McGraw-Hill Revises Unfair Slave Description After Parent Complains

October 5th 2015

Laura Donovan

Textbook giant McGraw-Hill is altering its “World Geography” textbook after Texas mother Roni Dean-Burren complained on social media about the book's description of slaves as "workers" and immigrants. Last week, Dean-Burren's son text messaged her a photo of this description from his textbook, prompting her to post the picture on Instagram and make a Facebook video:

Shot of textbook from McGraw-Hill

"The Atlantic slave trade brought millions of workers...notice the nuanced language there. Workers implies wages...yes?" Dean-Burren wrote on Instagram.

Dean-Burren, a former high school English teacher, took to Facebook to explain in a video why this description is such an issue. She takes viewers through the textbook and demonstrates disbelief that many smart, intelligent people let this description get published.

Many of you asked about my son's textbook. Here it is. Erasure is real y'all!!! Teach your children the truth!!!#blacklivesmatter

Posted by Roni Dean-Burren on Thursday, October 1, 2015

"There is no mention of Africans working as slaves or being slaves," she says. "It just says we were workers."

Speaking to the Washington Post, Dean-Burren said the phrasing is alarming because it dismisses the fact that slaves were brought over to the U.S. against their will and implies they were compensated for their contributions as slaves.

“This is erasure,” Dean-Burren said. “This is revisionist history — retelling the story however the winners would like it told.”

After Dean-Burren's posts went viral, McGraw-Hill issued a statement on Facebook saying that the publisher will immediately alter the book's digital version and revise the hard copy the next time the book is printed.

"[W]e 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 company 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. These changes will be reflected in the digital version of the program immediately and will be included in the program’s next print run."

While Dean-Burren told The Post that this is an improvement, she is still concerned because many students use the hardcopy version. She also said her son's textbook is new and that it could take years until the next print version comes out.

“I know they can do better," she said. "They can send out a supplement. They can recall those books. Regardless of whether you’re left-leaning or right-leaning, you know that’s not really the story of slavery. Minimizing slavery in any way is a way of saying those black lives, those black bodies, that black pain didn’t matter enough to give it a full description."