Why “Hidden Figures” matters

Katherine Johnson.jpeg
Katherine Johnson- Physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in NASA’s journey into space and their landing on the moon

I’ve long since become accustomed to seeing leading black women in movies as slaves, love interests and/or maids. Other times, I’ve become accustomed to seeing them as caricatures; either they are women who do too much or too little, women who act but don’t inspire because their characters are one dimensional and overdone.

For years, we would ask for not only minority representation but strong minority representation that doesn’t reduce us to either eye-candy, sassy black woman and/or a mammy characters. We were told that what we wanted just was not possible. Our underrepresentation in films were not a result of some active and implicit bias but simple Mathematics. We were told that movies with lead black women would just not do well at the box office. Only movies focused predominantly on white heroism, pains and struggles would. So, they would give us things like Madea, The Help and so on, not yet knowing that their argument would soon be riddled with holes as “Hidden Figures” (based on the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly), has even beaten Rogue 1 (as it well should because Star Wars is crap) at the box office while having far fewer theatres available to it. Now that their argument is demolished, I hope that this movie will represent a tide of changes to come within the film industry.


Mary Jackson- Mathematician and aerospace engineer at NASA. She was the first black black engineer at NASA

I went into the movie the day it opened at Giftland, excited but slightly skeptical. Would this movie fall prey to the common trope of the tiara syndrome and that of the white savior? Would this be NASA’s version of ‘The Help’?

While on surface level there might have appeared to be elements of both, there weren’t, not really.

Harrison, the leader of the mission in a nice scene breaks down segregated washroom signs. I was a bit dubious about this part until I realised that he did not do it because he feels particularly sympathetic to Katherine, he did it because it was in his and NASA’s best interest to do so. They could not have their lead mathematician running off everyday for close to an hour because she did not have access to bathrooms close by. Meanwhile, the women are not silent persons waiting to be recognised, but actively pursue and adapt themselves to achieve what they want and that is highly refreshing.

People often shirk at the idea about positive representation in the media. Entertainment is entertainment and in the larger scheme of things it doesn’t matter. While that may be true to an extent, seeing not only one but three trailblazing women who look like you accomplishing so much in a much more oppressive system, does wonders on the minds of little black girls everywhere and lets them know that they too can do great things.


Dorothy Vaughn- Mathematician who was the first black woman to supervise staff at NASA

Within five minutes, I was in tears. This silly tear spilling over the women, their triumphs and their struggles continued sporadically throughout the film. I was thankful that it being day, not many persons were in the theatre, but I did gain a strange look from the ticket collector on my way out because of how red my eyes were. If such a movie can matter to me, someone who has by and large been very privileged and grew up hearing that I could be whatever I wanted and throwing away my family’s lofty ambitions and aiming to become a writer, then imagine what it means to those less privileged and who are told that their stories and lives do not matter. Just imagine.

I liked that the movie was not this idealogical pipe dream which saw the white people all realising that, “Oh, they’re just people like us and as such we should treat them equally.” No, it is a movie rooted in reality and as such, the evolution of the central white characters are subtler and one gets a sense once again that they are not being accepting because they particularly like these women, but because it is in their best interest to have the best minds working for them. The movie offers a very sobering question about equality, biases and the implications these have for our advancement as a people. While we see the barriers the women face with regards to advancement due to their race and gender, we begin to wonder how many persons never got a chance to make their genius known due to the prevailing biases surrounding them.


On why I’ve never ‘come out’

14285672_1135756359828458_1612499771_oPhoto credit- Marceano Adrian Narine

It has been four years since I knew that I was genuinely attracted to women and three years since I’ve accepted the emotional and sexual fluidity that bisexuality allows me. Despite never hiding my sexuality since then however, I have never really come out of the proverbial closet and I think because of this, many persons view me as the hot-tempered heterosexual writer girl, who may be a LGBT sympathizer but does not particularly belong to them.

In a way, I guess this can be seen as a ‘coming out’ of sorts and to my friends and family learning about a part of me through this post, I’m sorry that I’ve had to become a label to justify my queerness to you. Hopefully, we can continue to have the same strained conversations we have all grown so accustomed to over the years- But let me for a minute explain why I’ve never come out.

Honestly, I think the whole thing is a bit too dramatic. I just could not see myself having a sit down with family and friends to tell them I ‘like like’ women. Awkward. I know it may sound weird but for some reason I felt, and still feel as if me having to officially announce my sexuality to individuals somehow gives off the vibe than I am ashamed of who I am when in actually it is something I revel in.

Another reason I’ve never seen the necessity of it was that I generally don’t understand the pressure persons belonging to the LGBT community face to come out because their sexuality is not considered normal and as such, needs to come with theatrics. My reasoning is, if you’ve never had to come out as heterosexual to me, I should not be pressured to come out as queer to you because my sexuality does not define who I am. You feel me?

