HIDDEN FIGURES

the hidden figures, from left to right: Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson.

Happy Women’s History Month! Every March since 1987, Congress has designated March as Women’s History Month. This month, and every month of the year, we celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the achievements women have made over the course of American history. It is also a time to reflect on the problems that women have faced in the struggle to be free and the vital role they continue to play in society.

This month, I encourage all of you to celebrate and center your thoughts on women who are often erased—indigenous, trans, undocumented, disabled, queer, houseless, elderly, muslim, neurodivergent. Make sure your feminism is intersectional!

Today’s post will be focusing on the Hidden Figures, the group of women who worked as “computers” for NASA to aid in the launch of astronauts into space. Human computers were people who performed mathematical equations and calculations by hand. These women and their contributions to astronomy are fundamental today. For example, Annie Jump Cannon’s stellar classification system is still used today ranking the stars from hottest to coolest (O, B, A, F, G, K, M.)

The book and the movie that was based off of the book tells of the story of the three African-American women who served as the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. This momentous event restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world.

This work draws strong attention to the challenges of women in the field of STEM when it comes to stereotypes and unconscious bias. The women are looked down upon just because of the gender and have to constantly prove to the men on the team that they are capable. In addition, one of the scenes of this movie centers on the segregated work stations and how Katherine Johnson has to walk half a mile just to use the nearest colored people’s bathrrom. Speaking up about the issue led to a change, the abolition of bathroom segregation.

It is empowering to see women figures to look up to especially as a women in STEM. While I was growing up, I felt that a position in the STEM world was unattainable as it was male-dominated. I thought I was unable to have a seat at the table. However, the seat at the table is there for me, and I will get there through hard work. Moreover, it inspires me to not only to advocate for myself but for other women and girls I come across. They too deserve a seat at the table. This movie also centers around camaraderie between the women and how they achieved what they have by working together.

Dear woman,

you can be anything you want to be.

https://www.space.com/35430-real-hidden-figures.html

https://techpoint.africa/2017/04/07/lessons-hidden-figures/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_Figures

WHAT IS BLACKFACE?

Recently, a lot of celebrities and other people of power have been called out for their use of cultural appropriation, specifically blackface or, in the case of Bon Appetit’s ex-editor-in-chief, brownface. Cultural appropriation, sometimes called cultural misappropriation, is the “adoption or co-opting, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers associated with or originating in minority communities by people or communities with a relatively privileged status.” In media and mainstream culture, it seems that cultural appropriation runs rampant especially in the trends that we see. For example, the large hoop earrings seen on celebrities had been adopted from African culture. In the case of blackface, white people paint their faces black to “dress up” as black people. This had started nearly 200 years ago when white people painted their faces to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows (like a comic skit). It didn’t stop there. White performers would put on tattered clothes (to symbolize the poor-ness of black people) and exaggerated their features to look stereotypically “black.” This included using burnt cork and grease paint or shoe polish to darken their skin and red or white makeup to exaggerate their lips. They would also wear wooly wigs. In the shows, they would depict the enslaved Africans as lazy, ignorant, and cowardly. These performances were not only demeaning and hurtful to the black community, but also perpetuated inaccurate stereotypes of the black community.

The most popular blackface character was “Jim Crow.” The character was created by a white entertainer, and he would perform a song and dance act that was supposedly taught to him by a slave. Most might recognize the name “Jim Crow” because of its association with the laws that segregated, demeaned, and denied blacks basic human rights primarily from the 1870s to the 1960s (90 years!). Through these laws, it solidified the racial hierarchy throughout the USA as it ensured that the black community was forever on the bottom. These laws included segregating schools, redlining, segregating public facilities (black people would have to use the worse facilities where it was not well-kept, smaller, and older), segregating the bus, etc. Furthermore, intermarriage was prohibited.

The influence of the minstrel shows extended its way into media like movies where everyday American actors like Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, and Fred Astaire put on blackface in movies. Even black performers put on blackface, as they said it was the only way the could work. White audiences weren’t interested in watching black actors do anything but act foolish on stage, perpetuating the stereotype further. Furthermore, the only depiction of black life that white audiences saw was in minstrel shows. Therefore, by presenting enslaved Africans as the butt of jokes, it desensitized white Americans to the horrors of slavery.

Nowadays, as people are accused of blackface, they blame it on their own ignorance. However, with access to technology and information, we cannot blame things on our own ignorance and must own up to our mistakes. I encourage all of my readers to CALL PEOPLE OUT IF THEY’RE ARE DOING BLACKFACE OR ANYTHING DEMEANING TO ANOTHER RACE. RACISM IS NEVER OKAY!

While I’m uncomfortable with posting this image on my site, I think it serves as a way to further educate my readers as it shows how the media had portrayed the minstrel shows and blackface. As you can see, they have exaggerated the person’s features using makeup to signify a “stereotypical black man.”

Turkey in the Straw Sheet Music
A poster used to advertise a minstrel show

Originally published July 3

RECOGNIZING PRIVILEGE

Recently, the word white privilege has been thrown around a lot in conversation and social media. Some people might be wondering, “what exactly is white privilege?” People often describe white privilege in the same way that Peggy McIntosh did in her essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. White privilege refers to the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in societies. You might be like, ‘this makes no sense! I am not privileged compared to others.’ However, when you go into a store, how many shampoos and conditioners are catered to African hair? Are the bandaids you pick up matching your skin? When you turn on your TV, how many black people are there? If there are black people in the show, chances are that they are used to “enhance diversity.” Black people with dark skin are barely cast in shows. People with “ethnic-sounding names” have a lower chance of being cast in shows. Furthermore, directors go as far as whitewashing the cast. Whitewashing is a casting practice in which white actors are cast in non-white roles. People of color are not represented in the media. By presenting white people in colored people’s roles, it sends a message to little kids to want to be like white people. Additionally, white people are more likely to see positive portrayals of people who look like them on the news, on TV shows, and in movies.

White privilege is not the assumption that everything a white person has accomplished is unearned. White privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort. White privilege can also be viewed as the “power of normal.” The items that we find in the grocery store are things that reflect the cultural traditions of most white people. Though people dismiss these inconveniences of having their needs be labeled as special, these inconveniences hide something beneath the surface. If public spaces and goods cater to one race and segregate the needs of people of other races into special sections, it shows that these places aren’t welcoming to other races.

Why does white privilege prevail? Who built the system that caused white privilege to prevail and keeps it going? It prevails because of systemic racism. Systemic Racism is what happens when racism (which is defined as “individual- and group-level processes and structures that are implicated in the reproduction of racial inequality”) are carried out by groups with power like governments, businesses, or schools. It had started when the government was tasked with divvying up the cities into sections that designated what part was desirable and undesirable for investing. This process was called “redlining.” It blocked off black neighborhoods from access to public and private investments. Banks would use these maps to deny black families loans and other services. So, black people weren’t able to buy a house due to banks, AND they weren’t able to go to college because of LEGAL SEGREGATION. Today, redlining is still used in Chicago and other areas.

To learn more about systemic racism, raceforward.org has created a series of videos that show how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society.

Another great video that explains systemic racism simply is act.tv’s video.