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Learning about slavery isn’t easy. Even when teachers, book authors or the media get the story right, revisiting this dark chapter in America’s history can be a painful experience for a Black child. I know because I recall how upset I felt the first time I saw “Roots,” a 1977 TV miniseries based on the work of Alex Haley, when it re-aired several years later around the time I was 10. The parts that affected me the most were the various scenes that implied the rape of Black women and girls at the hands of white slave owners and overseers. That’s a lot for anyone to process but especially for a Black child growing up and trying to make sense of race and racism in the nation where it all occurred.

Perhaps the only thing worse than learning about what took place during slavery in the U.S. is to be given an inaccurate or distorted view of what actually occurred. Rodney Coates, a professor of critical race and ethnic studies at Miami University, tackles that issue in a piece in which he explains why a new Florida curricular requirement about slavery is so misleading. The requirement calls for teachers to discuss how enslaved Africans were able to “benefit” from skills acquired during slavery. Coates expounds on how that obfuscates the reality that many enslaved Africans possessed sought-after skills and invaluable knowledge that they had acquired well before their captivity.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Education Editor

Enslaved Africans built landmarks like the White House, the U.S. Capitol and New York’s Wall Street. Bettmann via Getty Images

Florida’s academic standards distort the contributions that enslaved Africans made to American society

Rodney Coates, Miami University

While a Florida curriculum implies that enslaved Africans ‘benefited’ from skills acquired through slavery, history shows they brought knowledge and skills to the US that predate their captivity.

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