Many people have noticed the connection between math and race, but few have been able to articulate what it means. Perhaps this is because many mathematicians don’t recognize the importance of race in math. Or perhaps it’s because so many mathematicians aren’t able to see how racism affects them as individuals and as a profession.
The connections run deep. Both math and racism are structural oppressions that target specific groups of people based on their biological traits, cultural backgrounds, and personal experiences. So how can we incorporate Critical Race Theory into math? Here are some examples:
Math and Racism are Connected by Structural Oppression
The mathematical structure of math is based on the idea of abstract generalities. This means that concepts like equality are innate and unchanging, as opposed to understanding them as socially constructed. The basic assumption that all humans are equal creates an environment where many people who identify with minority groups can feel unsafe. For example, in elementary school, when teachers tell students that they have to learn how to “properly” use fractions and decimals, many students may feel criticized or rejected by their peers because they don’t have the same “normal” way of thinking as others.
Another example is the way in which math has been used historically to measure intelligence and other human attributes. Historically, science has relied on a white male definition of what it means to be intelligent. This definition has excluded women and people who aren’t white men from being considered intelligent or having access to resources because it’s not seen as normal for women and minorities to be at the intellectual forefronts of society.
These examples demonstrate how racism operates through the institutions of mathematics itself in order for specific groups of people to feel unsafe in an educational environment or excluded from society altogether.
Race Matters in Math
Critical Race Theory helps to explain why there are so few African American mathematicians. It also explains why Black students have a higher chance of being in remedial math classes and why these classes are harder than the regular classes.
It teaches us that almost all math is taught from a Eurocentric perspective and that this prevents students from understanding the importance of numbers in their daily lives. The marginalization of students who don’t fit into an academic mold is another outcome of Critical Race Theory, as many people feel uncomfortable teaching math knowing that they aren’t able to teach it in a way that will help their students to be successful.
The Problem with Equations
Some people argue that equations are objective, impersonal, and merit-based. However, the inequalities in equations can be harmful to minorities. The fact that many elite institutions require higher-level math classes means that the lack of women or minorities in these classrooms can have a significant impact on their advancement.
Think about it: what’s stopping students from pursuing upper-level math classes if they are qualified? It’s not entirely the fault of individual students; scholarship opportunities may not be available to them because of a lack of female or minority students taking advanced math classes.
More Examples of Critical Race Theory in Math
1) When comparing students of different races, consider the ways that race influences learning.
2) Be aware of implicit bias in math classrooms and how it impacts students.
3) Consider how race impacts learning styles across different cultural groups.
4) Ask questions about cultural differences in mathematical content and learning styles.
5) In your research, be aware of how specific groups are represented and make sure to include different perspectives.
Critical race theory is often criticized for focusing on race and ignoring other aspects of oppression. But, it is clear that racism is an issue in math and often manifests in mathematical inequalities. Critical race theory is an important part of mathematics that should not be ignored.