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  • pg 1

                 Danny Bernard Martin
             University of Illinois at Chicago

     Come round by my side and I'll sing you a song.
         I'll sing it so softly, it'll do no one wrong.
    On Birmingham Sunday the blood ran like wine,
         And the choirs kept singing of Freedom.
     That cold autumn morning no eyes saw the sun,
      And Addie Mae Collins, her number was one.
    At an old Baptist church there was no need to run.
         And the choirs kept singing of Freedom,
  The clouds they were grey and the autumn winds blew,
     And Denise McNair brought the number to two.
      The falcon of death was a creature they knew,
         And the choirs kept singing of Freedom,
    The church it was crowded, but no one could see
      That Cynthia Wesley's dark number was three.
  Her prayers and her feelings would shame you and me.
         And the choirs kept singing of Freedom.
         Young Carol Robertson entered the door
     And the number her killers had given was four.
     She asked for a blessing but asked for no more,
        And the choirs kept singing of Freedom...1

  The theme of this year’s conference is Embracing Diverse

Perspectives. This theme clearly represents an invitation for scholars in

the field to consider and appreciate a wide range of theoretical and

methodological perspectives on mathematics learning and participation,

including those perspectives that diverge from what might be called

conventional or mainstream thinking.

  In my view, the conference theme also provides an opportunity to

raise questions about how mathematics education research and policy

have embraced and served the diversity of students who show up in

mathematics classrooms, especially those students who must learn

mathematics while simultaneously trying to negotiate the most difficult

and oppressive life circumstances. These are often the same students

who have been systematically and deliberately underserved in so many

other societal and institutional contexts.

  In this address, I take advantage of the conference theme to do two

things that rarely occur in mainstream mathematics education contexts.

First, I put Black children and their experiences at the center of the

discussion. I share my perspective on how I believe mathematics

education has and has not served these students. In many ways, Black

children serve as canaries in the coal mine. If we have not, and cannot,

do right by these children, it is extremely difficult for me to believe that

we can accomplish the goals inherent in the conference theme.

  My focus on Black children is not an exclusionary move; taking a

pro-Black-child stance should not be interpreted as a stance against any

other group of children given my sincere interest in insuring that all

children experience mathematics learning and teaching in relevant and

meaningful ways. However, I do believe that, in the context of

discussing diversity, we should never lose sight of particularity. So,

while it is important to discuss the needs of Black children as children, it

is equally important to prioritize their needs as Black children.

  Similarly, when discussing particularity, we should never lose sight

of diversity. Regarding this last point, we should not lose sight of the

fact that there is great diversity among Black children in the United

States. There is no singular, essential characterization. They come from

varied socioeconomic and family backgrounds and respond to schooling

and education in multiple ways. Yet, there is a collective history and

collective condition of Blacks in the United States that is clearly

distinguished from other social groups. It is this history and collective

condidtion that gives partial meaning to what it has meant, and what it

currently means, to be Black in America.

  My focus on Black children in the United States does not deny that

they are forever linked to other Blacks in the African diaspora,

including Afro-Latins in the central and southern Americas, Afro-

Carribeans in the West Indies, the Sidis in India, the Aboriginals in

Australia, Afro-Arabs in the Middle East, and so on. These diasporic

relations remind us that Black children in the United States are also

children of the world.

  It is unfortunate that some policy makers and education researchers

often lose sight of this fact by confining black children’s existence to

poverty-ridden communities, broken families, and low-quality schools

and easily dismissing the historical and structural forces that create and

maintain those conditions.

   Moreover, there is a disturbing trend in society, the media, and public

policy that attempts to strip Black children of their childlike qualities

altogether by using such labels as thugs, urban terrorists, predators,

threats to society, and endangered species. Ignoring structural

considerations, we are asked to believe that genetic, cultural, and

intellectual inferiority account for these conditions.

   While it is true that disproportionate numbers of Black children in the

U.S. and around the world continue to experience life conditions that not

only limit their opportunities to learn but that also threaten their very

lives, this is not the end of the story. It is equally true that, wherever they

live and learn and no matter what their circumstances, Black children are

also among the most resilient. We need more studies of this resilience in

mathematics education.

   Black children in the U.S. are also growing up in a time when

geopolitical boundaries are being blurred by technology and

globalization. Social media such as YouTube and MySpace are not only

responsible for exporting and importing culture, ideology, protest, and

revolution but also for exposing the human condition and helping Black

children to contextualize their lives vis-à-vis the conditions in which

other children live and learn. Black children can see that the struggle for

a more humane existence is not confined to the boundaries of their own

neighborhoods or cities.

  Within this global perspective, the implication for Black children’s

mathematical education is clear:

  … meaningful mathematics education for African-American
  children should not only help them function in their local contexts
  in U.S. society but should also help them function as citizens of the
  globe, to function across boundaries of difference, and to recognize
  similarities in human conditions among people who wage the
  struggle against oppression” (Martin & McGee, 2009, p. 216).

  This view on the aims and goals of mathematics education stands in

sharp contrast to policy discussions that frame mathematics participation

for Black children in terms of workforce participation and the

preservation of U.S. international competitiveness. While these may be

worthy goals, they still reflect crude commodifications and self-serving

concerns for Black learners, concerns that are typically couched in the

easy-to-swallow language of equity and diversity.

  My own view is that even if larger numbers of Black Americans were

to find themselves in the mathematics and engineering pipelines, they

would only be absorbed into the workforce up to the point of not

threatening the status and well-being of white workers. Examination of

the public debate reveals the angst, resistance, and cries of racial

preference that are often associated with the introduction of just one

qualified African American into a given context, even when that context

has been historically all-white.

