|Like Melvin, the book “White Rage” by Carol Anderson is on my mind.
The book details the extent and depths and insidiousness of white rage, from “Reconstruction”, all the way through to voter suppression. Some sections will make you want to throw up (either from intense violence described, or from a “how can this even be real?” feeling).
Some brief notes about 1957, “Sputnik”, and Brown vs. Board of Education. Many of us are often scolded for tweeting about things other than mathematics, as if we have no humanity, no interests, outside of our jobs as eduators. Many who come from more conservative perspectives, both about the world and about mathematics, suggest that it can and must be “neutral”.
Some things are about mathematics are neutral, like the square root of any number, or counting to 100. Sure, fine. But the systems that mathematics are embedded in have their own axioms and their own beliefs that become encoded in what mathematics is taught, and how.
The book goes briefly into Sputnik, and the moral panic it inspired about mathematics. A clarion call for “back to basics” was issued, and the fault laid by some at the foot of “progressive education” (plus ca change…)
But at the same time, many states were fighting to keep segregated schools, outright defying Brown vs, Board of Education, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, ostensibly in the name of “state’s rights”. (What is it with America and “state’s rights”? Isn’t it possible that the conception of federalism your country uses just doesn’t work? Maybe the wrong compromises were struck, way back when?)
There was a school district in Virginia that closed all schools for 5 years, rather than let black students in. This is called “cutting off your nose to spite your face”, and yes, the powers that be were willing to close the schools even to the poor whites who might have needed them, rather than let blacks in (the rich, presumably, had their own schools).
So forget Sputnik, forget “back to basics”, and forget about mathematics as “neutral”: many students weren’t even allowed in to learn the basics.
That doesn’t even get us to gerrymandering, a whole other cruel and unjust use of mathematics. And that doesn’t even get us to human prejudices, encoded in algorithms (I am reading Hannah Fry’s “Hello World” now, and algorithmic prejudice is a new frontier of prejudice, don’t you think?)
Are we feeling “neutral”, yet? Not after reading this book, I am not.
I would add to Melvin’s list above of books for the #ClearTheAir shelf, Ijeome Oluo’s So You Want To Talk About Race.
Written by Matthew Oldridge (@MatthewOldridge)