¡Math Is Hard!

From Campus Reform:

Prof: Algebra, geometry perpetuate white privilege

The story is about one Rochelle Gutierrez, a professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois. We read:

“On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White,” Gutierrez argued.

Gutierrez also worries that algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege, fretting that “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

Wishing to understand the issue more clearly, we sent an interviewer to speak to Hypatia Shakur-Rodriguez, an associate professor of mathematics and critical intersectionality at a nearby community college.

Reporter : Thanks for your time, Professor. Let’s talk about mathematics. Now as we all know, mathematics is a method, a process. If you had to sum it up for the layman, though, what is the essence of that process? How would you describe the operation of mathematics?

Professor : Well, on many levels, mathematics operates as Whiteness.

R : Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I’d always thought of mathematics, first and foremost, as an abstract intellectual activity that deals with the relations and provable truths of the realm of quantities and sets and possible geometries.

P : Wow. Just listen to the terms you’re using here. “Intellectual activity”. “Provable truths.” “Quantities”. “Geometries”. This is precisely the sort of marginalizing language that we need to stop using, now.

R : OK, OK! Sorry…

P : As I’ve just told you, what we need to focus on when we study mathematics is Whiteness.

R : Right, then: Whiteness. That’s bad?

P : ¡Joder! What a question! Yes, Whiteness is bad. Very, very bad. Like, Worst. Thing. Ever. Did you even go to college?

R : Well, yes, but it was a while ago.

P : It must have been. We’ve come a long way since then.

R : I’m starting to get that impression, yes.

P : I certainly hope so.

R :

P : Anyway, let’s get back to math here. You know how there are great unsolved problems in mathematics?

R : Yes, of course! The Riemann hypothesis, the Hodge conjecture…

P : [claps hands over ears, breathing with difficulty]  STOP!!!

[slowly collecting herself]  Jesus… Trigger me like that one more time, and I call Security.

R : So sorry. Please continue.

P : The great unsolved problem in mathematics — which you would know, if you weren’t blinded by false consciousness, white privilege, and toxic masculinity — is that curricula emphasizing terms like “Pythagorean theorem” and “pi” perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.

R : Wow — Pi! The Pythagorean Theorem! To be honest, given what you’ve told me so far, I’m surprised that many of your undergraduate students would even be dealing with such advanced material these days. But still — forgive me, I don’t know quite how else to put this — mathematics actually WAS “largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans”, no?

At this the Professor’s back stiffens, her eyes narrowing. She leans back and presses a button under her desk. Moments later, a diverse and polygendered platoon of teaching assistants enter the office, surround our reporter, and scream at him until he leaves.

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  1. WTF?

    Is this from The Onion?

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 2:08 am | Permalink
  2. Jacques says

    Gutierrez stresses that all knowledge is “relational,” asserting that “Things cannot be known objectively; they must be known subjectively.”


    It’s always astounding how these people who very obviously haven’t given even a few moments of thought to what their own words might really mean, if taken seriously, are prepared to make the most extreme statements in tones of solemn certainty. I guess it’s true that things are known “subjectively”. After all, there has to be a subject who knows, and whose knowledge must therefore pass through his own subjective capacities and experience, etc. Duh. But knowledge _cannot_ be “objective”? There is no such thing as justified true belief regarding an objective world? Or no such thing as a justification that is objectively sound, or better than others? I assume she must mean something in that ballpark; but that’s insanity, and of course it would be self-defeating and futile for someone who believed anything like that to bother making claims about the nature of knowledge… (Its real objective nature as opposed to the way we white patriarchal bigots subjectively imagine it?) But it’s not worth trying to figure out what she might mean, since she obviously doesn’t care; there’s no there there.

    On the other hand, we do have to take it very seriously as a cultural phenomenon. It’s not “extreme” or “political correctness gone mad”, or anything else that we might naturally say. It’s a logical development of (sort of) coherent ideas laid down a long time ago by people who were not babbling idiots like this Gutierrez person. The idiotic babbling has an existential meaning for white people, even if it’s just semi-intelligible word salad from the point of view of a real thinker–an intelligent 12 year old, say. The existential meaning is clear: white people are bad; everything they created and discovered over the centuries will be taken from them and given to others; and anything left over will be destroyed by an indoctrinated mass of hateful savages and traitors. So unfortunately I just can’t laugh at this stuff anymore. It’s not just that it really is beyond parody–this really could and should be the Onion, but isn’t. It’s that every new iteration of this carefully controlled mass mental illness brings us closer to extinction. I worry we’re just inches away at this point.

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  3. I could never laugh at this stuff, not even if it came from The Onion. It’s over-the-top for The Onion. And simply maddening if not.

    I am inches away from wanting these idiots out of the gene pool (with extreme prejudice).

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  4. Whitewall says

    Henry, if history is any guide, these types of low intelligence/high appetite “intersectionalists” tend to eliminate themselves with a little prodding. It’s easier to manipulate and prod them to self destruction than to throw lead, if you know what I mean.