  The second that thing that I do in this paper—in addition to centering

the discussion on Black children—is to argue for racism and

racialization as central concerns in mathematics learning and

participation and as lenses through which to critique mathematics

education research and policy. I do so knowing that discussions of race2

and racism are likely to produce knee-jerk, negative reactions from those

who have adopted a color-blind ideology and who believe that we now

live in a post-racial society in which race and racism are no longer

relevant, despite great evidence to the contrary. I do so also knowing

that many discussions of race and racism are unproductive because they

tend to result in overly simple framings of thee issues.

  In this discussion, I acknowledge the complexities of race and move

well beyond the causal-factor approach utilized in mainstream research.

As noted by Macedo and Gounari (2006), “Racism includes a set of

ideologies, discourses, discursive practices, institutions, and

vocabularies” (p. 4). This view is reiterated by Essed (2002) who stated:

  “Race” is an ideological construction, and not just a social
  construction, because the idea of “race” has never existed outside a
  framework of group interest. As part of a nineteenth
  pseudoscientific theory, as well as in contemporary “popular”
  thinking, the notion of “race” is inherently part of a “model” of
  asymmetrically organized “races” in which Whites rank higher
  than “non-Whites.” Furthermore, racism is a structure because
  racial and ethnic dominance exists in and is reproduced by the
  system through the formulation and applications of rules, laws, and
  regulations and through access to and the allocation of resources.
  Finally, racism is a process because structures and ideologies do

  not exist outside the everyday practices through which they are
  created and confirmed. (p. 185)

  These characterizations are important because they overcome the

tendency to reduce racism to individual psychology. Instead, these

characterizations acknowledge that racism operates at many levels—

everyday, institutional, and structural—and involves all the actors,

practices, and institutions in a given society.

  Acknowledging findings form sociology which suggest that race and

racial categories are politically contested and re-created in any given

sociohistorical and geopolitical context—through a process called racial

formation3—and also recognizing that racism is a global phenomenon,

my references to race and racism in this talk are to their everyday,

institutional, and structural manifestations in the United States.

  These peculiar and particular manifestations have ranged from (a)

native American extermination, chattel slavery, Jim Crow apartheid,

Chinese exclusion, and Japanese internment to (b) post-civil rights

color-blindness to (c) a so-called post-racial context that allows for the

passage of the Secure Fence Act which calls for 700 miles of physical

and virtual fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border; a post-racial context

that allows for the burning of Black churches and synagogues; a post-

racial context that condones racial profiling of Arab Americans and

Muslims; a post-racial context that allows a Republican activist to

compare the First Lady of the United States to a gorilla and then issue a

non-apology apology; a post-racial context that encourages a lunatic

white supremacist to open fire in the Holocaust museum because of his

hatred for Jews and Blacks; a post-racial context that results in more

than 60 African American youth being turned away from a private swim

club due to fears that their presence would “change the complexion …

and the atmosphere of the club.”

  The history and ubiquity of race and racism in the United States

provide some evidence for law professor Derrick Bell’s insightful claim

that racism is permanent. This ubiquity also begs the question of how,

not if, (mis)understandings of race and racism influence the ideologies

and epistemologies found in mathematics education. I push this point

further by asking how do race and racism structure the very nature of the

mathematics education enterprise?

  On one hand, there is the possibility that mathematics education is a

race-neutral domain, free from racial contestation, stratification, and

hierarchies, and different in character than all other racialized societal

contexts. If so, how do we reconcile this neutral character with the

racialized inequities faced outside of the domain by many of the students

our work is intended to help?

  On the other hand, I suggest that a structural, race-critical analysis

shows that mathematics education research, policy, and practice are

deeply implicated in the production and reproduction of racial meanings,

disparities, hierarchies, and identities. Not only do research and

scholarly interpretations of children’s mathematical behavior serve to

inform societal beliefs about race, racial categories, abilities, and

competence, but I would argue that race-based societal beliefs about

children from various social groups also serve to inform the ways that

mathematics education research, policy, and practice are conceptualized

and configured in relation to these children. Beliefs in so-called racial

achievement gaps and attempts to close of such gaps by raising Black

children to the level of white children exemplify these beliefs.

  Moreover, a structural analysis would reveal that the pervasiveness

whiteness—represented numerically, ideologically, epistemologically,

and in material power—which characterizes mathematics education

research and policy contexts bears a strong family resemblance to the

manifestations of whiteness found in other societal contexts. In my view,

the enterprise of mathematics education is no different than other

racialized spaces and should be subjected to the same anti-racist

scrutiny, especially as it pertains to the well-being of Black children.

  It is in the ways just described that mathematics education research

and policy can be implicated in New Right, conservative, liberal, and

neoliberal racial projects that shape larger racial dynamics. According

to the sociological literature, a racial project is “simultaneously an

interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics and an

effort to reorganize or redistribute resources along particular racial lines.

Racial projects connect what race means in a particular discursive

practice and the ways in which both social structures and everyday

experiences are racially organized, based upon that meaning.” As an

example, consider this partial history and characterizaton of the

neoliberal racial project:

  In order to win the [1992] election and reinvigorate the once-
  powerful Democratic coalition, Bill Clinton believed he needed to
  attract white working class voters—the “Reagan Democrats.” His
  appeal was based on lessons learned from the right, lessons about
  race. Pragmatic liberals in the Democratic camp proposed a more
  activist social policy emphasizing greater state investment in job
  creation, education, and infrastructure development. But they
  conspicuously avoided discussing racial matters such as residential
  segregation or discrimination. The Democrats’ approach, which
  harked back to Kennedy’s remark that “A rising tide lifts all
  boats,” aspired to “universalistic” rather than “group-specific”
  reforms. Thus the surprising shift in U.S. racial politics was not…
  the Republican analysis which placed blame on the racially defined
  minority poor and the welfare policies which has supposedly
  taught them irresponsibility and dependency. The “surprise” was
  rather the Democratic retreat from race and the party’s limited but
  real adoption of Republican racial politics, with their support for
  “universalism” and their rejection of “race-specific” policies.….
  This developing neoliberal project seeks to rearticulate the
  neoconservative and new right racial projects of the Reagan-Bush

