Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill will rewrite a section in one of its books after a Houston-area mother complained that it whitewashes the role of slavery in bringing Africans to America.
Roni Dean-Burren took to Facebook last week to vent her frustration over the wording of a passage in her son’s “World Geography” textbook that calls African slaves “workers” and “immigrants.”
“The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers … notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies wages … yes?” she wrote.
Dean-Burren’s post gathered a lot of attention; a subsequent video sparked spirited feedback and had drawn 1.4 million page views on Facebook as of Sunday.
McGraw-Hill heard the outcry, reviewed the section and concluded that the wording doesn’t live up to the publisher’s standards.
“We believe we can do better,” McGraw-Hill posted on its Facebook page Friday. “To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”
The edits will appear in the online version of the book immediately and will be included in the book’s next printing.
“This is change people!!! This is why your voices matter!!!” Dean-Burren posted on Facebook.
Still, some believe the changes aren’t enough and are asking the publisher to recall existing versions of the book and replace copies for schools that can’t afford to buy new books.
“Thanks for the gesture, but that doesn’t help the school districts that can’t afford to purchase new textbooks!” reads one comment on McGraw-Hill’s Facebook post. “Kids will continue to read the same incorrect & inconsiderate information for probably the next 5-10 years! There must be a better way!”
Others say the publisher’s revised language still plays down the horrors of slavery.
“Forced migration? I believe the words you’re looking for are kidnapped and stolen,” wrote a commenter.
‘Erasure is real’
In the video, Dean-Burren reads from a section called “Patterns of Immigration,” which gives snapshots of how various ethnic groups arrived in the Americas.
“The Atlantic slave trade between the 1500s and the 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” she reads. “So it is now considered ‘immigration.’ ”
Another passage describes the arrival of Europeans who came to work as indentured servants “for little or no pay.”
“So they say that about English and European people, but there is no mention of Africans working as slaves or being slaves,” Dean-Burren says. “It just says we were workers.”
Dean-Burren called McGraw-Hill’s characterization of slavery in the passage “erasure.”
“Erasure is real y’all!!! Teach your children the truth!!! #blacklivesmatter”
Dean-Burren’s son Coby, a ninth-grader at Pearland High School south of Houston, originally brought the textbook’s language to her attention.
Texas has been a battleground in the fight over changes to textbooks that some say concede too much ground to conservative viewpoints on subjects such as climate change, religious liberty and slavery.