I just found out Math is racist.
Now I know why I made an ‘F’ on my Algebra mid-term back in high school. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was reacting to a yet unrecognized aversion to racism.
My algebra teacher, Mr. Havey, didn’t know math was racist either. In his ignorance he told my mother my “F” had to do with me not showing up for class. He said if I wanted to pass I would have to actually attend class and pay attention. He even mentioned some nonsense about homework.
My mother was also not a racially enlightened person when it came to math. She insisted I learn algebra. She took the negative re-enforcement route mathematically expressed as: ((d\m) + bk²) * i
where d = dad
m = me
bk = ‘butt kicked’ (can be replaced with ak)
i = infinity
Thus encouraged, despite my belief that all numerals are created equal, I was forced to immerse myself in a distasteful world where polynomials lorded themselves over the simpler expressions and prime numbers felt numerically superior to the more mundane digits. Don’t get me started on coefficients.
The deal Mr. Havey made with my mom was, whatever I got on my final exam would be my grade. I actually passed the final with a ‘B.’ I avoided algebra ever since. Apparently, it is a good thing I did.
I learned about mathematical racism from a news article I skimmed recently. According to the author, one reason math is racist is because we here in America use “Western Math.”
I wasn’t initially sure what “Western Math” meant. I’ve seen my share of Western movies but math never played much of a role in any of them. Sure, there was counting involved from time to time as in, “Well them Sassafras Hill boys done stole another 500 head of cattle,” but I never heard anything like, “Stick ’em up, McQuade, or I’ll fill your left side with two bullets and your right side with four bullets, which means your right side will have fifty percent more bullet holes than your left side.”
Turns out, by “Western” Math, they mean “American” Math. Apparently, bigotry has a lot to do with we Americans using math passed down from Western Civilizations like the Greeks instead of mingling it with mathematical approaches used by other cultures. Here is a quote from the article: “Western Math critics worry about… why we teach kids Western counting and not, for example, how the Aborigines count.”
I Googled the Australian Aboriginal system of counting. It is called “Body Tallying”, which means counting stuff on your fingers and other body parts.
A typical aborigine SAT question goes like this:
Question: If an east bound kangaroo traveling at ten fingers, an elbow and three toe knuckles leaves the station at seven p.m. and a west bound wallaby traveling at four fingers, a knee cap and two tugs of an ear lobe leaves the station at six p.m., at what point will they pass each other?
Answer: It doesn’t matter. They will both be eaten by a monitor lizard before they get a nostril, second upper bicuspid and seven chin hairs anywhere near each other.
Of course Body Tallying explains why so few Australian Aborigines are physicists. The calculations are so complex the typical aborigine would have to hire a surgeon to “open him up” in order to access body parts he could not normally get his hands on.
Example: “The last six digits of the black hole density equation is the square root of a left kidney and three rib bones.”
Body tallying isn’t even the weirdest form of math I read about. There is one group of folks that uses the octal method of counting. No kidding – they use the eight spaces between their fingers to count. I’d really like to see what a calculator passes for with them, wouldn’t you? I wonder if you press the gaps between the number buttons.
I, for one, am not a mathematical racist. I dislike all forms of math and avoid them equally.
Nice commentary. I, personally, used to use the Ex-Wife Math in all things. Where you know if you do X then the feces will contact the rotating atmospheric displacement device and another call to her lawyer is inevitable.
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I still have nightmares about being called to come to the board in algebra class.