  years in a centrist framework of moderate redistribution and
  cultural universalism. Neoliberals deliberately try to avoid racial
  themes, both because they fear the divisiveness and polarization
  which characterized the racial reaction, and because they mistrust
  the “identity politics” whose origins lie in the 1960s…. In its
  signifying or representational dimension, the neoliberal project
  avoids (as far as possible) framing issues or identities racially.
  Neoliberals argue that addressing social policy or political
  discourse overtly to matters of race simply serves to distract, or
  even hinder, the kinds of reforms which could most directly benefit
  racially defined minorities. To focus too much attention on race
  tends to fuel demagogy and separatism, and this exacerbates the
  very difficulties which much racial discourse has ostensibly been
  intended to solve. To speak of race is to enter a terrain where
  racism is hard to avoid. Better to address racism by ignoring race,
  at least publicly (pp. 146-148)

  Recent reform movements and policy documents in mathematics

education can be analyzed for their contributions to these racial projects.

Mathematics for All, as one of the most egalitarian movements in the

field, seeks to reorganize and redistribute access to mathematics by

appealing to liberalism. In the liberal project, there is an underlying

appeal to white middle- and upper-class consciousness to convince

members of these groups that others must now share in the opportunities

that they have long enjoyed. It also aligns well with the neoliberal racial

project in that universal programs (i.e. Algebra for All) that work for all

students are promoted in lieu of group-specific efforts and objectives. It

is in this way that Mathematics for All rhetoric is about assimilation. In

classical assimilation theory, assimilation is defined as “the decline, and

at its endpoint the disappearance, of an ethnic/racial distinction and the

cultural and social differences that express it” (Alba & Nee, 1997, p.


   Viewed more critically, Mathematics for All is also about nationalism

because it appeals to U.S. international standing in relation to real and

perceived foreign threats. Like assimilation, nationalism seeks to erase

meaningful cultural differences among social groups and to silence

internal racial identity politics in favor of collectivism.

   So, while Mathematics for All has an equity-oriented veneer, it is

clear to me that there are other ideologies at play that are not based on

moral and humanistic concern for those who are marginalized in

mathematics. In a paper titled Hidden Assumptions and Unaddressed

Questions in Mathematics for All Rhetoric, I offer additional critique of

this movement.

   Similarly, a critical analysis of the Final Report of the National

Mathematics Advisory Panel report reveals how it, too, contributes to

racial projects. In this report, the learning of mathematics in U.S. schools

is linked directly to the preservation of national security. The third

paragraph of the Panel’s Executive Summary is very clear in making this


   Much of the commentary on mathematics and science in the
   United States focuses on national economic competitiveness and
   the economic well-being of citizens and enterprises. There is
   reason enough for concern about these matters, but it is yet more
   fundamental to recognize that the safety of the nation and the
   quality of life—not just the prosperity of the nation—are at issue.
   (p. xi)

   Considering the political origins of the National Math Panel, these

security concerns can be linked to conservative Republican ideology,

Islamophobia, anti-Muslim sentiments, and the globalization of U.S.

racism and white privilege.

  Beyond the policy arena, the frequent use of a race-comparative

approach to examine mathematics achievement differences among U.S.

students makes its own contribution to racial projects. This race-

comparative approach supports the normalization of whiteness and the

subordination of poor, African American, Latino, and Native American

students. Specifically, this approach has served to reify what I have been

calling a racial hierarchy of mathematics ability that is now taken for

granted by the general public and by many scholars and policy makers.

This hierarchy contributes to interpretations and representations of race

and racial categories by supporting negative societal meanings for what

it means to be poor, Black, Latino, and Native American. For example,

in most of the studies relying on such an approach, the resulting analyses

often suggest that to be Black is to be mathematically illiterate and

inferior relative to those who are identified as White and Asian.

                            Researcher Identity

  Having provided that extended preamble—where I offered some

justification for my two goals—I do feel it is important to pause and

provide a better sense of my motivation for raising these issues.

  Although this paper has been composed to address the conference

theme, it is clear that I also have a political agenda. This goes against the

idea that research and scholarship should not drift towards advocacy.

However, all research and scholarship are political. Moreover, the

production of knowledge cannot be disconnected from who we are as

people, what we have experienced, and what we believe.

  My multiple identities—racial, mathematical, and otherwise—have

informed, and continue to shape, my scholarly perspective. I am Black

through self and societal identification although these asserted and

assigned identities do not always overlap. My own experiences with

mathematics both mirror and diverge from those of other Blacks in the

U.S. Experiences with poverty and racism are not unfamiliar to me nor

are experiences with academic and mathematics success.

  I am also a scholar. I do not hesitate in identifying myself as a Black

scholar in a field numerically dominated by white scholars. Identifying

in this way does not limit or essentialize my perspective or discount the

perspectives and experiences of others. Paraphrasing Supreme Court

nominee Sonia Sotomayor:

  I would hope that a wise [African American man] with the richness
  of [his] experiences would more often than not reach a better
  conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life….
  [However,] I… believe that we should not be so myopic as to
  believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are
  incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a
  different group. Many are so capable…. However, to understand
  takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to
  give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand
  the experiences of others. Others simply do not care. Hence, one
  must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the
  presence of women and people of color.

   Members of the audience who are familiar with my research and

teaching know that my focus on Black children and issues of race and

racialization is not a novelty for me. My efforts are not an attempt to

jump on the equity and diversity bandwagons that have emerged in

mathematics education over the last several years or an attempt to

urbanize my research. Nor does my focus represent a sudden realization

that it might be valuable to study the mathematical lives of Black

children and to be explicit about attempts to construct them as less than

ideal learners.

