Since the news broke in October about McGraw-Hill World Geography textbooks labeling slaves as migrant workers, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement at Georgia State has created a petition to urge the university to rise up against the “whitewashing” of history.
Seyoum Bey, the chairman of Communications for the university’s newly founded Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, said the petition seeks to have Georgia State stand in solidarity with black students and to relinquish its contract with McGraw-Hill.
“So we say when black people are being attacked explicitly by a company that you have an indirect relationship with, you need to stand in solidarity with us,” he said.
Bey said the movement has been exhausting all efforts to collect signatures, and they hope to gain 10,000 to 15,000 by the end of the semester.
Andrea Jones, spokesperson for Georgia State, said the university doesn’t have a statement on this particular issue.
“Professors choose books for their courses,” she said.
Bey said he isn’t surprised by what McGraw Hill printed in their textbooks, but he is disappointed that Georgia State hasn’t addressed the situation.
“I feel like it is a perpetration of things that already exist in the climate of America, particularly the racial climate of America. This is just a continuation of white supremacy, of institutionalized racism,” he said. “However, what’s bothering me is the hypocrisy within the university and how they have an indirect relationship with McGraw-Hill education.”
Akinyele Umjoa, advisor of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the department chair for the Department of African-American Studies, said the movement’s main concern is about how African descendants are being portrayed in education and the media.
“I argue that how Black people are represented in the media and educational system is related to the proliferation extrajudicial killing of Black people by police, security guards, and vigilantes,” he said. “Data shows that much of the killing of Blacks in this fashion has to do with fear of Black people. Much of this fear is rooted in how Blacks are represented in popular culture and educational curriculum.”
McGraw-Hill responded to the backlash about their textbooks saying slaves were “workers” by saying they are “deeply sorry,” according to McGraw-Hill CEO David Levin’s letter to his employees. To resolve the situation, Levin said customers can cover the caption with a sticker or order a corrected textbook.
“All of us at McGraw-Hill Education care passionately for the students, teachers and communities we serve. People have been hurt by this mistake and we need to correct it. We will,” Levin said in the letter.
The textbook’s online version has also been fixed, and corrected books and lesson plans will be available this month, according to Brian Belardi, director of Communications for McGraw-Hill Education.
Lela Abadir, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Chair of Administration, said she thinks McGraw-Hill made a good move by changing the online version, but that is not enough.
“But what we are asking for the textbooks that’s already gone out to hundreds of thousands of students in Texas need to be taken away from the students immediately, because they are going to be learning lies about African American’s history in the U.S. for the next eight to 10 years,” she said.
Bey said the solution Levin offered was “weak,” and McGraw-Hill needs to be held accountable for their erroneous act.
“So instead of him saying, ‘you know what? I am going to send a team of McGraw-Hill educational experts and we are going to go into all of the school districts in which we sent the books in and we are going to take them out ourselves,’” he said. “That would have been a more plausible answer than the solution that he gave…because the books went into 300 different school districts within the state of Texas.”
Abadir and Bey met with Georgia State’s Dean of Students Darryl Holloman on Nov. 10 to express their petition’s demands. Bey said he felt the administration responded like how a capitalistic institution would.
“Our next steps are just to continue to push, continue to raise the political and social consciousness of what’s going on with the students, and then organizing with the students to create action,” he said. “We are looking to get as many people involved with this and then organize with those people to create a plausible action to what Georgia State hasn’t done.”
To promote the petition’s initiatives, Abadir said the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has been working with students at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, which is composed of Spellman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and the Morehouse School of Medicine.
“I am pretty sure all of the schools in the AUC are also collecting petitions and are doing the exact same thing we are doing,” she said.