‘Hidden Figures’ and the Importance of Representation

Remember that stand up routine of Chris Rock’s where he expressed that famous quote, “Why the black man gotta fly to something that the white man can walk to?” Well, if you don’t, here’s the video for your convenience.

Hidden Figures is not only a film that captures the real life stories of black mathematicians working at NASA during US segregation, it is about female black mathematicians. I had never heard of the names Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughn, or Mary Jackson before entering the theatre to watch this film, and that troubles me.

Despite a few inaccuracies, the film did a good job of portraying the double oppression these women faced at the time. It confirms that black people and women have always been smart (sad that this fact needs confirming). However, although these days it seems almost insulting to argue for the intelligence of black women (and other minority races), the film’s subject matter still proves to be relevant in 2017.

Image: thinkprogress.com

How many well-known black people can you immediately name who are NOT in the entertainment industry? By that, I mean black people who are not singers, dancers, athletes or media personalities, but who are in academia, STEM, politics, and so on. The Obamas? Neil deGrasse Tyson? Ben Carson? Cornel West? How many more? Any women?

Image: campusriot.com

This is not a coincidence or some new revelation. The sad part about Hidden Figures is that, although black people are now welcome to join these fields, there is still a lack of encouragement for black people to pursue higher education and succeed. In 2013, only 56 out of the 1570 faculty members at Harvard were black. And no, it is not just a black problem, seeing as only 19% of the faculty is made up of racial minorities.

Not to discredit the jobs of entertainers, many of whom continue to break records and pave the way for future generations to pursue their dreams, but when a child is only seeing representation of themselves as athletes and singers, then they are bound to want to continue that cycle. My parents always told me that I could be a doctor or a lawyer, but I never actually saw any black doctors or lawyers in my real life to look up to. I knew a lot of white ones, but that did not really help me. Growing up in Canada, I was barely even taught about important historical black figures in school. So yes, I naturally wanted to be Beyonce (don’t worry, I recently realized that I’ll sadly never be Beyonce).

We should aim to show the diverse careers out there available for everyone, and to make them more attainable for minorities than they currently seem to be.

Side note: God bless Obama and all the black kids who grew up during his administration. Now black kids can aspire to be President of the United States without being ridiculed for something like colour.

Image: harpersbazaar.com



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