Admittedly I am late to this but last week I finally watched the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
It is an American biography based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s non-fiction book about African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race.
It is set in 1961, and follows the story of Katherine Johnson, a brilliant mathematician who effectively works as a “computer”, aspiring engineer Mary Jackson and her unofficial supervisor Dorothy Vaughan.
The three women work in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center in Virginia. Each of them fought and won what might reasonably have been be deemed insurmountable battles in their individual quests to fulfil their professional capabilities.
It is not a film I will forget. Inspiring seems insipid to describe the power of these women and their stories. Hidden Figures filled me with despair and hope.
Despair because it depicted the woeful injustice that, not that long ago, was so deeply ingrained. In segregation and the racism that underpinned it. In the blatant and barefaced double whammy of discrimination women of colour faced. Despair in the knowledge, that while advances have been made, the injustice and racism remains.
— Mafalda Arias (@MafaldaArias) August 3, 2017
Hope because it showed the astonishing power of education, self-belief and tenacity.
Hope because of the inconceivable battles these women waged to right wrongs. Battles that were not easy, that required super human strength, that paved the way for change. Hope because of what these women achieved.
To comprehend their achievements is to comprehend the capacity for individuals to change the world. To acknowledge the human capacity for change.
The fact the backdrop to these women’s achievements is another seemingly insurmountable objective – sending humans into space – is apt and amplifies the effect.
It was JFK who famously said we do the hard things “not because they are easy but because they are hard.”
This, fresh in my mind, compounds the disappointment of 2017.
It makes a government steadfastly committed to maintain a status quo that isn’t supported by Australian voters, that entrenches discrimination, harder to take. It makes leaders who would rather obfuscate than legislate, weaker still.
Sadly, the Government has tonight decided not to do their jobs #marriageequality
— AU Marriage Equality (@AMEquality) August 7, 2017
It makes a memo distributed by a leading engineer calling out the inherent biological strengths of men tragic.
Google engineer pens anti-diversity manifesto: So how many men in tech agree? https://t.co/SyrhrpegDz
— Women's Agenda (@WomensAgenda) August 7, 2017
Katherine Johnson had no time for such archaic prejudices back in 1961, and we sure as hell shouldn’t now.
While Johnson’s male colleagues fought to have her removed, she set about making corrections to ensure the spaceship’s trajectory would actually work. It was a feat none of her male colleagues managed.
Katherine Johnson, the NASA Mathematician Who Advanced Human Rights with a Slide Rule and Pencil https://t.co/Pfhp9n3eF1
— Aneth David (@anethdavidd) July 27, 2017
And yet here we are in 2017 having an engineer publicly talk down the ability of women?
Here we are in 2017 with two major world leaders whose conversation is centred on who should take responsibility for some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens.
Incredible leaked transcript reveals that on immigration Trump told Turnbull: “You’re worse than I am" https://t.co/jldotT4PPw
— Mark Di Stefano 🤙🏻 (@MarkDiStef) August 3, 2017
Not for Trump and Turnbull to discuss solutions to the conflicts that are creating these refugees. The reasons so many people are willing to risk their lives and their families and their life-savings, to get on a boat in hope of safety. In hope of a better life.
Not for them, to focus on the inhumane treatment these individuals have been subject to.
For them, a simple blame game with a little macho thrown in for good measure.
If the leaders of 2017 cannot even entertain doing the simple things, what hope is there for tackling the hard things?
Some things have changed since 1961 and one thing certainly hasn’t. One universal truth is as prescient now as it was then.
Change won’t happen easily. It takes leadership and it takes courage. Neither of which are particularly apparent among our current leaders.
But that needn’t deter progress. As Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson lives showed, it is possible for each of us to change the world.
It won’t be easy, there will be battles, there will be people who doubt you. There will be people who try to block you, and there will be plenty of times when you doubt yourself, but if you persevere, change is possible.
If you don’t believe me, watch Hidden Figures.