American high school textbook calls African slaves 'immigrants'

Academics also condemn use of racist language in school books

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 19 February 2020 20:38
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American History textbooks call African slaves immigrants

Some American textbooks are teaching students questionable versions of history, including the classification of African slaves as “immigrants.”

In an analysis by CBS News of four textbooks used in public school classrooms nationwide, it was found that certain subjects were either under-covered or, in some cases, presented incorrectly.

One book, The American Pageant, which is used in Advanced Placement high school history classes and by more than five million students annually, uses racist terms for a biracial person, “mulatto”. The book also features a map of immigration to early America, listing Africans as “immigrants” alongside the Dutch, English and Scottish, rather than noting that they were brought as slaves.

Dr Ibram X Kendi, author of the book How to Be an Antiracist, and the director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, talked to CBS News about their findings.

“To refer to [Africans] again as immigrants insinuates that they chose to come,” Mr Kendi said. “The African people who were almost totally … forced to come and certainly did not want to come to the United States in chains.”

Dr Kendi also explained the problems with using the word “mulatto” in the book.

“The term mulatto, in many ways, is a racial slur, a racial slur against biracial people. The root of that word is mule, and so it was imagined in the decades leading up to the Civil War that biracial people were essentially like mules,” Mr Kendi said. “In other words, it was imagined that black people and white people were separate species of being and so as a result a biracial person, like a mule, would not be able to reproduce. And so that’s how and where the term mulatto came from.”

Dr Naomi Reed, of the Southwestern University in Texas, said the book singularly focuses on historical struggles from the perspective of white people, including its chapters on the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King Jr is sort of always colorblind, peaceful resistance, versus Malcom X is always violent, militaristic and radical. And so it almost sends a message that this is the right way, Martin Luther King Jr, is sort of the right way. That’s not the full picture of either one of them,” she said.

“But certainly, the language of Martin Luther King Jr serves their discourse, because it’s very multicultural, it’s everyone struggles, everyone needs freedom and so I think it kind of supports the argument for the focus on white historical oppression.”

Cenage, the company that publishes the book, provided a statement to CBS News defending their product.

“The past inflames passions – indeed, the reason schools teach history is that the issues America faces today have their roots in America’s often tumultuous past. That is why the authors work strenuously to provide an accurate, fair and engrossing account of American history. Their success in doing so is why more than five million students learn from American Pageant each year. That said, we are always striving to improve.”

Dr Reed argued that the book may have run its course.

“I think The American Pageant needs to be retired,” she said.

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