How the Education System failed me as a Black Person of Color in STEM

It’s insane to me that my great great great great… great grandfather during the 6th century B.C.E may have been one of the Black priests who taught Pythagoras what is now miscalled the “Pythagorean theorem”. Crazier yet is although Pythagoras, in his own admission, spent more than 20 years in African temples learning Geometry from African priests this fact of history is glossed over in our education system. The obvious question is “why”?

It turns out there are more mathematical contributions that are actually of African influence and are somehow glossed over.

The “Fibonnacci Sequence”: An “honorary” title ascribed to Leonardo of Pisa was first described in Leonardo Bonacci ‘s book Liber Abaci and may have been learned from North East African priests where the sequence was already widely known. It so happened in the 12th century Leonardo’s father called him back to North Africa where Leonardo began to study the mathematical knowledge of the region.

Binary numbers and Recursion:  these fundamental concepts in computing have their origin from  W. African priests, such as the Bambara of Mali, who would use a process of binary addition to predict the feature (sand divination). This practice was introduced to the Europeans as Geomancy or “sacred geometry” and one of its students George Bool used the mystic teachings to form “boolean logic”. Boolean logic and the binary system (which also have separate origins in East Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia) are the language of digital computers and the language of East and West African priests and merchants.

Fractals: The famous “Cantor set” saw fractals being introduced to Europe in the 1800’s. Nothing is mentioned that fractals for thousands of years were used in African architecture, art, patterns and as tools to describe social hierarchy and spiritual ideals. Georg Cantor happened to be part of the Rosicrucians, a secret society that believed all religions were of African origin (in particular Egyptian). His cousin Mortiz Cantor was regarded as an expert on Egyptian Art and geometry and it so happens that Georg Cantor’s original drawing of the “cantor set” is found in exact detail in the top columns of Egyptian temples.

This matters because, in general, anything of significance in the mathematical or scientific world has historically been often purported as of European origin, something foreign to me a black person of color. This partial view of history subtly suggests that any mathematical or engineering knowledge isn’t part of my heritage and is foreign to my abilities. A founding father, Thomas Jefferson, comparing blacks to whites said of Africans: “it appears to me that in memory [blacks] are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid”. Did he not know it was Africans who taught Euclid, Socrates, Sophocles their teachings (which were foreign to the Greeks at that time)?

This idea that intelligence is somehow a “white” thing unfortunately finds its ugly face In Black colloquial and is sometimes ignorantly known as “talking white” or “you sound white”. Might it be the educational system has removed our heroes from history and undeniably reduces our history to only the periods of slavery and colonialism? Might this be a way to endorse spirits of inferiority, servitude subliminally and subconsciously? It bears to be said again: slavery isn’t African history, slavery disrupted African history.

The social effects of blacking out black history are plenty: The black body is criminalized, the African religion is demonized and most things of “indigenous” origin become uncivilized. Even within the African continent this view persists today as remnant of colonial brain washing. It’s how slavery was justified in the first place. And continues to be justified today through the prison industrial complex and justice system (but that’s another sensitive topic on its own).

Perhaps the lack of minorities in STEM, in particular Black people, is that African history isn’t taught. Society, like a skilled magician, focuses our collective attention on black meekness (Martin Luther King Jr) but never our revolutionary spirit (Nat Turner, Haiti, Palmares, Black Panthers), physical abilities (NBA/NFL) but never intellectual (being the first to use and pioneer prime numbers, algebra, geometry, fractals). Our interests become shifted as we seek that path that’s wide and widely defined for us, and step away from the much more difficult narrow path, narrow in that we don’t see ourselves, our peers or our heritage represented. Representation Matters.

I can only wonder what difference it would’ve meant to me if I knew that the way I count, the rhythm of my songs, the shapes, patterns and ratios of my statues, architecture, villages, the language I use to describe myself, ancestors and God and view of social hierarchy and consciousness is the foundation of the  mathematical knowledge on which today’s global economy, political thought (philosophy) and scientific achievements are based.

Perhaps my community would see mathematics and science not just as academic subjects never to be used again but as an encompassing and expressive language our ancestors used to describe the world from the marvels of nature to social and spiritual truths that define being an African.

For the sake of truth and of a more equitable, inclusive and better world, this I beg:

#makeSTEMindigenousAgain

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