Mathematics Isn’t and Can’t Be “Racist” As Some Claim; “Woke” Advocates Are Endangering Their Own Credibility
WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 24, 2023) – “Woke” extremists teaching at major universities have begun attacking the square root of minus 1, circles not governed by π, and numbers which are irrational, leading some to think that they are themselves being irrational, as well as endangering their own credibility and the credibility of those fighting legitimate racism, argues mathematician John Banzhaf.
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Professors are increasingly claiming that subjects far removed from any consideration of race or ethnicity – including mathematics, which has been called the queen of sciences – are racist, sexist, homophobic and much more; but since such claims are impossible, they are destroying the credibility of those of us who are fighting real racism, says Professor Banzhaf.
Mathematics Is Racist
The latest example of this growing trend is Luis Leyva, an associate professor of mathematics education at Vanderbilt University, who just delivered a lecture claiming that college math is “white” and “cisheteropatriarchal” (“a system of male, straight, conforming-to-assigned sex system power”).
Unfortunately, his views were given considerable credence because he made them at what has been called the “largest mathematics gathering in the world”; Joint Mathematics Meetings 2023). He is far from the only one making such claims.
University of Illinois math professor Rochelle Gutierrez has criticized math classes as a “tool of whiteness.” An article in the Journal of Mathematics Education by CUNY Professor Laurie Rubel argued that concepts sometimes related to math, meritocracy and “color-blindness,” are ideological precepts that disadvantage minorities.
Professor Erik Loomis at the University of Rhode Island teaches that “science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist.” Durham University asks its math professors if they are citing work from “mostly white or male” mathematicians.
But, says Banzhaf – known for his work in Game Theory (a branch of mathematics) including the “Banzhaf Index” – mathematics has been called the queen of sciences, as well as a pure science – because so much of it is divorced from the real world that it is least likely of any field of study to be inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. – in contrast to fields such as History and Political Science which can and often do involve race and other controversial topics.
While it obviously has many practical applications, the math behind many of those real-world uses in highly theoretical; including, for example, the square root of -1, complex multi-dimensional spaces which can only be imagined, operations in which 2 + 2 can equal many results other than 4, etc.
Thus, while some teachers of math (like those teaching other subjects and fields) undoubtedly may individually engage in and/or teach race discrimination, the subject itself can hardly be racist or cisheteropatriarchal, and trying to pressure math professors to “decolonize” the subject by deliberately interjecting “woke” concepts can undermine the very legitimacy of the war against real racism.
Black mathematicians differentiate trigonometric functions, multiply matrices, perform LaPlace transforms, and solve quadratic as well as differential equations the same way their White counterparts do, says Banzhaf.
While Black and White professors of mathematics may tend to have different views regarding topics such as affirmative action, police use of force, and popular music, they obviously do not tend to disagree about the use of the square root of -1 (i) to solve problems, that triangles on a spherical surface may have angles adding up to more than 180 degrees, or that the tangent of 45 degrees is 1.
Ironically, concerned mathematicians and their mathematics has been important in fighting real racism, says Banzhaf, noting its application in many cases to demonstrate illegal discrimination based upon race in diverse areas such a hiring and promotion, the application of the death penalty, traffic stops, discipline in schools, etc.
Indeed, Banzhaf notes how he and his students used statistical analysis to successfully pressure a major airline to hire more pilots and pilot trainees who are Black. He has also brought other legal actions which successfully challenged discrimination based upon race, gender, etc., and successfully used mathematics in various public health actions.
Claiming that everything, even a pure theoretical discipline such as mathematics, is racist or sexist or homophobic robs those important words and concepts of any real meaning, and undercuts efforts to use mathematical tools such as statistics and mathematical models to fight legitimate discrimination, argues the professor.