   My research and teaching over the last twenty years have focused

exclusively on the life and mathematical experiences of Black children

and adults in school contexts ranging from middle school to community

college. In my work, I have detailed aspects of their racial and

mathematical socializations and characterized the identities they co-

construct in light of their experiences. Moreover, rather than studying

only underachievement and failure in mathematics, I have devoted a

great deal of attention to documenting success and agency among

African American children and adults. Up until a few years ago, little

attention was given to this success and little was known about how

students defined, achieved, and maintained it. My own studies have

revealed a number of sociohistorical, community, school, and

intrapersonal forces contributing to resilience and success in

mathematics. This work has consistently highlighted issues of racism,

racial identity, and racialization not because I impose these issues but

because the participants in my research cite them over and over again as

being both central and salient.

  In the remainder of this paper, I further explore Black children and

mathematics and issues of racism and racialization by structuring my

comments around four inter-related topics which, admittedly, will be

devoid of mathematics content4 and may come across as sociological in

nature, far afield of mathematics education.

  First, I further explore the meaning and significance of the title of this


  Second, I offer more details on the representation of Black children in

mainstream mathematics education research and policy so as to reveal

the form and substance of these representations and to show how they

have contributed to the construction of Black children as inferior to other

children. Continued rhetoric around the so-called black-white or racial

achievement gap is one example where Black children are told explicitly

and matter of factly that they are inferior to white children.

  Third, I briefly outline my own research theoretical perspective that

conceptualizes mathematics learning and participation as racialized

forms of experience, not just for African American children but also for

all children. Within this perspective, I characterize mathematics

education research and policy as instantiations of white institutional

space; spaces where pervasive myths and stereotypes about African

American children have their genesis and are allowed to persist as

common sense.

  Finally, I present of a set of axioms for researching Black children

and mathematics; these axioms have served as the foundation of my

research and I believe they should inform all future work on Black

children, helping to counter the masternarrative that has dominated

discussions of these children.

                Little Black Boys and Little Black Girls?

  My focus on little Black boys and little Black girls is simultaneously

historical, present-day literal, and metaphorical. First, it recognizes the

historical significance of this conference taking place in Atlanta, a key

city in the United States civil rights movement as well as being the

birthplace of reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the final resting

place of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. In his famous I Have

a Dream speech, delivered on August 23, 1963, Dr. King envisioned a

day when little Black boys and little Black girls would be able to

experience full and humane lives, free from racism and subjugation and

all that accompanies those oppressions.

  Yet, on September 15, 1963, less than one month after that clarion

call for social progress, four little Black girls—11-year-old Carole

Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley,

and Carole Robertson—were murdered by a bomb placed under the

steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church located in Birmingham, Alabama.

The ground floor of the church collapsed, killing the girls and injuring

some twenty others. The lyrics that opened this paper are taken from the

song Birmingham Sunday, which was performed by Joan Baez to mourn

the girls’ deaths.

   Robert “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan,

was identified by witnesses, arrested, and charged with murder and

possession of dynamite without a permit. Other Klansmen were also

identified but not initially charged. In his first trial on October 8, 1963,

Chambliss was found not guilty of murder but received a small fine and

sentenced to six months in jail for possessing dynamite. It was later

revealed that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover interfered with prosecutions

in the cases. In 1971, the case was re-opened by the Alabama attorney

general. A grand jury indicted Chambliss for the murder of Denise

McNair on September 24, 1977. In November 1977, Chambliss was

retried, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. It was not

until 2001 and 2002 that two of the remaining suspects were convicted.

   Although the murders of four little black girls punctuated September

15, 1963, two other murders of black children occurred in Birmingham

on that day:

  James Robinson, a black 16-year-old, became involved in a rock-
  throwing incident with a gang of white teenagers. As he fled from
  the scene, Robinson ran down an alley near the Sixteenth St.
  Church and was promptly shot in the back and killed by a white
  City of Birmingham police officer. A few hours later, on the
  outskirts of the city, 13-year-old Virgil Ware was riding on the
  handlebars of a bicycle with his older brother. From the opposite
  direction, a red moped, decorated with the Confederate flag,
  quickly approached the two boys. Without warning, the operator of
  the motorbike, a white 16-year-old, pulled out a gun and shot
  Virgil twice in the chest, killing him instantly.

  Why do I bring up civil rights history in a contemporary discussion of

mathematics learning and participation? I do so because history reminds

us that society has always had a high threshold for Black pain.

Moreover, the lives of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia

Wesley, Carole Robertson, James Robinson, and Virgil Ware were taken

not because they were just any children. Their lives were taken because

they were Black children. As I stated earlier in this talk, when discussing

diversity, we should not lose sight of particularity. Any analysis of Black

children’s behavior in the world, including mathematics education, that

fails to contextualize or appreciate what life was like, or is like, for these

children is shortsighted and bound to be limited in its explanatory


   There will be some who hear my words and say, “Get over it. Stop

whining. Stop playing the race card. That’s ancient history. Things have

gotten better.” and so on. However, these dismissals and resistance only

amount to a desire to maintain the status quo and to avoid the work of

understanding how society’s laws, policies, and practices routinely

continue to converge in subjugating and dehumanizing Black children.5

     Representing and Constructing Black Children in Mathematics

   My focus on little Black boys and little Black girls is present-day

literal because I contend that even in a post-civil rights, color-blind era

highlighted by the election of a President with biracial African heritage

and the identification of mathematics literacy as a 21st century civil

right, there is little reason to believe that the well-being of little Black

boys and little Black girls is a priority in America or in mathematics

education, in particular. We still live in a society where blackness and

black life are denigrated.