I do not want to be known as that bi girl and oddly, I feel that when you come out as part of the LGBT community to people, they tend to dehumanise you. You are no longer a person, you are a sexuality, one either to be fetishized over or to be angry and hateful towards.

I realise I’m beginning to sound like one of those persons who encourages others to keep their sexual identity to themselves but that is very far from what I am trying to say in this somewhat incoherent post. Many of my friends and family realised I was interested in women from the smallest of things, a facebook post, a casual comment, seeing me flirt with or kiss a girl in front of them. Legit, me casually kissing a girl in front of her was how one of my friends found out and I was secretly so happy and proud when she didn’t ask any questions and just went along with it.

Anyway, I think that’s the way it should be. We shouldn’t be pressured to justify and made to feel tremendous guilt at our sexuality, it should be a normal part of our lives, because believe it or not, we are pretty normal-sometimes boringly so.





The Orlando shooting


With every mass shooting, bombings or acts of hate and terror in countries such as the U.S and U.K, the world watches in grief as the often-grisly murders are explained to them. Often, these killings overshadow similar ones in continents such as Africa and Asia as mainstream media decides who gets our sympathies and who does not.

Whether it is acknowledged or not, the attitudes and opinions we hold on certain tragic matters are largely influenced by the media and the stories they harp upon.

This is one reason why we hardly heard a peep about the 49 persons who died in Syria and the 35 others who were injured in shooting and shelling and hardly anything about the rise of Boko Haram and their countless victims.

Before I go on, I should say that I am in no way trying to undermine the brutality of the act of hate mixed with self loathing which resulted in the death of 49 persons and injuries of over 50.

The speculated reasons behind the assault are many, with the most popular one of late being that the shooter himself was gay and was struggling with an identity he was conditioned to hate from childhood.

To an extent, it can even be considered an act of terror, which was very particular in its nature, as was the case with the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

It should be noted that the shooters ghastly act not only wounded the gay community but also served to add fire to the proverbial flames of anti- Muslim sentiments in a time when followers of Islam have been singled out for hateful political rhetoric.

Whatever the reason behind the work of that deranged mind however, I know that the attack has caused LBGT persons in the U.S and around the rest of the world to feel less safe than they had just a few days ago.

Even here in Guyana the tension and unease amongst the gay community can be seen and felt as many persons openly share their sentiments which are largely urged on by religious views, that the man’s act was justified.

For every one of these bible thumpers however, there are maybe five who are sympathetic to the shooting. The sympathy and expressions of condemnation have been so overwhelming that it has caused me to wonder whether us Guyanese would have the same sympathetic response had such a shooting against LBGT members occurred here.

While we have never had such a mass shooting, over the years there has been a continuous rise in violent attacks often resulting in death against homosexual men, particularly those who are transgender.

Despite the deaths of these men, public response to these murders were miniscule at best with only a selective few seeing the clear trend of hate driven crimes that was forming. The years, 2013 through to 15 saw these targeted murders rising but yet, the larger public remained oblivious and even the police force did not seem to see the significance in the crimes nor the need to actively pursue and solve them.

In 2014, there was even a march against the slothful way in which the police were attempting to probe into the murders of several homosexual men with several citing the reasons for sloth as being trans-phobia and homophobia deeply ingrained within the psyche of the police officers.

While it is no laughing matter, I cannot help but find it amusing when I heard some of our nations leaders protest against the shooting and comment upon the need for tolerance and acceptance when nothing substantial is being done to protect those belonging to the LBGT group in their own country and removing outdated and dangerous legislation which makes criminals out of otherwise law abiding citizens.

If nothing else, this tragedy has offered us at home and abroad the opportunity to confront the often-unchallenged anti-gay rhetoric and actions touted and carried by friends, family and acquaintances. When these views remain unchallenged all they serve to do is contribute to the acceptance of hatred and violence against those in who their distaste lies with. Too often, these messages of hate and discrimination come from our churches pulpits and podiums when there is an urgent need for messages of love and acceptance. Too often, these messages of hate are passed down to the minds of our children. Regardless of what religion one belongs to, efforts should be made to ensure harmful ideologies, which discriminate against each other are not adapted.

Hair shaming


June of last year saw me cutting off my relaxed tresses and going back to my natural hair as I was going through the, “I don’t need society to tell me my hair is beautiful phase.”

