I made the mistake of listening to the following stupid interview while eating lunch today:

This was a stupid interview, and was probably just designed to piss people off:

  1. The premise itself is asinine.  There have probably been racist applications of all fields of study, but that does not imply any intrinsic racism.  Individuals can be racist, but it takes extraordinary circumstances to make a subject racist.
  2. The interview format was ridiculous.  If one makes the unlikely assumption that there is some sort of nuanced view to the thesis, how can somebody be expected to explain it in 4 minutes in an aggressive and confrontational interview?

Sadly, it sounded like the interviewee actually did want to make the claim that “math is racist”.  However, she was actively trying to bend language to her will, redefining racism in the process, which is both lazy and pathetic.  It seems to me that it is profoundly immoral to attempt to use words that have historical baggage, words that invoke an emotional reaction because of that history, and then do a bait-and-switch redefinition of the word under the covers.  It’s like playing the magician’s game, distracting somebody with the left hand, while the tricky right hand palms the coin.

What would racist fields of study actually be?  How about the research programs of the Nazi doctors, or US military radiation experimentation on blacks in the ’50s [1].  Those I’d call racist research programs.  To use abuses of math to call the subject itself racist weakens the term to the point that it is meaningless.

The 4 minute constraint on this interview was also pointless.  I don’t have any confidence that the interviewee would have been able to provide a coherent argument, but this sound bite format made that a certainty.  Calling that an interview is as ridiculous as the thesis.  Kudos to the interviewer for quickly calling her on her BS as it was spouted, but he should be ashamed of trying to fit that “discussion” into a couple of minutes.

<h1>References</h1>

[1] William Blum. <em>Rogue state: A guide to the world’s only superpower</em>. Zed Books, 2006.