I have been walking around this planet arrogant af. I just knew I could win millions in any black history jeopardy game and there was no hotep or historian that could tell me differently. This is proof that arrogance serves no purpose: I had no idea who Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were. To add insult to injury, I attended Hampton University, a historically black college, just a few miles away from Norfolk where ground breaking history was made. If I missed learning about them in my black militant home growing up; at least I could have learned about them in an institution of higher learning dedicated to educating black people.
But noooooo, I was ignorant. Knowing about a black female mathematician like Kathy Johnson may have changed my dysfunctional relationship with math. It may have given me a boost of self-esteem so that I wouldn’t cower in the face of quadratic equations. But here I am, a very grown woman learning something new about black history. I am grateful.
Race & Gender
The movie captured soft nuances of the intersectionality of race and gender. Even when Kathy, (Taraji P. Henson) was recognized as the “genius in the room”, her womaness was ignored. Kathy’s boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) tore down the colored bathroom sign and desegregated the NASA bathrooms. His reasons were selfish, he wanted her to be more accessible to him but it was still a milestone. Juxtapose, Al always told his staff to call their wives when they were going to work late, never acknowledging that Kathy might have a husband and children to call. He always addressed his staff using male pronouns when Kathy was in front of his face, in a “shirt below her knees” and sensible kitten heels, clearly female.
White Women: Friend or Foe?
Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) did the work of a supervisor without receiving supervisor compensation. When Dorothy asked Vivian Michael (Karen Dunst) about her supervisor application she was told because she was Negro she wouldn’t be considered. It took Dorothy figuring out how to use one of the first computers at NASA before she was acknowledged for her work and genius. Tons of white men had tried prior to Dorothy, to figure out how to use this new math machine. Dorothy taught herself how to use the machine with intuitive knowledge and some light reading. When the white men started coming to her to learn, it was only then that Vivian gave her the position she deserved. Dorothy was the first black supervisor at NASA. Even when the white man has his foot on the white woman’s neck she still finds a way to look down her nose at a black woman.
All the Becky’s weren’t completely bad though. Kathy’s supervisor had a secretary who at times seemed to be uncomfortable with the racism that Kathy was experiencing but never spoke up. I suppose it’s hard to talk with a foot on your neck. In the end she offers Kathy a wedding gift: pearls that Kathy had mentioned she couldn’t afford. I am still deciding whether this was a peace-offering or charity.
Laws Are Not For White People
The federal government passed laws to desegregate schools. The state of Virginia didn’t care. State laws allowed the schools to remain segregated. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) had to win a court case to attend an all white school to become an engineer. She had to convince a judge who blatantly told her that he had no intention of respecting federal law and planned on upholding the racist traditions of his forefathers.
Mary convinced the judge to allow her to go to an all white school by appealing to his white male privilege and narcissism. Mary took a seat in the front of a class full of white men and became an engineer.
The acting was great! Every time I see Janelle in a movie I am pleasantly surprised. We all know that Octavia Spencer is a force to be reckoned with. But who I am most impressed by is Taraji. I used to feel like she was the same person in all her roles. I can always detect the D.C. hood chick in her, whether she is playing a cop or a golf instructor. But this time she embodied Kathy and nailed the role.
Now I have to read the book. I know my mind will be blown and I will have to add to the list of black things I didn’t know.
Go see the movie.