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University of Florida professor discusses Black American history at Eastern

Published on March 22, 2021

University of Florida professor discusses Black American history at Eastern

David Canton

Eastern Connecticut State University welcomed David Canton, director for the African American Studies program and associate professor of history at the University of Florida, on March 17 to hear his presentation on racial stereotypes.

Titled “The Study of History and Sociology Makes Difficult Conversations Less Difficult,” the presentation discussed the history and sociology of racial stereotypes and the disadvantages faced by Black Americans.

Canton began his presentation by stating, “We’re still having difficult conversations, but they’re less difficult because we have an understanding of history and sociology. But what also makes these conversations difficult is that they require a degree of self-reflection… ‘how am I contributing to inequality?’ ‘How am I being complicit to a system?’”

Before demonstrating the link between sociology and history and racial inequality, Canton explained his own sense of what history is. He said that history is not just knowing facts and trivia but is appreciating “change over time and the interpretation of facts — that’s history and context.”

To illustrate his definition, Canton displayed a picture of the “glass half full” metaphor and asked the audience which is wrong and which is right, stating “your interpretation is based on your personal view of the world.”

Canton then noted the difference between “equity” and “equality.” He described equality as situations where everyone receives the same resources, while equity means each person receives the resources they need to succeed. For instance, first-generation college students, many of them students of color, may need services and supports that other students do not need.

Canton continued his presentation by diving deeper into racism. “We like to think racism is the Klan, the insurrectionists, Charleston, the tiki torch guys, that’s simple. How does this thing evolve? The first slave law was in 1641, so you have almost 200 years of people observing a system of race-based slavery,” said Canton, naming historical books that observed and studied the oppression of Black people.”

To highlight obstacles faced by Black Americans, Canton dissected institutional racism in housing, unemployment and healthcare. He described “redlining,” a discriminatory practice that restricted access to services based on race and where people lived. This practice often manifested in the real estate market, in which people of color were denied mortgages or home renovation loans.            

Describing Black unemployment, Canton listed the obstacles that Black people have faced since childhood that have led to them having one of the lowest employment rates. “If you look at the data, education closes the gap between Blacks and Whites. This is all racial stress, folks. Even when you graduate, you’re still twice as likely to be unemployed as a White person with a degree.”

According to the CDC, Black women have the highest maternal mortality. “Why? Because racism is a public health issue,” declared Canton. “In our healthcare system, we spend the most money but it is one of the worst in the industrialized world. When you add race on top of it, it’s like a Molotov cocktail.”

“What I’m encouraging folks to do is take history more seriously. Let’s get to a point where we understand social structure, society, groups, institutions.”

Canton is the author of “Raymond Pace Alexander: A New Negro Lawyer Fights for Civil Rights in Philadelphia,” which won the 2011 W.E.B. DuBois book award from the Northeast Black Studies Association. He joined the University of Florida’s Department of History after teaching history at Connecticut College from 2003-20.

The presentation was made possible by the Sociology, History and Education Departments, the Unity Wing and the Faculty Development Committee.

Written by Bobbi Brown