Hidden Figures – Almost a Review

hidden-figures

A few weeks ago, I read the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.  I really liked the book and can’t imagine the movie covering one tenth the ground it did.  There is so much context and background in the book, and yet I know the author was still only scratching the surface.

This is not a review of the book (review = excellent.  Read it).  I just want to say something about the book, something that I thought about as I read it but that is even more relevant after the recent events in Charlottesville.

A lot of this book is about racism at its ugliest, but also how some people were able to rise above it, or perhaps “rise in spite of it” would be a better phrase.  A little background about how hard it was for people of color, and blacks in particular, to get ahead in the pre-World War II era was needed to place the events of the book in context.  There were black professionals back then, but for the most part they were segregated, dealing with the black community at much lower pay than their white counterparts.  The idea brought out in the book that they had to accomplish twice as much to achieve half of the recognition, unfortunately, is still with us to some degree to this day.

Here is the thing, though: Once given the chance, these people were able to shine.

The women in the book were very smart and well educated.  They worked very hard and kept a professional demeanor no matter the circumstances. Most importantly, the work they did was of the highest standard.

When I was reading I couldn’t help but think that so many others weren’t given the chance.  Too many didn’t have the resources to be educated.  Others, once educated, where then pushed into low paying jobs where their skills couldn’t be put to the test.

How many brilliant minds were never given the chance to shine?

It isn’t just the individuals that were hurt because they weren’t able to achieve even the smallest part of what they were capable of, but the nation and the world were hurt because the deep-rooted racism didn’t allow the contributions they could have made to be fulfilled.

How much did racism cost the world in the “what could have been”?

I do have a heart, and even though I am concentrating on the cost to the world, I feel even more deeply about the people who were kept down.

The racists marching in Charlottesville last weekend claimed that the country (USA) and all of the great things in it were created by white men and only white men should benefit from it.  This book shows the lie in such statements.

The first lie, of course, is that it plainly isn’t true that this country was built exclusively by white men.  We would not have reached the Moon without black women, and perhaps may not have won WW II.  And this is only one small instance where people of color have help create our country.  Just think of George Washington Carver, a man born into slavery who was later held up by the US administration as a major rebuttal against the Nazi’s racism.  For more, go listen to Stevie Wonder’s song Black Man.  The thing Stevie leaves out is that perhaps the most recognizable artistic achievement of our country is our music, and there is no denying that African Americans led the way – spirituals, gospel, jazz, blues, rock, soul, funk, rap, R&B, dance, etc.

The other place that this book shows the lie of the racists is what I first talked about – what can be achieved if people are given the opportunity.  A man or woman forced to do slave labor will not be making great scientific discoveries.  Time and time again, when real opportunities are presented, and not the “separate but equal” types, people who were formerly repressed rise to the occasion.

One irony of the history behind the book is that these ladies were first given the opportunity because the US needed their help to defeat the Nazis.  They worked in one of the most racist environments of the 20th century to help defeat a racist regime.  The book talks about some of the institutionalized racism of America in general and of Virginia, were these “computers” were based, in particular.  From my previous research, Margot Lee Shetterly was not exaggerating at all.  We needed to be reminded of how bad it was in the 1930s, and even as recently as the early 60s, to appreciate the accomplishments of those who did rise above.

This is supposed to be a non-political blog, but I couldn’t help doing a post like this.  First, I want to promote this excellent book.  If you haven’t read it, you need to.  But also because the events over the weekend, and many of the statements about them, show us that deeply entrenched hatreds are still here as much as they were back in Virginia in the 1940s.  But now we can all see it for what it really is.  It is the responsibility of all freedom loving people to rise against it.

Thinking of being non-political, I don’t think being anti-hate is being political.  Look at all of the Republicans that have been making comments against the racists, some even standing up to Trump about his statements on the events of Charlottesville.  This proves that being against fascists is not a left vs. right issue, it is a human issue.  It is an issue that we must all face.  And the excellent ladies in the book Hidden Figures should give us inspiration to fight for what is right.

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Hidden Figures – Almost a Review

  1. Pingback: If We Were Having Coffee on the 19th of August | Trent's World (the Blog)

  2. LeanneBrookes

    I’ve been dying to see this film, but perhaps I’ll read the book first! Well written and well said. I can’t believe people of colour are still having to put up with this racism in 2017, it makes me so mad/sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. Joanne Sisco

    Very well written, Trent. I agree wholeheartedly that we all lose when racism is allowed to exist. Your comment “being against fascists is not a left vs. right issue, it is a human issue” sums it up perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  4. willowdot21

    Bravo Trent. Maybe it serves the world right that it has not progressed as far as it could have had not people of the “wrong” sex or colour not been held back. Perhaps this bigoted rascist world got what it deserved. God save us from ourselves and may a certain leader learn some humility and common sense. I know he is not alone … God help us all please.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I do think there are more of “us”, that is, people who are compassionate, than “them”, the haters. But the haters are loud and can be violent, as has been proven. The last decade or two has been very turbulent, but it can’t be sustained. Hopefully people will understand that they need to listen to those voices speaking reason instead of the haters. That is one reason I’m raising my voice, even if just a little, to help offset those others even if just a little.

