TV ancestry series is a salve for divided America, host says

Entertainment
Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., host and executive producer of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots,” addresses the audience during the 2019 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton, Monday, July 29, 2019, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — The celebrity ancestry show “Finding Your Roots” has a message to counter divisive political rhetoric, said its host, educator Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The PBS series demonstrates that “we’re all descended from immigrants,” whether they came to America willingly or as slaves, and all share a common origin, Gates told a TV critics meeting Monday.

“People want that reassurance that we’re all the same,” he said, especially as some seek to divide the nation and distinguish between who does and doesn’t have the right to be an American and live in America.

It was an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s call for four Democratic House members of color to “go back” to their countries, although all are U.S. citizens and all but one was born in the United States.

“Guess what, we’re all home. This is our home. And our ancestors came here and fought for the right to make this our home. … and we all have an equal purchase on the rights guaranteed by the Declaration (of Independence) and the Constitution,” Gates said.

“And I’m going to go down swinging against anybody who tries to divide us because of our apparent ethnic differences or gender differences or sexual preference differences,” he said.

“Finding Your Roots,” which is produced by Harvard professor Gates, returns this fall with guests including Melissa McCarthy, Jordan Peele, Issa Rae, Diane von Furstenberg and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Genealogy research and DNA tests help uncover the celebrities’ ancestral backgrounds.

Asked if he’d consider having Trump as a guest, Gates said PBS rules prevent candidates from appearing. Would he consider the president if that wasn’t the case?

“I don’t pick people by their ideology to be on the show,” Gates said. That’s been shown with previous guests, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and the late Sen. John McCain, he said.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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