This Mom Just Took On a Textbook That Downplayed Slavery — And Won an Important Victory

Source: Facebook
Source: Facebook

This week, a Texas mother pointed out that a high school geography textbook was painting a misleading picture of slavery — and the publisher acknowledged she was right and immediately moved to correct the text.

Mother Roni Dean-Burren was surprised to learn McGraw Hill Education's ninth-grade textbook World Geography seemingly lacked any reference to the brutal conditions endured by black people captured and sold in the Atlantic slave trade, BuzzFeed reports. Her concerns were subsequently mirrored by tens of thousands of Facebook users.

The questionable section of the textbook, titled "Patterns of Immigration," 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."

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In a video posted to Facebook, Dean-Burren explained precisely what was wrong with that section — the term "worker" omits mention of the vile, coercive nature of slavery. Slaves didn't willingly immigrate. They were sold and sent across the sea in awful conditions.

"'Immigrants,' yeah, that word matters," the mother says in the video. "'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'."

The textbook also went out of its way to mention the fact that European indentured servants received "little to no pay," making the omission of the horrors of slavery particularly curious.

"They [mention the low pay given to] Englishmen or 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's post was eventually shared over 40,000 times on Facebook, earning the attention of publisher McGraw-Hill Education, which took her concerns seriously.

In a statement issued to Facebook, the publisher said "we conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves."

"We believe we can do better," the publisher wrote. "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."

h/t BuzzFeed

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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