Recently, Roni Dean-Burren’s 14-year-old son saw a passage in his history book that did not sit well with him, so he brought it to his mom’s attention. What unfolded as a result illustrates how social media can be used as a tool and is also a good reminder to speak up if one sees something wrong in the world.
Rather than accepting things as they were, Ms. Dean-Burren took to Instagram and posted the offense to her senses. “The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers…notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies wages…yes? My son @coby_burren sent this to me today. He’s in 9th grade…he woke y’all! #staywoke #blackboymagic,” she wrote.
Slaves were characterized as “workers” in a section entitled “Patterns of Immigration” in the McGraw-Hill history textbook.
That this passed through the editing process and made it to publishing is disturbing to say the least. Beyond what has become a cliché attributed to George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” teaching our kids with misrepresentations such as this “white-washes” the gruesome truth of an essential reality in our country’s past. Institutional Racism in this country is alive and well today. The echoes of generations past stain the interactions People of Color have with the criminal justice system as well as with people they have to deal with every day, professionally and personally.
To exorcise that demon we as a nation need its roots exposed. Disguising it by calling slaves workers only gives it power, moving us backwards from progress we have made regarding inequality in America. At the very least, what we need to do is acknowledge that history and teach it to our kids so they can grow up less tainted than we are by the State-sanctioned horrors of early U.S. History and the ripple it has caused throughout time.
Then this happened.
CNN reports, “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.”
When the #7 education publisher in the world takes notice, you know you’re doing something right, so kudos to Ms. Dean-Burren! With her action, she has shown that one person can make a difference by speaking truth to power. And while that is fantastic news, I’m sure you all noticed that McGraw-Hill will not go so far as recalling the books at this time, they have corrected the online materials and state that future editions will not contain that gross misrepresentation.
It needs not be said to any right-thinking adults that slaves were not immigrants, but our kids haven’t been where we’ve been. Africans were stolen from their lives, their lands, and their cultures to be owned and worked to death for hundreds of years. You’re damn right you can do better, McGraw-Hill. Hit them up on Facebook and let them know that they need to recall those textbooks.
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