. Gates, I offer these additional comments:


I just HAVE to take a few moments away from my vacation in paradise to comment on this letter! We are certainly two of a kind, for I must admit that just a few hours ago, I started to type out a “tweet” in response to the “WDYTYA Veiwing Party” concept, asking, “Am I the only one who is NOT excited about this show?”
It’s not that I don’t like the concept of the program, but ever since it was announced, I’ve felt a twinge of angst because I watch these shows when they air, and see the work that so many of us put decades of our lives into being done in a matter of a few hours or days by professional genealogists for “famous” people who have to do nothing but sit back and receive the gift of their ancestry. I’m always left feeling a bit insulted because this is how many outsiders to family history research are being introduced to it. It’s made to look too easy, too quick, and much too profitable (in terms of the payout of finding documentation) than what the reality is, especially for most African-American descendants of slaves. I had already planned to write to someone (I just wasn’t sure who) to propose that, rather than just featuring celebrities, that perhaps one of the networks might decide to “gift” some of the hard-working, dedicated, “regular” folk who are out here researching our roots. We are doing so while holding down full-time jobs, raising families, caring for elderly parents, and scrimping together funds to support the passion that takes over us to learn what we can of our history. Many times, we are using our personal leave from work to take expensive research trips, spending days and days in libraries, courthouse basements, deeds offices, and cemeteries; and having to stay in hotels, eat out (if we stop to eat) and pay for travel to and from our ancestral locations. I believe that just as much (or perhaps even more) interest could be gleaned in a program that reaches out to help the average researcher (think Extreme Makeover – Family History Edition!), as there is for the programs featuring celebrities. Certainly, those of us who’ve put in the research-equity would have an even greater appreciation and emotional response (great for TV) to being gifted with the work a professional researcher and perhaps an all-expense paid trip through time to the ancestral homes of our ancestors.
I guess since this has turned out to be more than just a quick comment, perhap we might call it, “Another open letter to whomever might be listening”

Just something to think about….

Who do I think I am? First and formost, I am a child of God! I am a descendant of slaves and slave-owners, of free blacks, and Native Americans. I hail from hard-working, self-preserving people who deserve to be discovered and have their stories told! I am a mother, an aunt, a cousin, a friend. I've been designated by my ancestors to disover and tell their stories. In essence, I am my family GRIOT, and I will continue to seek my family's history until every brick wall is smashed down and the stories within them are told.


(PS... I'm writing this on the first morning of my vacation in Hawaii, thus the reference to my "vacation in paradise".)