      Like

      Reply
  5. Marilyn Armstrong

    I read the book and saw the movie. Yes, they did manage to rise because the WERE given the opportunity … and because they did so in a world that wasn’t full of shrieking, violent, white supremacists or Nazis.

    It takes more than an opportunity. It also takes a civilized world willing to consider the possibility that such people are capable and not hating them so much that they never get the education, much less the opportunity to use it. Without a civilized world, it CAN NOT work. It’s not just about people who have been oppressed being excellent at their work, determined, appropriate in behavior. It also takes a world where they are not shot at, locked up, gassed, murdered wholesale, or enslaved.

    Reality is a lot more complicated than books or movies.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Yes, I agree, the real world is more complicated than books or movies. Creating change like this needed the right time and place for it to work. It might not have worked five years before the war, but during the war it would. And you are right, despite the extreme racism of the time, it wasn’t as bleak as Nazi Germany at the time – the opportunity could not have been given there and then.

      There are other things to look at. The events in the book happened because it was the federal government under Roosevelt hiring them. The state of Virginia, where they were stationed, would never have hired them as professionals at the time, nor any private company, at least not in the South at the time.

      Unfortunately we do have some shrieking white supremacists running around now. Just a handful, sure, but they feel emboldened and think they have a friend in the White House. I think it is important to look at lessons of the past and how we did the right thing by giving people opportunities and continue to do that, to open up our country even more and not to embolden the neo-Nazis or KKK any more than they are. I think the country is pulling together to marginalize these groups, but it hasn’t happened yet. They are claiming Trump’s words as a major victory.

      Like

      Reply
          1. Marilyn Armstrong

            Are they a cause — or were they just waking up our sleeping demons? The answer is never simple. Both, probably.

            I also think the rise and growth of so many not-white people has left a class of white folks scared to death. Maybe — after all — they are NOT superior, merely … a lighter shade of pale. Not in charge and no longer even the majority in this country.

            Fear is a wicked prod.

            Liked by 1 person

            Reply
            1. trentpmcd Post author

              I think you are right on both counts – that the sleeping demons/Fox news creates a feedback loop, each building on each other. And the growing non-white population, as well as how well the non-white population is doing. There is also the fact that all of those good paying factory jobs of the 60s are no longer to be had and so people with little education face an uncertain world. They need to change, but change is hard. And, of course, the rich elite take advantage of it, and say these jobs aren’t there because of x, y or z instead of telling them the truth that their old jobs were automated away. Anyway, I’m sure there are hundreds of reasons. I just hope that either this is a dying breed striking out violently before it goes away or it is possible to moderate at least some of them.

              Like

              Reply
              1. Marilyn Armstrong

                They will die off, but unfortunately, they breed. Hate is a family thing. If you are raised with hate, you teach your kids to hate, and sometimes you can teach hate to lots of other people, too.

                I don’t GET it. I don’t understand it. I have never understood it. I’ve had to change careers 3 times because my old one became obsolete and I never hated anyone because of it. It made me unhappy, but hate? Who?

                Why would you assume someone stole your job when it’s THEY CLOSED THE FACTORY, so obviously NO ONE took the job. There IS no job.

                If rationality had any traction, we wouldn’t be here.

                Liked by 1 person

                Reply
                1. trentpmcd Post author

                  I don’t get it either. However, I think part of the issue is that you are intelligent (not that they are all stupid) and flexible. You don’t see things in stark black and white. I think that it is the people with the conservative mindset (as opposed to conservative political views) that are trapped by it. They lost a job. It can’t be THEIR fault, so whose fault is it? Someone has to be to blame, and so the company heads create scapegoats.

                  Like coal – We produce more coal now then ever but with 1/4 the labor. So all of those people waiting for coal jobs to miraculously reappear are told that they don’t have jobs because the environmentalists and the Democrats. Somebody has to be blamed. The people in those regions don’t notice, or care, that the owners are raking in record profits.

                  Of course it isn’t just jobs – some of the people I run across that scream the loudest are actually doing pretty well for themselves. Not sure where it comes from with them.

                  Like

                  Reply

Express Yourself

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s