Race Matters–Here is how
I was adopted by a middle aged black couple when I was a toddler. There is, an often understated, commitment to education among many black Americans. My Daddy taught me all the math he knew when I was 5, “the times tables.” 0*0 to 0*12, and the same column of results from 1-12. I remember the front of the paper fit 10 columns, and the intimidatingly large results in the final two columns, 11 and 12 on the back. I was in kindergarten when I was required to learn all 144 results and my classmate, Deena Giamusso asked me if I was a genius. For a black man born in the 1930’s who was barely literate, that was a lot of math. But that’s all the math his life circumstances allowed him to learn. I went from being ahead of everyone in math to the bottom of the pack of smart kids, whites and Asians. They laughed at me, saying my A- branded me as an outsider. Shame is relative.
By 6th grade my teacher agreed with the students
My 6th grade math teacher’s comment about me was that my work “left much to be desired.” My adopted parents didn’t understand the meaning and after the week it took me to figure out that he meant dealing with me left a person wanting more, I was glad the white man’s words were incomprehensible. That’s a real world example of how the lack of “cultural capital” effects black students. I had had white foster parents who had declined to adopt their white friend’s black child. She was a teacher and he was NASA engineer. Life would’ve been different if they’d kept me but as it was, unlike my classmates I had no one at home to help me with calculus. The days of being a 5 year old math “genius” were long gone. Why? Historical racial realities foisted upon the next generation. And that’s how race matters.