Why we can’t ever be on the ‘White’ side of History

Roni Dean-Burren

Roni Dean-Burren

We all have selective recall at some point. Whether it is a dispute regarding who the cute boy or girl at the bus stop said hello to first, or which player on the flag football team made the winning play, some people will remember it differently, no matter what actually happened.

Texas mother, Roni Dean-Burren, recently called out McGraw Hill Education for taking its selective recall to an outrageous (but familiar) place. Dean-Burren received a text message from her son regarding the commentary contained in the World Geography textbook. The passage related to the U.S. being a nation of immigration and used nuanced language to downplay the way in which Africans came to the United States.

The book explained:

“Atlantic slave trade between the 1500’s and the 1800’s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

The implication is that the Africans were moved at their own pace, at their own free will, and they made a conscious decision to come to this country. It makes it seem as though they had a choice and that Africans took the voyage intentionally, almost insinuating they may have felt coming to America would provide something rewarding to them. Since Dean-Burren found the passage in her son’s textbook, she has turned her frustration and outrage into a cause to raise awareness to the blatant disregard for the truth where African American history is concerned. She made a facebook video that  received over 1.8 million views. She also used her social media channels to push the #BlackLivesMatter platform. Dean-Burren shedding light on the ‘misprint’ in the book prompted the publishing company to acknowledge its faux pas and started a national debate on the use of accurate and effective textbooks when teaching history.

texas-textbook_240x340_35Changing history in favor of those in power is much more serious than remembering who got the most drunk at the office Christmas party last year. White revisionist history is taking the place of the raw and real lessons that must be examined through the study of slavery in the U.S. and its implications—implications that scholars and commentators often say the black community continues to deal with. The repercussions resulting from slavery include issues concerning the family unit, health and disease, economic disparities, and self esteem.

The McGraw Hill book omitted the realities of slavery that included the traumatic separation of family members though auctions where once African kings, queens, princes, and princesses  were inspected and sold like chattel and forced to hard work in extreme heat and extreme cold. The book ignored the brutality of slavery, including the beatings, starvation, and women being subjected to the sexual whims of men who viewed them as less than human.

Revisionist history should not be allowed to gloss over things like slavery. African Americans have been left with significant souvenirs and scars from this past oppression. Some of the names that we say and write on documents each day come can be traced back to those who owned our ancestors. Some of the soul food delicacies that are presently enjoyed nationwide came from the livestock leftovers that enslaved Africans ate on plantations. Some of the complexities within the black family unit concerning absentee fathers and sons who are unable to cope with the dangers of society originated from slavery. Men were often sold off of their plantations (and away from their families) or paraded around from slave hut to slave hut to reproduce with other women thereby boosting the labor population.

Africans lived and died with nothing, and as such some African Americans today are unable to utilize long standing family wealth which puts many at a disadvantage economically. If diluted history is allowed in schools, the future generations will be blinded and fooled into thinking the playing field is more level than it is; they will not know where they come from. The repercussions of slavery will not be discussed and dealt with on the level that will allow for betterment and change.

Those of Jewish descent do not allow anyone to downplay the Holocaust and what happened to them at the hands of Adolf Hitler; they recognize the importance of telling the truth about the pain they endured in their past. They recognize that their history must be recognized to stop dangerous patterns of genocide, self hate, and exclusivity. They do not shy away from speaking about what their relatives endured at concentration camps when their ancestors were killed for looking differently—and I applaud that. They seek to preserve their history to help all people understand compassion for those that look differently. The Holocaust also exposes the dangers of weak government in times of economic uncertainty.

McGraw Hill Education has plans to republish the  World Geography book. In the meantime, they offered to give the school stickers to place over the inaccurate parts of the material. The new books and stickers will likely be available in November. But, the stickers are optional and must be requested by the teachers. How many teachers using that book will opt for the stickers and supplementary lesson plans? How many young black and brown minds have already started to be brainwashed into thinking that slavery was some happenstance thing that doesn’t affect their existence?

Educators must preserve all history especially that of slavery. We must continue conversations about racism, discrimination, inferiority complexes, and even race relations. The issues of police brutality and the distrust of police in urban communities could be traced to slavery and the oppression that Africans faced at the hands of the majority race. Racial tensions popping up in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and  Baltimore, Maryland, are the issues that are currently flooding news headlines as well as our social media timelines.

Most people cannot afford the time and money it takes to homeschool children. However, parents need to have faith that the educational system will preserve the truth of history and will do so willingly and any cost.

Image Credits: Paukrus
Yvonne Miller, Esq.
Yvonne Miller, Esq., is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. She is an alumna of both the University of South Carolina and Western Michigan University Law School. Yvonne is a consultant residing in Washington, DC. She enjoys listening to music (especially when performed live); traveling; cooking; adorable puppies; and focusing on taking over the world.

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  • Terrence Gatewood

    I don’t think the text book was inaccurate in calling slaves workers. My issue is when the authors don’t mention the fact our people were kidnapped and forced into labor. They should’ve used harsher language to accurately describe the brutality and horror our ancestors went through on a daily basis. But I don’t expect the dominant society to ever accurately write history that exposes their own savagery.

    • YM

      Exactly Terrence! What this means to me is that we also have a deeper responsibility to educate our children. No matter what books they read or what they see on television, they need to truly understand the world around them and the history that has created those circumstances.