I recently had the opportunity to see the film Hidden Figures with my 11 year old daughter. I generally thought it was a wonderful film that tells an incredible, heretofore untold and largely unknown story of the many black women – one of whom was a math genius – involved in the first successful American space flight to the moon. But in spite of the pride I felt in learning about these women, I also left the film quite angry as I realized the many unfortunate truths that the film illuminates. The following is what I learned from watching Hidden Figures:
- #BlackGenius is much more than a hashtag. It's a way of life. And it's been going on for centuries.
- The phrase Hidden Figures isn't just a reflection of the fact of what's been hidden (Katherine Johnson, et al), but the phrase is also an indictment. The determination by white people to hide our accomplishments, on purpose, is evident. It's a sorrowful thing to be told for decades that you and your people HAVE no history, and discover over time that black folks's history IS American history. How dare white supremacy try to squash black brilliance! Inventions stolen, art copied, culture co-opted. The nerve.
- White people like to feel good about the ways they think they "allowed" and "helped" black people progress, evident in the bursts of applause I heard from a 75% white audience in the theater where I saw Hidden Figures. All of the racial guilt white folks carry from knowing they benefit from a white supremacist system that centers whiteness over blackness is somehow relieved when a white character, say, knocks down the colored bathroom sign, or a deserving, brilliant, black woman is finally promoted to supervisor. The clapping is loud, self-serving, easy, simplistic, and insulting.
- White jealousy of black genius is a thing. White thwarting of black progress is a thing. White determination to kill black potential is a thing. White rejection of black humanity is a thing. White fragility resulting in black oppression is a thing. Yes, this all happened in the past. It also continues to happen today.
- White people like to cry foul when black people speak publicly of their disgust and their pain, because it makes white folks uncomfortable. They say we're being divisive when "we should come together," especially now, in light of how we're all likely to be oppressed - in some form - under this vile new president and his administration. However, just like any relationship requires that both parties be able to fully express who they are and how they feel in order for the relationship to be healthy, there can be no "come together" without a reckoning. Black folks have been listening for a very long time. It's time for some serious and sincere reciprocity.