I’m sure you have probably been following the story concerning major textbook publisher McGraw-Hill, and the mother, Roni Dean-Burren, who went on social media and made a video to voice her displeasure with a section in one of their World Geography textbooks that referred to Africans who endured the forced brutality of slavery as mere “workers” and “immigrants.”
In the video, Dean-Burren reads a section called “Patterns of Immigration,” where the book highlights how various ethnic groups ended up in the United States. As it relates to Africans, the book reads, “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. So it is now considered ‘immigration.’”
Immigration…really? Okay, let’s see here.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an immigrant is “a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence.”
Since when did we learn that African people wanted to be ripped away from their homeland; endure a horrific travel experience on slave ships, that included rape, murder and discomfort; be brought to America to begin working for free; have their families separated; and then be subjected to continual beatings and torture for over 400 years? Who would sign up for that?
What I love the most about the McGraw-Hill story is that Dean-Burren’s son, Coby, a ninth-grader at Pearland High School, brought the textbook’s language to her attention.
I so love this, because it lets me know that his mother had been educating him about his history for some time, and that education gave him the ability to not only identify that it was wrong, but helped him bring it to her attention so she could do something about it quickly – and that she did.
What disturbed me, however, was the response from McGraw-Hill. At first, McGraw-Hill responded by saying they would make changes that would be “reflected in the digital version of the program immediately and will be included in the program’s next run.”
However, when Dean-Burren and many other concerned Americans spoke up and demanded that McGraw-Hill replace every book right away, they responded with the following statement from their president and CEO David Levin, which was sent to all of their employees:
“We made a mistake. Last week a high school student and his mother in Texas raised an issue about a caption in our World Geography textbook. Many people who were understandably hurt and offended by the caption responded on Facebook and elsewhere. We are deeply sorry that the caption was written this way. While the book was reviewed by many people inside and outside the company, and was made available for public review, no one raised concerns about the caption. Yet, clearly, something went wrong and we must and will do better. To learn from this and to do all we can to prevent this from happening again, we are reviewing our internal processes to understand how it occurred. We have already committed to increase our list of reviewers to reflect greater diversity. We are offering our customers who are currently using the book a choice of either a sticker to cover and replace the caption or a new, corrected, printed copy of the book. All of us at McGraw-Hill Education care passionately for the students, teachers and communities we serve. People have been hurt by this mistake and we need to correct it. We will.”
You completely disregard and seek to water down the horrific experiences of African people during the slave trade and the best solution you can provide is giving everybody a “sticker” to cover up your “mistake”? First of all, it wasn’t a mistake. How could it have been?
In their statement, McGraw-Hill admits that they have a vetting process and during that vetting process, they had to have seen this. They are a major and experiencing publishing company.
When I first heard about this story, I could not help but remember back in 2013, when the Texas Board of Education overwhelmingly voted to change and rewrite the history books to refer to the slave trade as the “Atlantic triangular trade”. After much debate, however, the proposal at that time was eventually amended and the language was finally changed to reflect the “trans-Atlantic slave trade” as opposed to the “Atlantic triangular trade”.
It has been common practice, especially here of late, that those who have control over the tools and resources that educate our children, have sought to provide a watered-down version in our history of slavery and what actually happened to African people during the slave trade.
It is time for all children to learn about the whole truth, particularly the real horrors of the slave trade involving our African ancestors, in the same way that every American is taught to relive and be educated on the Holocaust and what happened to the Jews.
Do you really think this would have slipped through the cracks and been a mistake concerning the Holocaust? Of course not!
Conversations, movies and books about the Holocaust are never watered down. To tell a Jewish person to forget about the Holocaust would be a travesty and would never be tolerated.
Dean-Burren called McGraw-Hill’s depiction of slavery in their textbook “erasure” and encouraged everyone to teach their children the truth about their history.
So there you have it people, the best way to correct oversights that whitewash the African experience in this country is to give them a sticker and tell them you are sorry.
This should have never happened in the first place.
Whoever made the decision to even present this before a vetting committee should be fired and McGraw-Hill should immediately do a recall on every book they published and replace every book in use free of charge to every school, before more damage is done to the minds of our young people – regardless of race. I don’t want a sticker – I want you to stop downplaying slavery as if it didn’t happen and try to whitewash it like everything else in this country.
Jeffrey L. Boney serves as Associate Editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is a Next Generation Project Fellow, dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and Founder/CEO of the Texas Business Alliance. If you would like to request Jeffrey as a speaker, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.