Get Reel, Stay Lit

I saw Hidden Figures in theaters last year, and I LOVED it! This movie was everything I needed in my life…I even have artwork from the movie hanging in my apartment. When I finally read Hidden Figures, I LOVED it! It’s a true story about black women who are mathematical geniuses. I cannot deny how proud it makes me to learn about how women who look like me were able to be outstanding in the face of adversity. Why has it taken so long for this story to be told?!

I will always be extremely proud of these brilliant and brave women who used their talents to help the country that treated them as second class citizens go to the moon and back. I was also constantly angry reading just a sliver of the Jim Crow segregation that kept black Americans separate and unequal. The black men and women working at Langley had to face double standards, low expectations, and dangerous stereotypes, which we black Americans continue to fight against today. My reviews for the book and movie can never be unbiased, and I don’t have anything to say about them besides…they’re great and I LOVED them both. Therefore, instead of my totally biased reviews, I’m sharing the quotes from the book that resonated most with me.

A Woman’s Worth

“There was virtually no aspect of twentieth-century defense technology that had not been touched by the hands and minds of female mathematicians.”

The standards upheld by the women of West Computing set a floor for the possibilities of a new generation of girls with a passion for math and hopes for a career beyond teaching.

Being an engineer, Mary Jackson would eventually learn, meant being the only black person, or the only woman, or both, at industry conferences for years.

Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite over a Selected Earth Position went through ten months of editorial meetings, analysis, recommendations, and revisions before publication in September 1960–the first report to come out of Langley’s Aerospace Mechanics Division (or its predecessor, the Flight Research Division) by a female author.

The early 1960s were an inflection point in the history of computing, a dividing line between the time when computers were human and when they were inanimate, when a computing job was handed off to a room full of women sitting at desks topped with $500 mechanical calculating machines and when a computing job was processed by a room-sized computer that cost in excess of $1 million.

“Whether or not a woman was promoted if she was given a raise, if she had access to the smoky sessions where the future was being conceived and built, had much to do with the prejudices and predilections of the men she worked for.”

The Burden of Blackness

The Negro’s ladder to the American dream was missing rungs, with even the most outwardly successful blacks worried at any moment the forces of discrimination could lay waste to their economic security.

Being on the leading edge of integration was not for the faint of heart.

“The cruelty of racial prejudice was so often accompanied by absurdity, a tangle of arbitrary rules and distinctions that subverted the shared interests of people who had been taught to see themselves as irreconcilably different.”

Negro life in America was a never-ending series of negotiations: when to fight and when to concede.

“For too long, history has imposed a binary condition on its black citizens: either nameless or renowned, menial or exceptional, passive recipients of the forces of history or superheroes who acquire mythic status not just because of their deeds but because of their scarcity.”

“Most blacks automatically put on a mask around whites, a veil that hid the “dead-weight of social degradation” that scholar W. E. B. Du Bois gave voice to so eloquently in The Souls of Black Folks. The mask offered protection against the constant reminders of being at once American, and the American dilemma. It obscured the anger that blacks knew could have life-changing–even life-ending–consequences if displayed openly.

Education topped her list of ideals; it was the surest hedge against a world that would require more of her children than white children, and attempt to give them less in return.

“Katherine understood that the attitudes of the hard-line racists were beyond her control. Against ignorance, she and others like her mounted a day-in, day-out charm offensive; impeccably dressed, well-spoken, patriotic, and upright, they were racial synecdoches, keenly aware that the interactions that individual blacks had with whites could have implications for the entire black community.”

Your Turn

So…have you seen Hidden Figures? Have you read Hidden Figures? Which quotes resonate most with you? Let us know in the comments! |RL

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  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I read the book and IT IS POWERFUL. Racial inequality (God, that seems like such an understatement), gender inequality (again, understatement) – they faced such horrible treatment and still served, and still persevered, and still put human beings on the moon.

  2. I loved this movie, but I’ve never read the book. I’m adding it to my list! It’s such an amazing story, I can’t believe we’ve never heard about it until now. I loved the music in the movie too. Until recently, I taught at a school in an urban, low-income area. When this movie came out, the STEM teacher took a bunch of girls from her technology class to see this movie. This story is a great chance to show the racial inequality that existed and still persists as well the need for more women in STEM-related careers.

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