There's Still Work To Do For "Hidden Figures"

The movie has gotten its due recognition, but we are far from done.

Hidden Figures is a critically acclaimed movie about the will and determination of brilliant women in a time when much of their company and country were barriers to their success. This movie has served not only as an inspiration to young women, especially those in STEM fields, but also as a testament to the importance of allies as actors of change. 

It’s easy to see the struggle of the women in the movie and say “Oh, how awful. I’m glad this is over; we should obviously never allow something like this to happen again.” Well, no, unfortunately - not obviously. These things don’t go without saying. They should, but they didn’t then and they don’t now. We’ve made lots of progress but we still live in a world with racism, sexism and prejudice. Today, black women are one of the most educated groups of people in America. Yet, they still make only 60 cents to the white man’s dollar.

Katherine Johnson struggles for equality in an environment that requires the best, but refuses to see that a black woman is the best. Dorothy Vaughan fights for her due recognition as she pushes for the job title and salary of a job she is already doing. Mary Jackson pursues her education so as to be promoted to an engineer. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary fight against a corporate culture that sees them as subservient, bosses that refuse to give them their due, and systems of segregation that would have them surrender their full potential.

While most of his staff flounders as NASA progresses, Al Harrison becomes an essential catalyst for change at NASA. Harrison is quick to notice the brains and will of Katherine. For some time, though, he is blind to her struggle. As a white man, he never had to think about which bathroom he could use, or which coffee pot he could drink from. The more he comes to need her the more he comes to see the barriers preventing her success. Suddenly awake to her struggle, Harrison, from his position of privilege, starts to tear down the barriers in front of her by eliminating the ‘colored’ coffee pots and bathrooms. 

We’ve made some undeniable progress but there is still much more to be done. Across the country there are women doing their jobs in deliberate determination, refusing to accept the barriers placed before them. They’re working just as hard as their male counterparts, but with even more in their way and even less pay. It’s easy to sit in your recliner, eat your popcorn and let yourself think that this fight is over, but it isn’t.  The hard part comes when we must stop being blind to it. We need less people applauding Al Harrison and more people being Al Harrison. You don’t need to look far to find someone to fight for.

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