A year and a couple of months later and this is no longer a phase but rather, an act of self-love, not the fun type though, as if it is one thing natural hair teaches you is that you should never use small combs. Before the big chop, I would often hear and read stories about naturals and how they were made to feel shame towards their hair, especially in the work environment. Never being a victim of this, I could not relate. I remember having a conversation with one of my friends before I cut my hair saying, “she’s just being a stereotypical angry black woman,” in reference to a woman who was complaining about hair shaming. I said this because at the time I could not understand the difference between an “angry black woman” and an empowered black woman who did not yield to the whims of Eurocentric ideals. I had been conditioned to believe that any woman, regardless of race who protested and spoke against injustices, should be termed “angry.”

After I cut my hair and after the initial shock from family and friends, there came the criticisms veiled in questions. “Are you going to wear a wig?” “When are you going to straighten it again?” “How your boyfriend feel about you cutting your hair?” “How your hair look so?” These were all questions I was faced with upon cutting my hair and despite being a self assured person, I often in the beginning stages would wish I had not cut it. As it grew however, I learnt that learning to love oneself in a natural state should be something which is promoted. In a way, I guess my comfortability with my hair caused a lot of persons to become comfortable with theirs also and I feel proud to have at least in a small way help with that.

Due to my mixed parentage, my hair is curly and often soft, as such I have not faced as much negative remarks as those who may not have mixed parentage or took more from one parent than the other. Earlier tonight however, I realised that maybe there is some truth in the belief that a female social commentator is always an angry person as that was the exact emotion I felt when I was berated for not fitting the ideal of a “polished” looking worker.

“Aye you,” he shouted from across the room to me as I was about to leave, an expression of annoyance on his face, “muss comb your hair.” Uncharacteristically, I said nothing and quickly left, partly because I was hurt as this was someone I had a modicum of respect for, but mostly because I was angry and I have learnt to fear my explosive temper.

I spent the drive on my way home furiously tapping away into my phone, writing this post because I felt as if I did not get this out of me now, tomorrow i would turn into work and shout at him, “aye you, comb YOUR hair!” with an expression of anger on my face because I can hold grudges for very long. My inability to forgive is not something I am proud of, but I often feel as if it should be acknowledged, just so people know.

Now, this is someone who is constantly haranguing me to “dress properly,” “walk properly,” as “presentation is important.” I would mostly listen to these suggestions in silence and ignore them as I do dress “properly” and despite my tendency to slouch, I walk straight when I feel like I should. I can understand his reasons for his suggestions which come across as orders but that does not make them excusable. No one aside from him seemed to have a problem with my hair, in fact just today I was complimented on it  in an interview with one of the country’s Ministers. So of course my question is, why in a multiethnic society in which we have every hair texture possible is this still an issue?

Race and hair are in my mind, inextricably linked, as such, due to my overactive mind I quickly wondered, is he being racist? It should be pointed out that my co-worker who said this to me, is Indian. In our office, there is an Indian girl and an Amerindian girl whose hair also was visibly not combed. Yet, due to their ability to blend more easily with Eurocentric ideals and my evident “kinks,” I was singled out. I realise that while I can blame him, I cannot heap everything on him as he too has been exposed to social biases as it relates to black women and their hair from a young age.

Had he bothered to ask however, rather than giving me an order about the state of my hair (which in my opinion was not much worse than it usually is) he would have known that due to poor sleeping habits and time management skills, I had neglected to wash and comb my hair that morning. Had he bothered to ask, he would have known that I had planned on washing and combing it tomorrow as having thick hair with small pores, I normally do this every two days in an effort to keep it properly hydrated as it loses moisture very quickly. Had he bothered to ask, I would have done my best to respectfully educate him on why he should not be asking a black woman to comb her hair while other straight haired ethnicities were not asked to do that. I would have told him of the biases he appeared to have and I would have told him that often, very often, naturals doubt their self worth as they are constantly being asked to conform to what is considered “acceptable hair,” and that was what he was doing to me.

On the surface, it might appear a small thing to be worried about but it all goes back to Eurocentric ideals of beauty which labels natural hair as abnormal and out of place. This is sadly seen in many businesses who refuse to hire persons if their natural hair is “very” evident and also in their reluctance to hire those who may have dreadlocks due to the biases associated to Rastafarians.

The order to comb my hair, made me realise that the stereotypes we have fought against for years are still thriving in the most “tolerant” parts of our society. That order sadly made me realise that naturals may never be fully accepted due to underlying biases and prejudices ingrained within the minds of those who surround us. I guess I can eventually forgive him, as humans we are all prone to spew nonsense every once in a while but after being taught through socialisation and the mass media for years that our hair is unacceptable in its natural form, I do hope he can come to realise where he has erred. I hope he does this independently as I do not believe in educating people on issues which should be basic knowledge.

As an act of rebellion, tomorrow I will again not wash and comb my hair despite knowing I will have the time to do so. I will however wash it the next day because the reality is, my hair is really dry and needs to be washed.