Prof. Leonard N. Moore on Teaching Black History to White PeopleHistorians in the News
tags: racism, African American history, Texas, teaching history, antiracism, Whiteness
Leonard N. Moore thinks every white person in America should be required to take a Black history class. That’s how Moore, a professor of Black history at the University of Texas, opens his new book, Teaching Black History to White People. In this timely book from the University of Texas Press, Moore guides readers—many of whom Moore, who is Black, presumes will be white—through Black history and his own personal experience in academia. Moore is a popular professor at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches a course called “Race in the Age of Trump.” He has also addressed racial tensions campuswide in his role as the university’s Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement.
Moore offers six specific steps that white Americans (and other non-Black people) can take to improve America’s racial climate. Excerpted below are steps 4-6.
CHECK THE MICROAGGRESSIONS
Microaggressions are similar to stereotypes; they are more subtle but equally painful. Recently, a colleague and I were in a meeting and the person we were waiting for walked in, looked at me, and said, “How you doing, Dr. Gordon?” I’ve been called Dr. Gordon, Dr. Harrison, and Dr. Smith. What do we all have in common? We are all Black men who are professors at the University of Texas at Austin. We look nothing alike. Do you know what it’s like to show up to an event and they give you the name badge of another Black person? Black people do not complain, because it doesn’t do any good, but we just need to share some of these stories.
A lot of people who claim to be liberal are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to microaggressions and micro-invalidations. Don’t assume that all the Black women on campus are there to run track or that the Black men are there to play football or basketball. I had a student who was five-foot-five and he was still stereotyped as a football player. Now, some of you may think, “Well, that’s not a bad stereotype,” but to the student it is. Because what is being suggested is that the only reason they are on campus is because of their athletic ability.
When I tell white people that I work at the University of Texas at Austin, many of them instinctively think that I work in athletics. After flying in to San Francisco a couple of years ago, my son and I went to the rental car counter. The Avis guy pulled up my information, saw that I worked at the University of Texas at Austin, and said, “Oh, what are you doing out here? Recruiting athletes?”
I said, “No.”
“What do you do at UT?”
I said, “Why don’t you guess?”
“Well, I don’t know. I thought you were out here recruiting.”
On several occasions I have arrived at events where I’m the keynote speaker, and typically I’ll introduce myself to the organizer just to let them know that I’m there. I’ll typically say, “I’m Leonard Moore from the University of Texas.” They introduce themselves, and on more than one occasion they will say, “Good to meet you. What time is Dr. Moore coming?” I will say, “I don’t know. Hopefully he will be here soon.” These are real experiences. If I deal with these things as a Black man, what do my Black female counterparts often deal with? At times, microaggressions can become outright hostile for Black women. A Black female colleague was confronted by a white male colleague who stood in her office doorway shortly after she was hired and said, “I don’t understand why they’re paying you that much money!”
The constant stereotyping and microaggressions confirm what many Black people were told by their parents and grandparents: “You gotta work twice as hard to go half as far.” To get ahead in the workplace, we embrace John Henry–ism. “I’m going to just work harder, and harder, and harder, then I’ll get the promotion.” I was in full-blown John Henry–ism during my years at LSU. A lot of Black professionals take on extra assignments and duties without receiving adequate compensation. We do that because we feel that we have to prove ourselves. But in doing that we work ourselves to death, and we still don’t get promoted to the level of our abilities.
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