  Just a few months ago, Bonnie Sweeten, a white woman from

Philadelphia claimed that she and her 9-year-old daughter had been

abducted by two Black men and thrown into the trunk of a Cadillac. In

response to her 911 calls, massive local and national media attention was

given to her abduction. Crisis intervention teams were sent to her

daughter’s school. Only after more careful police work was it revealed

that Sweeten had faked the abductions and had flown to Disneyworld

after withdrawing more than 12,000 dollars from her bank accounts.

This is a repeat episode of earlier cases involving Susan Smith and

Charles Stuart in which the villainous Black man was blamed for killing

four white children and a white wife. In these two instances, Smith and

Stuart were the guilty parties. Yet, in all these cases, society was quick

to accept the accusations about Black men that were put forward.

  The media attention and concern for the well-being of white children,

men, and women stands in stark contrast to the attention being given to

the alarming numbers of murders of Black children in my own city of

Chicago. As of mid-May, 2009, a total of 36 schoolchildren, most of

them Black, had been killed. National media attention was slow in

coming.6 This is likely because in the eyes of many, each time a Black

child’s life is taken, it is just “another one gone.”

   Consider the following mathematical analysis that appeared in a May

12, 2009 article by author Stacey Patton. I begin with six names:

Megan Kanka. Amber Hagerman. JonBenét Ramsey. Elizabeth Smart.
Caylee Anthony. Sandra Cantu.

   When these six cute, middle-class white girls, ranging from age 2 to

14, went missing or were horrifically murdered, national news outlets

devoted hours, days and weeks of coverage to their cases. But when

children of color are victimized in similar ways, the mainstream media

often remains conspicuously silent or provides scant coverage at best.

   A quick GOOGLE news archive search illustrates this point. As of

May 2009, there were 3,670 articles on the 1994 murder of 7-year-old

Megan Kanka, who was raped and abducted by a twice-convicted sex

offender who lived next door. The 1996 murder and abduction of 9-year-

old Amber Hagerman produced 2,570 headlines. An astonishing 13,500

news stories helped sensationalize the 1996 murder of JonBenét

Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant found bound and

strangled in her home. Between June and November of 2002, 8,300 new

stories were printed about the abduction and recovery of 14-year-old

Elizabeth Smart. Between October 2008 and May 2009, a total of 1,570

stories discussed the murder of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, whose

skeletal remains were found a month later. And in the first month, 424

articles appeared on 8-year-old Cantu, who was raped, killed, stuffed in

a suitcase and thrown in a pond in northern California on April 11.

  Do the math. Six young white girls. One abducted and later returned.

Five killed. 30, 134 news stories and nearly two million total web hits.

And with the exception of the Ramsey case, suspects have been

captured, indicted, tried, and even sentenced to death for the brutal

crimes against these innocent children.

  Each of these girls has her own Wikipedia entry, which discusses

their lives, details of their investigation, and archives media references

and external links to various websites, talk shows, and made-for-TV

documentaries and movies as well as child and victims advocacy sites.

  Now enter the names of the following children: Corey Hatter, Ordero

Hillard, Marcus Washington, Andre Malcolm, Arthur Tyler, Sameer

Conn, Shaun Brown, Shaun Bowens, Kiyanna Salter, Daniel Calderon,

Ernest Williams, Julian King, Brian Murdock, Quentin Buckner, Devour

Robinson, Dushawn Johnson, Isiah Stroud, Andre Stephens, Esteban

Martinez, Itzel Fernandez, Johnel Ford, Rachael Beauchamp, Johnny

Edwards, Kendrick Pitts, Raheem Washington, Carnell Pitts, Franco

Avila, Gregory Robinson, Lee Ivory Miller, Rakeem Washington,

Tommie Williams, Marquell Blake, Juan Cazares, Christina Campos,

and Alex Arellano.

  All 36 of these schoolchildren, mostly black and a few Latinos, were

killed in the streets of Chicago between September 2008 and May 2009,

the span of a normal school year in Chicago. They were shot, stabbed,

beaten with bats, kicked to death, burned and run over by cars.

  GOOGLE their names and you won’t get a return of hundreds of

national news stories or thousands of web hits discussing their deaths.

The only child of all these victims to gain a great deal of media attention

was 7-year-old Julian King, the nephew of singer and actress Jennifer

Hudson, killed last October by his mother’s estranged husband.

  For the rest of the children, there are no Wikipedia entries. No

documentaries. No made for TV films. And there won’t be. They’ll be

remembered in a few grainy YouTube video tributes posted by friends

and family members. And if there are more shootings, all of these

children will be lumped together and described as statistics and tragic

victims of urban warfare, even though most were not high school

dropouts, gang members, or criminals. They were killed during day-to-

day activities: walking to the store, playing in a park, waiting for a bus,

or riding in a car with a parent.

  A cursory examination of the ways Black children have been

researched and represented in mainstream mathematics education

research and policy further shows how Black children are devalued.

  The dominant story line, or masternarrative, in these research and

policy contexts is one that normalizes failure, ignores success, and uses

white children’s mathematical behaviors and performance as the

standard for all children. This masternarrative has helped to support

negative social constructions of these children. Mathematics education

policy reports dating back 25 years have explicitly labeled Black

children as mathematically illiterate. More recently, African American

12th graders have been told, in a very public fashion, that they are only

as skilled and demonstrate math abilities at the level of white 8th graders.

  After their comprehensive review of over 16,000 studies, the

members of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel reduced their

research recommendations specific to Black children to issues of

motivation, task engagement, and self-efficacy. These areas are

important but they focus attention on Black children as though they are

unmotivated, inclined to disengagement, and lacking in agency.

Institutional and structural barriers inside and outside of school,

including racism, that affect student mathematics achievement,

engagement, and motivation received little, if any, attention in the

report. Resistance and disengagement among some students may, in fact,

be rational responses to oppressive schooling practices.

