McGraw Hill has decided that slavery wasn’t all that bad. According to their new textbook, millions of “workers” were brought to the southern United States.
Here’s a passage from an article on this unfortunate choice in nouns:
Roni Dean-Burren was also disturbed by the language, and posted about the book online. Her comments went viral and the publisher swiftly decided to rewrite the section.
The offending passage was in pages titled Patterns of Immigration in McGraw-Hill Education’s World Geography book. A colorful map of the US was adorned with a speech bubble which said: “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”
From the 16th through the 19th centuries, more than 12 million blacks were brought to the United States in what is called by less neutral observers than McGraw Hill, the Holocaust of Enslavement.
Why not write American history so it’s easier on our feelings. Let’s feel good about ourselves! Why talk about slaves as if they were slaves? Let’s just bend a noun a little bit and they become workers. After all, they did work? Of course, millions were murdered, tortured and raped, and some may feel that calling them workers might imply that they weren’t murdered, tortured and raped. But weren’t slaves often treated kindly by their masters? Weren’t slaves valued members of their “families?”
I teach business ethics. Every day I read the words of people spouting incredible nonsense and lies. But the sentence, “Weren’t slaves often treated kindly by their masters?” occupies a special place in my heart. You see when you slap the words, slave, master and kindly into a single sentence, you are just talking nonsense. Slaves are not legally human beings. They are things like cattle or sticks. Masters are owners with the right of life and death over these possessions. That a throat isn’t cut on a particular day doesn’t mean it won’t be cut later. That a slave’s chastity is respected for a few hours or a few days does not indicate safety from rape.
Slavery is a crime.
The people who captured the slaves were criminals. The people that shipped the slaves were criminals. The people that bought the slaves were criminals.
What McGraw Hill should have said was this –
The African Holocaust between the 1500s and 1800s brought more than 11 million slaves from Africa to the southern United States to be used on agricultural plantations. Millions died on the journey and afterwards of mistreatment and disease. The Africa Holocaust in terms of numbers ranks as one of the greatest modern crimes against humanity, and is a stain on the history of the United States.
You don’t write textbooks to make people, even Southerners, feel good about themselves. You write the truth. People can’t make good decisions about the future if they don’t understand their past.
It is elementary business ethics that a historical work be accurate. If you are in the business of selling textbooks to build up national myths and legends and feed national self-esteem, you have embarked on a perhaps profitable but immoral pursuit.
And here we come to a basic issue in business ethics. Who deserves the loyalty of the company? If the shareholders and their profits are the only concern of a corporation, then the textbooks should read anyway the customer wants. Slaves were treated kindly, the Wild West was peaceful, the Great Depression not that big a deal, etc. etc. But if the company even a corporation has an ethical backbone, then the customer is not always right. Facts are facts and history is not just a matter of opinion.