I get why you asked this question, and I get why you framed it the way you have. But I want to take this moment to break down what you’re really asking, here. Let’s take your question on a world tour.
Education in the U.S. (and some other places, too), is incredibly Eurocentric, and most people don’t even know the histories of places other than Europe pre-1500s, and America post-1500s.
This leads to the following assumptions that 1. all history occurred in Europe; 2. Europe was always dominant as a “continent” over all other continents; 3. That people we consider white are a world majority.
Here’s a breakdown of the would population by continent. We know that they are far from racially homogenous, but a re-framing is definitely in order.
Just about 75% of the world’s population lives in Africa and Asia. Notice that’s 60.3% in Asia alone.
As for relative SIZE of continents, a lot of people have really confused ideas about relative sized of continents in relation to each other. A graphic designed by Kai Krause went viral in some parts of the internet a while back, but in case you missed it, here it is:
Here’s the whole thing, which has the original data input the graphic was made from, as well as this image of Europe superimposed on Africa, true to proportion:
The Peters World Map, introduced in the 70s, generated a lot of controversy because it shows the continents in true area and proportion. It can look oddly “squished” to many people used to a different map:
Okay, we’ve discussed the size and proportion of land masses that humans occupy, and relative populousness of those land masses. But what about race? Well, in a lot of ways, the way we construct race is by skin color; dark or light. Here’s a (admittedly super generalizing) map of the world’s human population by approximate skin color. But it helps some people to see it [via Encyclopedia Brittanica]:
Now, the “lightest skin” areas don’t necessarily reflect “white people” as we would think of it. Many East Asians and Indigenous people in the north (Inuit, Saami), have light skin.
There is no way to make an accurate estimate of what percentage of the world’s population now are what race because many, many nations do not take a census that records race. Trying to determine racial demographics from past eras, especially in Medieval or Ancient times when concepts like “white people” did. not. exist. is basically impossible, for all intents and purposes. Some people say that a third of the entire world’s population lived in Europe during say, the Middle Ages…as we can see that doesn’t necessarily mean “white people”. Moreover, what are we basing that on? Do they take Chinese documents into account? What about the documents from the library of Timbuktu, which as far as I know are still being explored, cataloged, and translated?
Let’s revisit the question. "Are there poc from history that weren’t slaves or serv[a]nts?"
Now, let’s flip the question: For the entirety of human history, was the majority of the world’s population subject to a minority of the world’s population?
The answer is, of course, no. The expectation that there would be a finite list of exceptions to enslavement and servitude on the part of ALL people of color for the ENTIRETY of human history is based on our current views of the world, based on what we have been taught, and HOW we have been taught it.
These expectations are shaped by the media we consume and create.
These expectations are created by an education curricula for history that begins in Europe, a Europe that is supposedly isolated geographically and culturally, despite the fact that it isn’t even separated by water from Asia.
American history begins with “first contact” or “discovery”, with almost no mention of the political or social history of the continent before being “discovered”. The terminology used in most books and documentaries is definitively Eurocentric: “We” discovered “The Other”. We divide time and space into “The Old World” and “The New World.” WHO, exactly, was this “world” NEW to?
What I would *love* to see is an analysis of how many classes that use books that DO cover non-European history, SKIP those histories because “there’s no time”. I am in a rather unique position to witness this, and have come to believe that this is a very common practice in American/U.S. classrooms. Because learning the same five things about the Revolutionary War and World War 2 for six years in a row takes precedence over learning even the most basic facts about anything regarding World History. WHY do we learn the same things over and over? WHY do we know what we know? WHO wrote it down and said this is not just truth, but The Truth?
I’m not asking these questions because I know the answers…I don’t, really. I’m asking them because I want this questioning habit to spread as far as it can. This blog covers only the teeniest, tiniest portion of human history! The focus is incredibly narrow, because I am only one person. But look how much can be amassed in terms of knowledge, in terms of forming new questions, just by ONE person! A whole generation of people are becoming adults right now, and they should be full of questions. Who is going to write the history for the generation after this one? Can you do better?
Can we do better?
I believe with all my heart that we can.
Well, speaking to my experiences as a teacher, we do it because our kids can’t even manage to remember those six basic facts and because we get fired if they can’t pass the tests the state hands down to us from above.
I wish teachers would stop getting blamed for this shit. I know the difference and I try my best to insert some reality into the classroom… but it’s a constant balancing act because we *have* to teach to the test. Which asks questions where the desired answer is, as far as I’m concerned is flat out wrong… but are multiple choice.
So do we run the risk of losing our job in order to teach kids a truth that they probably won’t remember anyway?
It’s a tough call — even for people who know better and wish we could educate kids in a wholistic manner.
At least in my district, though, we’re forced to adhere pretty closely to a curriculum, to administer a county-mandated test, and to use county-generated handouts.
So please stop blaming the teachers :( We do try, it’s just a lot to fight against.