  In other research contexts such as the Second Handbook of Research

on Mathematics Teaching and Learning, it has been claimed that poor

children (often a euphemism for Black children) enter school with only

pre-mathematical knowledge and lack the ability to mathematize their

experiences, engage in abstraction and elaboration, and use

mathematical ideas and symbols to create models of their everyday lives.

Left unanswered is whether researchers who make these claims and

report these findings understand, even partially, the “everyday lives” of

Black children. As I have stated in other writings (Martin, 2009c):

  Because the tasks, assessments, and standards for competence used
  to draw these conclusions are typically not normed on African
  American children’s cultural and life experiences, one could also
  argue that … the preferred ways of abstracting, representing, an
  elaboration called for in these studies and reports are based on the
  normalized behavior of white, middle-class and upper-class
  children…. Very little consideration is giving to exploring patterns
  in the ways that [poor] African American children do engage in
  abstraction, representation, and elaboration to determine if these
  ways are mediated by their cultural experiences in out-of-school
  settings and whether the preferred ways of engaging in these

  processes serve useful functions relative to those experiences. (p.

  Moreover, despite these claims about Black children’s mathematical

knowledge, the reality is that little is known about their metacognitive

and racial awareness during mathematical problem solving, particularly

in contexts that are meaningful to them and where they are likely to

demonstrate a range of mathematical behaviors. Research in these areas

would not only provide insight into Black children’s reasoning processes

and strategy choices but also about their awareness of how they are

socially constructed, and how they socially construct themselves, as

mathematics learners.

  Those who choose to study Black children in high-poverty contexts

must first acknowledge, and understand, that ghettos and impoverished

communities are not natural or normative contexts for Black children.

Like slavery and Jim Crow, these are “race making institutions”

designed to dehumanize and inflict material, structural, and symbolic

violence on those who are forced to live in them. As noted by

sociologist Loic Wacquant (2006):

  The ghetto, in short, operates as an ethnoracial prison: it encages a
  dishonoured category and severely curtails the life chances of its
  members in support of the ‘monopolization of ideal and material
  goods or opportunities’ by the dominant status groups dwelling on
  its outskirts. (p. 101)

  In terms of new directions, only recently have researchers begun to

directly examine the mathematical experiences and identities of Black

children versus a narrow focus on their achievement. Researchers doing

this work have explored several important areas related to these

students’ mathematics learning and development: (1) their beliefs about

their ability to participate in various mathematical contexts, (2) their

motivations to learn or do mathematics, (3) the ways in which they

define the importance and value of mathematics knowledge and success

in mathematics, (4) their mathematics socialization experiences in

school and non-school contexts, and (5) the co-construction of

mathematics identities and other social identities that are important to

these students. Research in these areas supports the assertion made

Theresa Perry, Claude Steele, and Asa Hilliard (2003) in their book

Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African

American Students:

  African American students face challenges unique to them as
  students in American schools at all levels by virtue of their social
  identity as African Americans and of the way that identity can be a
  source of devaluation in contemporary American society…. Before
  we can theorize African-American school achievement, we need to
  have an understanding of what the nature of the task of
  achievement is for African Americans as African Americans. (pp.

  My own approach to studying Black children as Black children has

led me to develop a conceptualization of mathematics learning and

participation as racialized forms of experience. I claim that these

learning and participatory experiences are shaped and structured by the

meanings and representations of race and racial groups that exist in the

larger society.

                                                                                                         Aims and goals of
                                                                              Research, policy, and        mathematics
                   Conceptualizations of        Conceptualizations of
                                                                              practice orientations         education
                          race                       learners
                                                                                     to race             research, policy,
                                                                                                           and practice

                                                   Those who know
                                              mathematics. Those who do                                   Close the racial
  Mainstream       Races as biologically                                      Resistance to realities
                                                  not. Those who are                                     achievement gap.
  mathematics      determined. Race as a                                        of racism. Color-
                                               mathematically literate.                                   Maintain white
   education      way to disaggregate data.                                         blindness.
                                                    Those who are                                          privilege and
   research,      Race as a causal variable                                       Racial apathy.
                                               mathematically illiterate.                                  United States
  policy, and         for mathematics                                         Solution on demand.
                                              Students belong to a racial                                  international
    practice            achievement.                                          Interest convergence.
                                              hierarchy of mathematical                                  competitiveness.

                                                  Consideration of the            Consideration of
                                              negotiated nature of identity   everyday, institutional,
                   Race as a sociopolitical          with respect to           and structural racism.
  learning and                                                                                           Empowerment and
                        construction.           mathematics. Asks what              Mainstream
  participation                                                                                           liberation from
                   Historically contingent     does it mean to be African     mathematics education
  as racialized                                                                                           oppression for
                       nature of race.         American, Latino, Native         research and policy
    forms of                                                                                               marginalized
                  Consideration racism and    American, white, and Asian            contexts as
   experience                                                                                                 learners.
                        racialization.         American in the context of     instantiations of white
                                                 mathematics learning?          institutional space.

  I argue that this conceptualization of mathematics learning and

participation may be more relevant to the mathematical experiences of

African American learners than the dominant perspectives which

typically characterize learning and participation as cultural or cognitive

because this conceptualization situates the realities of racism and

racialization at the center of these experiences (Martin & McGee, 2009).

  I have also utilized this race-critical perspective to address the

production of knowledge about African American children and

mathematics and to reframe the conversations about these children in

several areas including mathematics teacher knowledge and teacher

selection and assessment. I have addressed questions such as, What is

the study of Black children the study of? What should the study of Black

children be the study of? Why should Black children learn mathematics?

Who should teach mathematics to Black children? What does it mean to

be Black in the context of mathematics learning?, and What does it mean

to be a learner of mathematics in the context of Black struggle?

