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The Naca's Isolated Working Environment in 'Hidden Figure'

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In the United States the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA which would later be renamed as NASA) in Langley, VA hired three overqualified female African American mathematicians referred to as “computers” to do the math for its race to the moon. For southern Virginia, in the 1940s this was very progressive but the country was desperate with all of its white men and women in the war, the space group had no choice but to hire Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson. All three computers have to face two different kinds of discrimination for both their gender and their race. 

The women are crunching numbers and calculating trajectories, which are careers traditionally reserved for men. With Katherine becoming the first woman to publish a research paper on space flight which are career traditionally reserved for men author Margot Lee Shetterly makes it clear for the audience to see the gender discrimination that is apart of American history. The author also breaks down the racial discrimination time after time that these women faced starting in 1943. The book’s three largest themes are that of racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and the irony of both circumstances as the computers are clearly overqualified for their employment. 

Jim Crow laws commanded isolation among blacks and whites in the NACA’s headquarters in Virginia, and African-Americans who lived there had to manage with ‘separate yet equivalent’ restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, schools, and universities. Amidst Jim Crow laws the NACA selected profoundly intelligent African American female mathematicians for their west wing. It is important to note that blacks and whites were divided into the west and east wings ironically similar to the wall that divided East and West Berlin. Hidden Figures analyzes the deep effect of this injustice and racial segregation on both a regional and national scale. Piece by piece the author shows readers the United States’ decisions to authorize bigot laws.

The effect of prejudice at the global level by featuring the racial dilemmas of WWII. While the United States went to war against Hitler and the Axis Powers, the nation refused to acknowledge both the racial and sexual discrimination on its own soil. During World War Two there is a great deal of irony going on as the U.S. where blacks were beaten, tormented, and detained for requesting the rights they were owed as U.S. residents goes to war against the mass extermination of Jewish and other minority individuals in Europe. The Message version of chapter 7 verse five of the book of Matthew sums up the irony of the situation; “ It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.” Hitler’s ideas, especially the ranking of ‘races’ and of ‘uber’ and ‘unter’ mensch (subhuman and human peoples) he discusses in Mein Kampf share many similarities to the racial superiority of whites over blacks in Hampton Virginia. 

Hidden Figures analyzes the deep effect of this injustice and racial segregation on both a regional and national scale. Piece by piece the author shows readers the United States’ decisions to authorize bigot laws.

Shetterly additionally shows the reckless results of bigotry at the national level through the perspective of the NACA. The NACA’s isolated working environment hosted segregationist arrangements undermining their commitments. African American computers would work twice as hard at their jobs for half the cost and with secondary resources and leftovers. The author shows the ripple effects of racism in the workplace as a lack of equal wages leads to the intentional lack of economic equality between races. White computers rode an exceptional transport to the workplace while African American computers needed to walk, drive, or take open transportation. White female computers could live in a quarters at Langley (the Air Force Base that facilitated the NACA), yet black computers were not granted this privilege. African American computers were only permitted to utilize washrooms assigned ‘colored’, while every single other bathroom were untouchable. The idea of “separate but equal” is proved to be completely fictional with the case of restrooms which were inconveniently further away for colored employees. 

Despite tireless bigotry and an absence of institutional help, the West Area computers prevailed in their occupations and became pivotal resources for the NACA. This starts to infer the blow-back of bigotry: had these people been less bold and relentless, their lives and professional commitments may have been absolutely smothered. On Katherine Johnson’s first day as a PC for Langley’s Flight Research Division, a white man stood up and left when she sat next to him. The book, written as time goes on, discusses the baby steps that are taken towards racial equality as later on astronaut John Glenn would pick Johnson over every other computer (male and female, white and African American) to check the computed calculations for his arrival direction from space. Jackson exceeded expectations so completely in her obligations that she was turned into the NACA’s first African American female designer. 

Shetterly utilizes Hidden Figures to upbraid the logical inconsistencies inalienable in the Jim Crow laws that kept the NACA isolated in the years during and after WWII. At a worldwide, national and relational level, she shows how prejudice affected the persecuted as well as the individuals in control, requiring the United States and the NACA to act in pointless manners that ironically crippled their own flourishment and achievement. 

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