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Monday, March 24, 2008

Letter About Racist Math Riddle, 2008 by CFT

Dear Administrator,

Why did the Indian wear feathers in his hair?
Because he wanted to keep his wigwam.

Shocked? I am.

Do you think this is funny? Do you think this is appropriate? I don't. Hair has spiritual significance and so do feathers, they are certainly not things to make fun off, just as a crucifix and Star of David would never be used in a joke. So why was this question written on a homework assignment for a math class? And how can one think it is enough to just "cross it out" and move on to only "doing the problems and ignoring the words"?

If the joke had been "Why did the Jew cross the road" and the answer was "Because he didn't want to pay for a bus token" would telling students to "cross it out" and only focus on the math problems be good enough? When you change the question to an extreme and substitute another oppressed group, the offensiveness is clear. Why is it tolerated when Native Americans are the subject?

Words cannot even express how upset I am that my child just told me this was a math assignment last week, particularly after several racist incidents have already occurred earlier this year targeting him and limiting his willingness to continue the conversation about the racism he experiences or wants to know about. I asked my son to bring the math sheet home, so I could verify it for myself, but I believe him when he says this was his experience. And why do you think he is telling me? Because it bothered him, too.

As is just about always the case, I am writing to you because this is not the first time for my son this year. For some reason, teachers seem to think that if they pull aside my child and apologize to him or say to the child who is harassing "stop making that woo-woo sound" that it is enough. I'm so disgusted with this mentality. Truly unbelievable. My child was put on the spot, again. What will happen when he begins to act out and possibly become physical because this happens over and over again? Who will end up with the detention?

How could a teacher actually think it is okay to just "cross it out." Why doesn't any other child speak up? Why hasn't another parent said anything about this homework assignment?

If teachers receive anti-racist training, why aren't any of them ever assigned to my children????? This is a problem. There is more racism out there than just the black/white achievement gap.

I'm at a loss and exasperated.

Yours Truly,


I ended up going into the school and explaining the issue to a small group of administrators and staff. However, I ask you, would a Jewish person have been asked to come in and explain their point of view if that substitute question had been on the math paper?


I received back two thank you emails and here is my response…

Thank you both for asking me to come in and listening to my concerns. Again, I want to reiterate that I see this as a systemic/community issue in terms of understanding various cultures and recognizing the relevant issues, in particular, to oppressed group (whichever group it is).

I appreciate you consciousness.