It’s time to Break It Down!
Allow me to flout convention and begin with the end. In summary, the perpetrator’s effort to address the subject is a start, but falls short, far short in fact, of what’s necessary to make right an immeasurable injustice.
How did we arrive at this point?
In recent years there has been a not so subtle effort to reimage American History, or at least a key part of it. A certain element of the country has increasingly flexed its growing political and cultural muscle by successfully lobbying to change the way textbooks express the emergence, growth and development of the United States as a World Power.
Legislatures in several States have voted to participate in this unsavory practice. Even the Republican National Committee has gotten in on the act. Conservatives scrutinized the 2014 edition of the College Board’s release of its new Advanced Placement U.S. History teaching guidelines for not being patriotic enough. The Republican National Committee issued a resolution describing the framework as a “biased and inaccurate view of many important events in American history” and calling on Congress to withhold federal funding from the College Board.
It can be argued that, at best, this deception dilutes the truth quotient associated with the course of American human events. At worst, it totally whitewashes, no pun intended, the atrocities visited upon millions of erstwhile Africans. These men and women were violently separated from their homeland, and transported across an Ocean under the most brutal of circumstances. The conditions the human cargo was subjected to; shackled in cramped quarters, and barely fed, effectively killed countless men and women during the transcontinental voyages. Those who survived had their lives leveraged for free labor, while they essentially built significant portions of the infrastructure of this country.
As previously referenced, a number of States engage in this unpalatable behavior. However, none is bigger and/or more influential than Texas, if for no other reason, than because of the sheer number of textbooks the State purchases. Moreover, due to the large number of books prepared for Texas, that version of the texts is likely to be marketed to other smaller states that cannot command, based on volume, a different, truer-to-fact, version of the texts.
Publisher McGraw-Hill is contracted to prepare and provide World Geography textbooks for the State of Texas. In the version of events approved by the Texas Legislature, African slaves are referred to as “workers” and “immigrants.” In one passage, the book notes:
“The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers…”
OK, hold on, wait a minute! This low-grade historical rewrite has been kicked around in newspapers and Internet news sites for some time. Finally a student and his mother, Coby Burren and Roni Dean-Burren, respectively, collaborated to kick-off a Facebook post that went viral. The ensuing smoke apparently made its way all the way up the communications chimney to McGraw-Hill executives.
The Dean-Burrens recoiled at the manipulatively nuanced characterizations that referred to individuals whom we know were slaves, as workers and immigrants. In response, Mrs. Dean-Burren asked:
“Workers implies wages … yes?
In one more testament to the viability and velocity of the inherent in general, and of Facebook in particular, her post had drawn 1.4 million page views on Facebook through Sunday before last. The higher-ups at McGraw-Hill not only heard (or saw/read, as it were), they responded.
Once confronted by the outcry emanating from the Dean-Burren family, McGraw-Hill reviewed the section. After a quick refresher, they concluded that the phraseology comprised in that particular section does not live up to their standards. As the Company put it, in a post on its own Facebook Page last Friday:
“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.”
The company noted the edits will appear in the online version of the book immediately and will be included in the book’s next printing.
In response to the news, Mrs. Dean-Burren said on her Facebook Page:
“This is change people!!! This is why your voices matter!!!” And they do.
In citing a couple of specific examples of the reinvention of history in the text, Mrs. Dean-Burren elevated a passage from the section called “Patterns of Immigration.” In that section the text provides snapshots of how various ethnic groups arrived…in America. It notes:
“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.”
Immigration? Really? Mr. Trump and his immigration foes must not have received the memo. There is an immigrant pool that not only works but also does so for free.
A separate passage describes the arrival of Europeans who came to work as indentured servants “for little or no pay.” Here, they note that English and other Europeans received little or no pay, yet, no mention that Africans were slaves…just workers.
Mrs. Dean-Burren accurately calls this characterization of slavery in the text an “erasure.”
“Erasure is real y’all!!! Teach your children the truth!!! #blacklivesmatter”
Coby, a ninth-grade student at Pearland High School south of Houston, brought the textbook and its loose-with-the-facts language to his mother’s 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 especially slavery.
Read: Texas OKs school guidelines after ideological debate
While Mrs. Dean Burren took solace in having been a catalyst for a degree of change in McGraw-Hill’s posture on the subject of describing slavery in appropriate terms, 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. I support this view. One comment on McGraw-Hill’s Facebook Page read:
“Thanks for the gesture, but that doesn’t help the school districts that can’t afford to purchase new textbooks! 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.
With those observations, I will end this post as it began, as I said I would. In summary, McGraw-Hill’s effort to address the subject is a start, but falls short, far short in fact, of what’s necessary to make right an immeasurable injustice. Therefore, when you reflect on this sordid episode, all you really need to know is, this was “A Tale Of The Great African Migration: Emphasis On Tale!”
I’m done; holla back!
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