"I Don't Need White Folks to Feel Guilty": Leonard Moore on Teaching Black HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, teaching history
When Leonard Moore first started teaching Black history at Louisiana State University, his classes were filled primarily with Black students. But that soon began to change.
“What I really found was that, you know, white people, they really, really want to know about the Black experience,” Moore said.
He says he makes Black history accessible by being clear that he isn’t try to change the way someone votes or feels about certain issues but he wants them to respect and understand other peoples’ perspectives.
“I don’t need white folks to feel guilty, you know what I mean?” Moore said. “I just want them to understand the history because, to be honest with you, you can’t really understand the history of America or understand the history of this state until you understand the history of Black people.”
Moore’s new book “Teaching Black History to White People” opens his classroom teaching to the world. Listen to the Texas Standard interview with Moore above or read the transcript below.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: Tell me a little bit about the thinking behind the title because, obviously, it draws you in.
Leonard Moore: When I started teaching Black history, my goal was to go to university, and I thought I’d be teaching primarily Black students. But I would say by my third or fourth year at LSU – 2002, 2003 – I noticed that my classes were about 50-50, half white and a half Black. And when I got to Texas, I teach a thousand students in the fall semester, it just ballooned when I got here to UT. And what I really found was that, white people, they really, really want to know about the Black experience. I think a lot of white Americans understand that they have been taught to look at Black people through the lens of a stereotype. And I think, you know, they really want to know the historical experiences of Black folks in the U.S., and I’m glad that I’m able to provide it for them.
From your perspective as a teacher in the classroom, did you perceive that things changed with the police killing of George Floyd?
When the George Floyd piece happened and, at the time, I was in the role of vice president for diversity at UT. I knew the university needed some kind of broader response, more than just a statement. And I did like this little Black history workshop trying to explain Black frustration. And we had over 4,000 UT faculty and staff on that Zoom – overwhelming majority white people and I decided, hey, let’s just try to teach an abbreviated version of my class. So I taught a five-week Black history class. We had about 1,500 to 2,000 people on every week, and so I knew there was an interest in Black history, particularly among all adults and older white folk who didn’t have the opportunity to take a Black history class when they were in college.
What do you feel is missing from the popular narrative about the history of Black people in the United States?
I’m just convinced that… that world has never been opened up to them. And the first thing I tell people… whether it’s adults or students, and when I say this one statement, the guards come down. I tell them, “I don’t care who you vote for.” And I think so much of the controversy around teaching race or teaching history is that people feel like you’re trying to get people to change their political affiliation. I listened to Rush Limbaugh almost every day for 20 years and me and Rush didn’t agree on anything except Jesus. What I tell them is that you have got to understand other peoples’ perspectives. And I don’t care if you agree with it or not. But you got to respect it and you’ve got to understand it.
The final chapter in the book is called “Teaching White Liberals”. And you raise this political dimension here. Why do you think that group needs a specific chapter here?
Because I think white liberals have a whole bunch of blind spots. They aren’t as liberal on race as they claim to be. They’re liberal around sexuality, the environment, trees, plastic bags in Austin and stuff like that. But they have a lot of blind spots. But here’s my number one biggest issue with white liberals: they assume that they know what’s best for Black people, and that’s why I titled that chapter specifically for them.
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