  I urge you to consult the recent volumes Mathematics Success and

Failure Among African American Youth (Martin, 2000), Mathematics

Teaching, Learning, and Liberation in the Lives of Black Children

(Martin, 2009b) and Culturally Specific Pedagogy in the Mathematics

Classroom: Strategies for Teachers and Students (Leonard, 2008) for

more details about, and examples of, the ways these questions are being


                         White Institutional Space

   Returning to the masternarrative on Black children, I contend that it

is only within certain kinds of ideological and material spaces—contexts

that sociologists have called white institutional spaces—that so-called

racial achievement gaps and the mathematical illiteracy of Black

children can assume common-sense status. The term white institutional

space comes from the work of sociologists Joe Feagin (1996) and

Wendy Moore, who, in her book Reproducing Racism: White Space,

Elite Law Schools, and Racial Inequality (2008), examined the white

space of law schools and how the ideologies and practices in these

schools serve to privilege white perspectives, white ideological frames,

white power, and white dominance all the while purporting to represent

law as neutral and objective.

  White institutional spaces are characterized by (1) numerical

domination by whites and the exclusion of people of color from

positions of power in institutional contexts, (2) the development of a

white frame that organizes the logic of the institution or discipline, (3)

the historical construction of curricular models based upon the thinking

of white elites, and (4) the assertion of knowledge production as neutral

and impartial unconnected to power relations.

  In a recent paper, I provide a more detailed discussion of how

mathematics education research and policy contexts represent

instantiations of white institutional space. For example, I offered a

critique of the composition of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel

as well as its failure to draw on the most insightful recent research about

Black children and mathematics. My critique was not only directed at

the Math Panel but also at scholars in the field who, from recognized

positions of power, failed to object to the absence of African American

math education researchers on the Panel. This kind of inaction, despite

progressive rhetoric about equity and diversity, was noted by Macedo

and Gounari (2006) as being characteristic of liberal approaches in white


  … many white liberals (and some black liberals as well) fail to
  understand how they can embody white supremacist values and
  beliefs, even thought they not embrace racism as prejudice or
  domination (especially domination that involves coercive control).

  They cannot recognize how their actions support and affirm the
  very structure of racist domination and oppression they profess to
  wish to see eradicated….By not understanding their complicity
  with white supremacist ideology, many white liberals reproduce a
  colonialist and assimilationist value system that gives rise to a
  form of tokenism parading under the rubric of diversity… That is
  why many white liberals prefer to promote “diversity” to the extent
  that diversity as a cultural model not only fails to interrogate the
  white privilege extracted from a white supremacist ideology but
  also allows for white liberals to have blacks and other oppressed
  cultural groups as mascots in their Benetton color scheme of
  diversity. This form of diversity promoted through multicultural
  programs, for example, represents a mere reorganization of
  knowledge through which diversity is presented as a naturalization
  process whereby different ethnic and cultural groups (white groups
  are never associated with ethnicity, even though their ethnicity
  provides a yardstick against which all other groups are measured)
  are represented and their asymmetrical power relations with the
  dominant white group are never interrogated (p. 32)

  These sentiments were echoed by Liz Appel (2003) in her focused

critique of liberal white participants in the movement against the

prison industrial complex:

  … many well-intentioned white folks wish to incorporate an anti-
  racist approach in their work. Seeking a quick resolve, the problem
  of racism is often superficially addressed, however. Focusing on
  tangible and visible solutions, they tokenize individual people of
  color, perhaps by bringing in a few nonwhite people into public
  spaces and circles of power (as board members, speakers, etc.), in
  an attempt to demonstrate the “diverse” nature of the struggle and
  those that make up the fight. This is not to say that every attempt to
  incorporate people of color is inherently racist and self-serving….
  [But does] not the fact that whites are able to select people of color
  for inclusion… reaffirm our power and privilege? (p. 84)

  It is through my analysis of mainstream mathematics education

research and policy contexts as instantiations of white institutional

space, and my understandings of other such spaces, that my focus on

little Black boys and little Black girls in this paper becomes

metaphorical. Sociologists tell us that when someone or something is

socially blackened, it or they are relegated to marginalized status and

thought of as inferior. Similarly, when something is whitened, it or they

are elevated in social status or importance. In terms of racial dynamics

of the United States, this has been documented in books with such

provocative titles as How the Irish Became White (Ignatiev, 1996) and

The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Goldstein,

2006). This whitening has also been witnessed in the education arena

where Asian Americans, collectively, have been given model-minority

and honorary white status. Blackening, on the other hand, has most

recently happened to Arab Americans and Muslims who are now are

subject to racial profiling and other forms of subjugation. Blackening

also explains how the diversity among those from the African diaspora is

muted so as to create a singular perception and construction of these

groups. Blacks from Caribbean, West Indian, and African backgrounds

are all labeled by the dominant society as Black when they come to the


  So, it is interesting to ask the following about the United States

mathematics education enterprise: Who are the little Black boys and

little Black girls in mathematics education and how are they, and their

perspectives, embraced? Are they the scholars who take up race, racism,

and power; issues that only occasionally find their way into mainstream

mathematics education research and policy discussions? Are these

scholars and their perspectives tolerated but also marginalized? Is it

assumed that they are less-informed about mathematics content,

teaching, learning, curriculum, and assessment to the degree that they

are largely absent from key discussions in the field; called on only when

issues of equity and diversity are considered?

  A recent example from my own experiences serves as an interesting

data point in such a discussion. In the year 2000 my book, Mathematics

Success and Failure Among African American Youth, was published.

That book was based on my dissertation, completed three years earlier.

The dissertation and the book fleshed out my early thinking on issues of

mathematics socialization and mathematics identity. After nine years in

circulation, one would think that my place in the literature on

mathematics identity, particularly for Black children, would be well-

established and somewhat secure.

