A U.S. publisher was forced to make revisions in a book after they referred to African slaves as “workers” and slave trade as “immigration.” The labeling of part of America’s darkest history as simply an exercise in worker immigration has irked many people and organizations who are now calling for more than just an apology.
Last week, a 9th grade student in Pearland High School sent her mom a picture from a geography text book called “patterns of Immigration.” A caption from the book on page 126 made an impact on the 15-year-old boy. It was a caption pointing to the U.S southern states referring to the Africans brought to America between the 1500s and 1800s as “workers.”
Coby sent a picture of the caption to his mother together with a text message saying, “we was real hard workers, wasn’t we.”
Coby’s mom, Ms. Dean-Burren was not as impressed. In a series of Facebook and Twitter updates she stated her objections to what was becoming an erasure of a vital part of U.S history.
The posts were widely shared online, even attracting the movement #blacklivesmatter. The homemade video statement had reached millions of views by the time of publishing, eventually finding its way to the publisher’s desk.
The textbook’s publisher, McGraw Hill Education, responded to the uproar by stating that they would make changes to the book, saying they could “do better.”
“This week, we became aware of a concern regarding a caption reference to slavery on a map in one of our world geography programs.”
“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.”
The publisher said they would edit the controversial caption in later books, adequately referring to slave trade for what it was. They said the work would be corrected in the book’s digital version before going into print later on.
Ms. Dean-Burren, in a statement said of the caption, “It’s that nuance of language. This is what erasure looks like.”
Slave trade was one of the darkest times for the U.S. By refusing to call it what it was, McGraw Hill was aiding in erasing the history of many Americans today.