This Mom Deserves a Round of Applause for Convincing a Texas Textbook to Call Slaves ‘Slaves’

Quick quiz: What do you call a human being who is bought and sold as property and forced to work against his or her will without any sort of payment? I’m pretty sure most dictionaries would call that person a slave, but one Texas mother was stunned recently when she saw her son’s 9th grade history textbook refer to slaves as “workers.”

Roni Dean-Burren posted a photo of her son’s textbook to Facebook on Wednesday and pointed out that calling slaves “workers” minimizes horrors and atrocity of American history.

The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers…notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies…

Posted by Roni Dean-Burren on Wednesday, September 30, 2015


According to Dean-Burren, the same textbook actually does address the question of unpaid labor, but she says only when it refers to European indentured servants.

”They say that about English and European people, but there is no mention of Africans working as slaves or being slaves. It just says we were workers,” she said.

”Erasure is real y’all!!! Teacher your children the truth!!!” Dean-Burren said.

Academic publisher McGraw-Hill, the company responsible for the textbook in question, said that Dean-Burren was right, and that its book was not accurately describing the reality of the Atlantic slave trade.

 ”This week, we became aware of a concern regarding a caption reference to slavery on a map in one of our world geography programs,” the company said in a statement on its Facebook page. ”This program addresses slavery in the world in several lessons and meets the learning objectives of the course. However, 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. 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. These changes will be reflected in the digital version of the program immediately and will be included in the program’s next print run. McGraw-Hill Education is committed to developing the highest quality educational materials and upholding the academic integrity of our products. We value the insight the public brings to discussions of our content.”

It is good that they are updating the book, but many schools will go years before getting new books, and these books referring to slaves as “workers” could be in students’ hands for years to come.

Our past is rough and it can be ugly, but if we try to sanitize it or talk around the worst parts of our history, we rob our children of a chance at a real education and nothing will ever change.

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