When I decided I wanted to become a mathematician, I didn’t even know what the word meant. I figured it meant “knowing math.” Nobody had ever told me that math wasn’t finished, that my professors were actually researchers who were currently working on creating new knowledge. By the time I was setting foot in Princeton’s Fine Hall as a first year graduate student, I could not have been more excited or optimistic for my future.
As you know, the happiness quickly faded.
As you know, I have some complaints.
Yet, here I am once more trying to become a mathematician. I want to keep learning math, to keep doing research. I want to communicate what I’ve learned, to make life easier for graduate students. I want to decolonize math and do away with the genius myth. I want to change the culture of math, to bring new people in, to change our values. I want women and other marginalized mathematicians to be valued and supported the same as white cis men are. I want a lot of things.
White men ask me, but what are the solutions? What can we do?
When a black woman centers herself and demands equal access, it is nothing short of revolutionary.
What you can do to change math? Make. Space. For. Me.
I am a black woman who has always loved math. I love thinking about things logically and abstractly. I live for analogies. I love communicating and I enjoy working with students. I had no connection to my schooling, whether I did well or just okay. I was not mentored in college. I saw no reason to do arbitrary CV-building activities. I was lost. In grad school, I struggled to justify my continued existence in my program. I failed to learn how to write math. I failed to learn how to talk about math in an impressive way. I was not introduced to a mathematical community. Everything I learned about the job market and grants, I learned from being married to a research mathematician. And he learned from his privileged access to hearsay. I am lucky to have one paper. I have no awards. I have nothing to show for myself but my survival.
Your fancy school’s hiring committee probably does not want to hire me, or wouldn’t if I weren’t “The Liberated Mathematician.”
In a few years, when I have kept with my blogging and have given talks on my journey to liberation, when I’ve done more research, written more lay math, and helped out more students, but don’t have The Right Number of Publications in The Right Journals, your fancy school’s hiring committee will probably not want to hire me. Your grant-issuing entity would not trust to fund my research.
When I describe my dream job, I’m told that it is an impossibility that a top research institution would want me tenured if I wasn’t playing by their rules.
Now, you want me to tell you what needs to change? I don’t know! Whatever it is that makes you look at me and think, well, but do we really know whether she’d be worth it? Is it your sexism? Is it your racism? Is it your math hierarchies? That’s not really for me to say.
All I can say is that I will be on the job market. And many women and people of color and other marginalized people will be on the job market, if they make it that far. The system is biased against us.