This was an overwhelming week in the news. The Oregon shooting reminds us that gun violence is increasingly commonplace. Racism and discrimination, again breaches and rears its ugly head. In Ohio, a little Black boy and a little White girl play the staring game. She expresses fear. He is suspended. Well, Emmitt Till was killed for something akin to that, for “whistling” at a White woman. I suppose I should thank God that this little boy did not become “Strange Fruit.” In Tennessee, misogyny gets an early childhood start. An eleven year old boy “allegedly” shoots an eight year old girl because she would not show him her puppy. Immigration here and abroad is complicated by geo-political events. Add to this, a millennial movement predicted the world would end on Wednesday. Today, we find ourselves in the land of the living. As my ancestors would say, “Just another day that the Lord has kept me.” God has kept us. Kept us, to live into our vocations. But I have to admit, it can be a struggle.
This week a young man in Pearland, Texas read his geography textbook published by McGraw-Hill. He found an egregious misrepresentation of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was under the section of immigration and described slaves as “workers” which soft-pedalled slavery. He told his mother, Roni Dean-Burren who took McGraw-Hill to task. As a result, they are working on revisions. The change will appear in the digital edition. Schools can request stickers to cover up the section in question or a corrected copy of the book. This smacks of “sorry, not sorry.”
This is no mere mistake, “my bad” or “oopsie.” This is an epic fail for a variety of reasons. It is revisionist history at its core. It denies the well-documented corpus of academic scholarship on the subject of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. African slaves are portrayed as “workers” as if slavery, that is owning another human, implies volition. For the record, it does not. It feeds into the myth that slaves were content and happy. Why else do they sing and dance so well? Insert sarcasm here. So far, 150, 000 of these books are in Texas schools. A little misinformation in wide distribution has the power to change the narrative for years to come. It would seem that McGraw-Hill would have acted more responsibly. Regardless, a mother felt a sense of duty to raise her lone voice. Since that time, others have added their voices to her outcry.
In the history of our country, educational and religious institutions have often colluded to erase, revise and reinterpret the cruelty of slavery and colonialism. Over the years and as late as last week, I have heard iterations of the “Hamitic curse.” Noah swore this curse on his son Ham which pronounced servitude upon him and his descendants. People of African descent were deemed “sons of Ham.” With the support of the church, enslaving them became morally justifiable because the “Bible said so.” I am baffled when I hear it because most of my colleagues do not realize they are inheritors of so great a fallacy. The Hamitic curse has long been proven wrong. “We’s free” but hundreds of years later, African Americans are still dealing with its impact on so many levels.
The pastoral is political, indeed. Preachers, our words matter. They create perceptions and drive realities that will impact generations yet born. Roni Dean-Burren was aware of this when she confronted McGraw-Hill in “David and Goliath” fashion. We must be as mindful of the impact of our words and the authority that we walk in as ministers of Christ’s church. Then ask God for the humility to listen to those who would hold us accountable, and the courage to take the necessary steps to restore the breach when our words create them.
Angela Shannon is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and serves as the associate pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church in Dallas, Texas. Angela is a “turn around” pastor. She enjoys helping congregations live fully into Christ-community as they move through conflict towards the ministry of reconciliation which is the call of every Christian. A Benedictine oblate, she enjoys gardening, reading and zentangle. She is cat mom to a very spoiled orange tabby cat, Hiram.