Texas Mom Calls Out Textbook Calling African Slaves ‘Workers’ and ‘Immigrants’

The Burren family’s complaint in a high school textbook could change history.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 5, 2015 10:22 am, ,

Pearland High School freshman Coby Burren and his family have been having conversations about identity and the significance of race relations in the news.

Just last week, in the middle of class, he noticed something in his geography textbook. Coby’s mom Roni Dean-Burren, a future faculty teaching fellow at the University of Houston, shared the story online and now the publisher McGraw-Hill is pledging to rewrite the textbook.

“He sent me a text from school – it was a picture of a blurb in a world geography textbook that referred to African slaves as workers,” she says.

Coby captioned the photo in vernacular phrasing: “We was real good workers weren’t we,” punctuated with a sad face emoji.

After looking through the McGraw-Hill textbook, Dean-Burren found the particular passage under the immigration section. She says this was a “troubling” way to frame the context around American history.

“Immigration sort of has a connotation of ‘you made a choice’ or someone made a decision,” Dean-Burren says. “That was very strange to me that it occurred under ‘Patterns of Immigration.'”

She says that kind of language comes from publishers and review panels “bending to the will” of elected officials.

“We have people who are running our state, who are sitting in Austin right now, who want history to look a certain way,” she says. “And they want stories to be told a certain way.”

“It was erasure – a way to erase an ugly part of our history and make it prettier, make it less vile.”