How To Be A "Hidden Figure" In A White Space
February 01, 2017 at 12:35 am
The first time I saw the trailer for Hidden Figures, I stared at my TV screen, wide-eyed. 13 Black History Months had passed me by, and not once were the names Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan or Mary Jackson uttered during my public education. I felt bamboozled.
Hidden Figures unearthed a piece of buried Black history, and for that, I’m grateful. Not only did I leave the theater with new African-American history points on my black card, but I also left equipped with five ways to be bold, black and bomb in a predominately white office.
One of the most memorable scenes from the movie is when Katherine holds documents up to the ceiling light in order to see information that has been blacked out. Katherine’s white counterparts, feeling threatened by her blackness, had purposely obscured information to make her seem incompetent. Instead of dwelling on the fact that she was being sabotaged, Katherine improvised.
2. Speak up
Hidden Figures depicted Jim Crow at its finest. When Katherine’s boss questions where she runs off to for 40 minutes each day, Katherine passionately explains that there are no colored bathrooms in the building where she works. In fact, the nearest colored bathroom is half a mile away.
The bathrooms were quickly integrated following Katherine’s eloquent soliloquy that outlined the numerous ways institutionalized racism inhibited her ability to do her job efficiently.
3. Stick together
Katherine, Dorothy and Mary’s relationship demonstrated the importance of having a support system on the job. They car pooled to make sure each other had reliable transportation to work. They vouched for the quality of each other’s competence. They celebrated each other’s triumphs.
Although I’m the only black person in my office, I’m not the only female. My female co-workers and I have found commonality in dodging gendered microaggressions and have found strength in lifting each other up.
4. Educate yourself
Dorothy showed she was a true leader when she took the initiative to learn and teach her girls how to work the new computer – a machine that would eventually put her and her team of “human computers” out of work. This smart move paved the way for Dorothy to become NASA’s first African-American manager.
Mary also sought out education to further her career but ran into a roadblock. She needed special classes to qualify for an engineering promotion. However, the classes she needed were taught at a local segregated high school. After successfully appealing to the self-interest of a white judge, Mary won her right to take night classes at the school. In 1958, Mary became NASA’s first Black female engineer.
5. Let your actions speak
You can’t fight ignorance with logic. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary all let their work speak for itself. In a race to beat the Russians into space, NASA had no choice but to allow these black hidden figures to thrive in a white space.
If you haven’t gone to see “Hidden Figures” yet, I guarantee you it will be two hours and seven minutes well spent. Watching Katherine, Dorothy and Mary thrive as black women in a white space made me swell with pride. And if a slightly secure young, black professional can find inspiration in “Hidden Figures,” imagine the impact this film has had on little girls