A Mom Called Out A Textbook Publisher For Saying Slaves Were "Workers" And "Immigrants"

McGraw-Hill Education said it would reword the part of a geography textbook that includes slaves under a section about "immigrants" and refers to them as "workers."

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A publisher says they are rewriting a high school textbook that refers to African slaves as "workers" after a complaint by a Texas mother about the passage went viral.

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Roni Dean-Burren wrote on social media that her 15-year-old son was reading his textbook for his ninth-grade geography class when he noticed a passage that bothered him.

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The passage in the book, World Geography by McGraw-Hill Education, is included in a section called "Patterns of Immigration." It 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.

Dean-Burren wrote on social media she was shocked by the language used. After getting many responses, she decided to make a video to talk in depth about the book and how she felt about it.

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She said she feels it is insulting to include African slaves under a section about "immigrants" and refer to them as "workers."

Dean-Burren said the textbook also discusses how some European people came to America as "indentured servants" who received "little to no pay."

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

Her video was viewed nearly 1.5 million times. Many people began to express disgust with McGraw-Hill Education's choice of words on social media.

How do you write in a textbook that African slaves were immigrants who came here as workers & call European immigrants indentured servants?

Others said it was sugarcoating what actually happened.

@#mcgrawhill your World Geography TX textbook calls african immigrants "workers" the word you want is "slaves." #youandtexasstink #whitewash

Eventually, the complaints of Dean-Burren and others made their way to McGraw-Hill Education. On Friday, the company announced that after reviewing the textbook they agreed it needed to be changed.

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The company said in a statement:

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.

BuzzFeed News has contacted Dean-Burren for comment. She wrote on Facebook she was ecstatic with the publisher's decision, and added that she is giving credit to the "power" of her son.

Facebook: roni.deanburren

This is not the first time a textbook in Texas has come under fire for what some say is biased or revisionist history.

In fact, the state's board of education has been criticized for its standards on teaching a number of issues, from the Civil War to climate change.

In July, NPR reported that the state's standards dictate that textbooks lessen the role of slavery in the Civil War and skirt around issues such as Jim Crow laws in the South.

Edward Countryman, a history professor at Southern Methodist University, told NPR the textbooks were troublesome.

"It's kind of like teaching physics and stopping at Newton without bringing in Einstein, and that sort of thing," he said.

However, a McGraw-Hill spokesman defended their textbooks that comply to Texas standards. They noted the books would not be used in other states.

"The history of the Civil War is complex and our textbook accurately presents the causes and events," Brian Belardi told NPR.

Stephanie McNeal is a social news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Stephanie McNeal at stephanie.mcneal@buzzfeed.com.

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