  Several months ago, prominent white scholar authored a review-type

article in a well-known mathematics education research journal. The

article made reference to my book and the work of other scholars who

have been focusing on issues of identity. A few weeks after that journal

article appeared, a prospective student phoned me for information about

our program. During the conversation, the caller indicated that he had

read the journal article and suggested that I was probably excited to have

my work referenced by such a well-known scholar. In the words of the

prospective student “You know you have made it when someone like

professor X cites your work, especially in a journal like Y.” It took some

time for me to process the conversation but when I did, I realized that

despite the book being in circulation for nine years and despite

subsequent publications and dozens of presentations across the country,

it was not until a white scholar validated my work that it was deemed

important by the student. I could add to this stories about how the work

has been consistently minimized and ignored by particular white

scholars who also claim to do research on identity. I have also seen this

in my reviews of other work in the field where Black scholars or

scholars doing work in area X have been overlooked in ways that seem

far from accidental. I do not cite these examples based on some sense of

personal disappointment or because of a need for validation.. Those of

you who know me well also know that, although m work is deeply

personal, my personal identity is not defined by my scholarly identity. I

cite these examples to show that knowledge production is deeply

political and that it is especially so in white institutional spaces, where

what is true and what is of value is frequently determined by white


  Bringing this back to my focus on Black children, I ask why is that in

a field that purports to be committed to equity for all children, why are

there no explicit discussions of the pervasive whiteness in mathematics

education research and policy contexts or discussions of the fact that the

norms and values of these white institutional spaces are increasingly

being applied to populations of other people’s children? Why are there

no discussions of how we continue to blacken some children by

producing research that implies their inferiority? Is it that the

characteristics of white institutional spaces are so strong that they lead

us to believe this state of affairs is normal and acceptable? I urge others

to undertake their own critical analyses of the mathematics education

enterprise. Mine is only one perspective.

 Where do we go From Here? Axioms for Researching Black Children
                       and Mathematics

  In so far as Black children are concerned, I remain hopeful that

mathematics education research and policy, if done right, can benefit

these children. Clearly, what constitutes “right” is subject to much

debate and my conception of right does not mean that all previous

efforts are wrong. Yet, little that constitutes right for these children will

emerge from an enterprise that fails to understand its own complicity in

these children’s subjugation and negative social construction. Moving

forward, I want to propose adherence to a set of sociocritical “axioms”

for addressing Black children, in particular. As most of you know, an

axiom is defined as a self-evident proposition or universally recognized

truth that is accepted without proof as the basis for argument.

  In mathematics, proofs of various conjectures and claims are

essentially a function of the axioms upon which the system is organized.

If you change the axioms, you change the system, and you also change

what constitutes valid proof and what is regarded as true. My own

research, as well as the comments and analysis in this paper, are

premised on these axioms7 and I believe they should undergird all future

inquiry to the mathematical experiences of Black children:

  ! Axiom I: Black children are brilliant; researchers should not
     overly concern themselves with documenting how Black
     children differ from white children and reifying racial
     achievement gaps but with how black children can best attain
     and maintain excellence in mathematics;

  ! Axiom II: Black children possess the intellectual capacity to
     learn mathematics as well any other child; they do, however,
     often lack sufficient opportunities to engage in meaningful
     mathematical experiences;

  ! Axiom III: Race is not a causal variable in determining
     mathematical achievement among Black children or any other
     group of children; research and policy purporting to cite race
     effects should be dismissed as scientifically invalid;

  ! Axiom IV: Racism, racial identity, and racialization are
     important considerations in mathematics learning and
     participation; Mathematics education research and policy are
     deeply involved in the production and reproduction of racial

  ! Axiom V: Mathematics education research and policy are
     simultaneously sites of oppression and liberation for Black

   These statements are not meant to romanticize Black children nor do

they ignore their struggles. However, they require attention to Black

children’s social realities and how forces, discourses, and projects in the

larger society influence those realities. They also require a

reconsideration of the assumptions about the competencies and

capacities of Black children in ways that move us beyond mathematical

illiteracy and inferiority with respect to other learners.

   To show that it is hard for people to get past Axiom I, I would like to

share a quiz that I have been giving to audiences of teachers, scholars,

and policy-makers across the country. The quiz taps into the deep and

contradictory beliefs that we have about Black children and the results

that I see in the responses provides a partial explanation for the lack of

progress on creating meaningful mathematics education for Black

children. Feel free to answer the questions yourself while I discuss what

I found in giving this quiz.

   Question 1: How many of you have heard of the racial achievement

    Question 2: How many of you have, or plan to, devote some aspect of
    your teaching practice, research, or policy-oriented efforts to help
    close the racial achievement gap?

    Question 3: How many of you truly believe in the brilliance of black

    As I stated earlier, Black children serve as canaries in the coal mine.

If we cannot do right by these children, it is difficult to believe that we

can accomplish the goal inherent in the theme of Embracing Diverse


1 Excerpted lyrics from the song Birmingham Sunday written by Richard Fariña and performed by Joan Baez.
2 Clearly, my focus on race does not diminish the importance of race, class, and gender intersections.
3 Omi & Winant (2005, p. 16) define racial formation as the process by which social, economic, and political forces

determine the content and importance of racial categories, and by which they are in turn shaped by racial meanings.
4 Although studies of Black children learning specific mathematics content are critically important, I do not dwell on

this topic because I do not wish to suggest that there is something peculiar about these children’s learning or that
some content is especially problematic for them to learn. The fact is that normal, healthy Black children can learn
whatever mathematics they are given the opportunity and necessary supports to learn.
5 As pointed out by educational anthropologist, studies of education for Black children should consider forces at

many levels: societal, community, family, institutional, school, individual. I acknowledge that there are many
internal, community- and family-based forces to consider. Those forces are not addressed in this paper. See Martin
6 For an interesting mathematical analysis of media coverage on crimes against Black and White children see the

Appendix to this paper or go to:
7 It is true that these are not axioms in the strict mathematical sense. I am appropriating the term to serve

sociological and political purposes.


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