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    One small comfort is that their fecundity is, I expect, quite low. Breeding interferes with present enjoyment.

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  6. It’s their fuckundity that troubles me …

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says


    Nice to see you here again.

    Yes, this woman’s epistemology is like one of those novelty machines that switches itself off. Is her statement that all knowledge is relative supposed to be objectively true? If not, why should we pay any attention to such a pronouncement, as there will be no good reason to suppose that it’s “true” for anyone but her?

    As you say:

    But it’s not worth trying to figure out what she might mean, since she obviously doesn’t care; there’s no there there.

    It would be tempting to dismiss it all as just blather for blather’s sake, but as you also say, there is more to it than that. It is a sullen and resentful “dog-in-the-manger” attitude toward the towering achievements of the Western intellectual canon, the higher prominences of which are only accessible to those who can make the climb. But such ability is not evenly or equally distributed among the races and sexes, despite the West’s earnest efforts to make it so (or, failing that, to make it seem so) — and this awkward truth is becoming harder and harder to conceal, or to blame on external social factors.

    In light of all this, then, what Ms. Gutierrez is saying about the lofty Western intellectual canon is that if everyone can’t enjoy it, then nobody can. (Or, to return to the original metaphor: if everyone can’t climb the mountain, then the mountain must be eroded, broken, shaken and smashed until it becomes an easily ascended pile of rubble.)

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  8. “… an easily ascended pile of rubble.”

    Except that this pile is not so easily ascended because it’s not only smelly but also slippery.

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  9. This is why we can’t have nice things, basically.

    Posted October 25, 2017 at 10:43 pm | Permalink
  10. Jacques says

    It’s a strong argument for some kind of fascism or aristocracy. I would never have expected just how far this could go: let the inferior and incapable have just a bit of dignity and power, be decent and polite enough to stay silent about their defects, be nice and empathetic and euphemistic… and within just a few generations they’re openly calling for the abolition of all truth and value just because they can’t control it and own it and _be_ what is better. They might as well just say “Evil be thou my good”.

    Posted October 26, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink
  11. Whitewall says

    White privilege = being held responsible for the acts of your ancestors by folks who accept no responsibility for the acts of their own children.

    Posted October 27, 2017 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  12. Jacques says

    Whitewall: that is fantastic!

    Posted October 27, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  13. Christopher McCartney says

    Jacques: “let the inferior and incapable have just a bit of dignity and power, be decent and polite enough to stay silent about their defects, be nice and empathetic and euphemistic… and within just a few generations they’re openly calling for the abolition of all truth and value …”

    But this drivel isn’t emanating from the inferior classes. It’s coming from the intellectual elite (not those of true excellence, but somewhat smart folks in high positions within academia). Some low IQ minorities may glom onto it because it strokes their resentments, and gives their envy a veneer of righteousness, but in this, as in all things, the elite few are in the driver’s seat.

    Posted October 27, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  14. Jacques says

    Hi Christopher,
    I agree the elite few are in charge of the whole thing. But this particular kind of elite has been in place for a long time now, and it’s created a particular kind of under-class that has its own inner logic.

    I think we adopted certain ideas, a long time ago, that naturally generate this kind of resentment among the inferior. And the resentment can then be weaponized by new elites, which intensifies the resentment, which makes it a more powerful weapon..

    Anyway, it’s just true (I think) that the inferior chunks of the population are growing ever more openly resentful of any standards they can’t meet. Telling them they are ‘equal’ even though it’s obvious even to them that they still aren’t succeeding–can’t even support themselves–is naturally going to make them turn against civilization. And after they’ve rejected everything else, it’s inevitable that they’ll direct their resentment and paranoia at the most basic norms of western civ–even math! After all, if we’ve ‘equalized’ voting and education and employment and immigration and history and TV, but they’re _still_ not ‘equal’, the source of the problem must be far deeper than we thought.

    So, yes, the basic logic of the situation was invented by elites and continues only because they want it to continue. Still, we’re going to get ever more inferior people spouting this kind of drivel about an ever widening range of things… until someday the native elites change or, more likely, the whole thing is so rotted out that we get colonized and taken over by other people who don’t believe in ‘equality’…

    More precisely, the elites give power to the inferior in order to control the majority. Top and bottom against the middle; so the inferior do have a lot of power at this point, though mainly because sick and bad people on top give it to them…

    Posted October 27, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  15. Mike says

    Points to note:

    Dr. Gutierrez teaches math education in the College of Education at Illinois.
    She has no degrees in Mathematics; her B.A. is in Human Biology (Stanford), and her M.A. and Ph.D. are in Curriculum and Instruction (Chicago).
    Her approach to teaching prospective mathematics teachers is laced with large dollops of politically charged nonsense.
    Stanford and Chicago have a lot to answer for.

    Link to her page at Illinois

    Posted October 27, 2017 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

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