The Resurgence of the BLM movement and other Grassroots activist groups that are fighting for change is about two months strong and is not slowing down. As the school year begins, with some uncertainty, I thought about how this historic year thus far may impact the curricula. We have learned a whitewashed version of history for so long, and my hope is that with all the recent conversation regarding race historically and currently in America, that education we receive will reflect that as well.
This is a short fiction piece about a white girl learning about a "hidden figure" in american history, who she decides to look up to.
When Jodie-Ann first learned about Katherine Johnson, she was in awe. Her class had seen her story in the film "Hidden Figures" for a field trip during the short lived black history month, and with her fascination of numbers and space already at its peak, she now had three women to look up to, which paved the way for female astrophysicists. How could she have not learned about them sooner?
She asked that same question to her teacher. Ms. Parker, her Black teacher who had previously followed the curricular of telling half of history- why hadn't she heard of them before? Ms. Parker seemed tight lipped about the matter, saying that she can google them for more information. They were back at school when she asked this, the principal's office within earshot of their conversation. It was the last day of February and Jodie knew if she didn't find out more soon, the memory of them would be once again, lost in history.
So she googled like Ms. Parker suggested and found a shallow wikipedia article, a couple mentions in news articles and finally a bio on NASA's website. But she thought about how long it took for her, on track to being fully involved in STEM subjects, taking physics courses before any of her classmates, and her brain described as a human calculator- how all of these things were true but yet the identity of Katherine Johnson went unspoken about for so long. She thought about how if Ms. Parker didn't ignore the tradition of showing "My friend Martin" or "Roots" then Katherine Johnson would still be a hidden figure to her.
That night, Jodie told her family about Katherine Johnson and how she's going to be her role model for important people in the STEM field. But her mother and father seemed a bit awkward at her revelation- "What about Grace Hopper?" her mother suggested. "She was also in that field- and good at it. There's even a memorial fund in her name."
Jodie thought that she was great and influential in the field, but Katherine Johnson resonated more with her. "Okay. there's also Ada Lovelace- wow such a pretty name- she created the first computer language. I think you should look up to her." Jodie was not only shocked to find out that her father knew about women in STEM, but that he would have anything to say on the matter. She has looked up to people to white men mostly, for years and for the first time she had a black woman as a role model. It shouldn't even be an issue or a question why. It shouldn't be an afterthought or a token. It shouldn't be a big deal, like changing your religion or core beliefs.
Once again, Jodie said that she felt compelled to look up to Katherine Johnson, regardless of the fact that she wasn't white. Her parents looked at each other with worried glances. Finally they said "We just feel that, maybe you should look up to someone who...looks like us." Looks like them? Jodie thought. She had mainly seen white men with these converted titles but seeing a woman made it seem that these roles could finally be attainable. Even more so, she was a black woman who defined the odds, and made history in a space dominated by white standards. She knew she would never understand that struggle- her privilege as a white woman would make her journey advancing in STEM a lot easier than any black women's journey. But black women only had so many known people in history to look up to who looked like them. She was lucky to even have more than three, and of course she wished it were more but she thought about how black women had always been surrounded by white role models, white leaders, white teachers, white speakers, white history. And for one month, it would finally be about them. For one month they would scrape the surface, talk about the same five black people who fought for civil and human rights, see Roots for a few days and then be done with talking about THEIR history only to continue to learn about the American Revolution for 7 months- and not even talk about the black people involved in that fight either.
America became independent in 1776. Black people are still fighting for that freedom.
Jodie went to bed that night with a few things on her mind. Could she as a white girl look up to a black woman? Why was that odd for her parents who went such lengths to convince her otherwise? Black people, women especially, only had a handful of historical role models to choose from- she was lucky to have the privilege of being the world's ideal standard of beauty. Black women have not had that. They still don't.
That night, Jodie vowed to do her part. To learn more and do more so that black women can be seen as much as white men or women. Use her privilege to be listened to more, to speak out against deep rooted racism. Black women are role models without question. They are role models who not only excelled in their field, but because of their blackness, it is even more important to recognize their achievement in a world that has constantly been against them. Black girls and boys deserve that much.
- Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician Featured in 'Hidden ... ›
- NASA Remembers Hidden Figure Katherine Johnson - YouTube ›
- Katherine Johnson: Hidden Figures Nasa mathematician dies at 101 ... ›
- Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures Fame Dies at 101 - Scientific ... ›
- Katherine Johnson - Wikipedia ›
- 'Hidden Figures' Mathematician Katherine Johnson Dies : NPR ›
- Katherine Johnson Biography | NASA ›