The conservative educational content producer Prager University—or PragerU—is facing criticism and backlash online for its portrayal of Christopher Columbus and Black abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass in an animated educational video.
The video depicts Columbus—who committed many atrocities against Indigenous people—as sympathetic to the institution of slavery.
"Slavery is as old as time and has taken place in every corner of the world, even among people I've just met. Being taken as a slave is better than being killed, no?"
"Before you judge, you must ask yourself: 'What did the culture and society of the time treat as no big deal?'"
You can see it below.
There has been a major shift in public awareness of the truth about Columbus' acts as scholars have given greater attention to the harms committed under his leadership, particularly the genocide, rape, sex trafficking of children, torture, murder and enslavement of Hispaniola's Indigenous Tainos as well as other Indigenous people of the Caribbean, Central and South America.
But that's not the only video out of PragerU that's angered education advocates.
Another video, which depicts Black abolitionist and educator Frederick Douglass discussing the Founding Fathers and slavery, has been labeled as "sickening" by social media users who argue that it appears to use Douglass's likeness to justify the Founding Fathers' compromise on slavery and to subtly criticize modern-day civil rights activists.
PragerU, a non-profit organization that provides educational content to both public and private schools, has previously been embroiled in controversies over host comments on sensitive topics such as the "N-word" and the Holocaust. Despite this, the organization was recently approved as an official vendor by the Florida Department of Education.
In the animated video, Douglass is depicted engaging in a conversation with two contemporary children. He addresses the Founding Fathers' stance on slavery, stating that while they recognized slavery as evil, they prioritized uniting the 13 colonies into one country, with some Southern colonies relying on slave labor for their economy.
Douglass goes on to express his disagreement with slavery while acknowledging the compromise made by the Founding Fathers.
You can see the controversial cartoon below.
The cartoon Douglass justifies slavery in the following way:
"Our Founding Fathers knew that slavery was evil and wrong, and they knew that it would do terrible harm to the nation."
"Their priority was getting all 13 colonies to unite as one country. The Southern colonies were dependent on slave labor, and they wouldn't have joined the union if they had banned it." ...
"Our system is wonderful, and the Constitution is a glorious liberty document. We just need to convince enough Americans to be true to it." ...
"I'm certainly not OK with slavery, but the Founding Fathers made a compromise to achieve something great, the making of the United States. It was America that began the conversation to end it."
Slavery was in fact a brutal legal institution, comprising the enslavement of Blacks who were kidnapped from their homes and families and forced to reside in a foreign land where they served as the economic backbone of the American South.
The treatment of slaves in the United States varied widely depending on conditions, time, and place, but in general it was brutal, especially on plantations. Whippings and rape were routine. The asymmetrical power dynamics between enslaved Blacks and White slaveowners gave Whites both the de facto and de jure freedoms to bend their property to their will.
Critics of the video argue that it presents a revisionist and misleading view of history, downplaying the profound impact of slavery and omitting key complexities surrounding the Founding Fathers' attitudes and actions toward slavery. Many have accused PragerU of distorting historical facts and using Douglass's image to advance a specific narrative.
Condemnation was swift.
Last month, the Florida Board of Education was criticized after it approved a set of academic standards for African American social studies classes in K-12 schools, sparking heated controversy. The move comes amid an ongoing crusade against public education by GOP Governor Ron DeSantis and other Florida Republicans.
The approved standards have drawn criticism for their wording, particularly in relation to the history of slavery. One specific passage in the standards guide states that "slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."
The standards also mention "violence perpetrated against and by African Americans," but fall short of requiring students to fully grasp the complexities of their contributions, challenges, and overall stories. This omission has raised concerns about the depth of the curriculum and the potential perpetuation of incomplete narratives.
DeSantis, who has declared his candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has been at the forefront of these educational policy changes.
Many have over the last couple of years in particular accused DeSantis of pursuing a political agenda that undermines the integrity of education and fails to provide students with a well-rounded and accurate portrayal of American history.