The story of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a true story at the time of the World War II about four African American women (Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden) who were mathematical geniuses and lived in America when most jobs were dominated by white men. But these four, unfairly hidden in history, contributed to the USA behind the scenes during the war and in their space race. The book and their characters are very inspiring.
What the four women had accomplished was outstanding but it was even more remarkable because they lived in the south of USA at a time where racial and gender discrimination was rampant. The black population was segregated from the whites - they were not allowed to go to the same toilets, the same restaurants or live in the same neighbourhoods. Also, at that time a woman working was rare, the only thing that the women could apply for was teaching at a school of their race (black/white) or they would stay home and do housework.
It beggars belief that opportunity only knocked on their door during the World War II, a time of total disaster for the rest of the country. Men were leaving to fight and for the first time there were job vacancies, for the first time women were needed. The WWII opened up an abundance of pathways for women and blacks and these four exceptional ladies found themselves at the threshold of greatness.
The NACA ( National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics - former NASA) started to hire white women to come and work as ‘computers’ - mathematicians at their laboratory. But they couldn’t fulfil their needs with only white women, so soon they started hiring black women for math and some black men as engineers. Other black men started enlisting themselves in the army.
The key takeaway from this book is that instead of discriminating on the basis of race or sex we should give prime significance to the inner talent of the individual. In today’s world, although a different era, and despite it being legally and constitutionally abolished, unfortunately discrimination still exists in people’s hearts. People still struggle for jobs or promotions just because of their race or gender. There are many examples of this gross injustice - many women are still sometimes not paid as much as men, the prize money in various sports tournaments for men is higher than for women, in some countries women are not even allowed to work or go out without a male member accompanying her! Though this book predominantly mentions racial and sexual discrimination, there is a lot of intolerance on the basis of what you do for a living, your religion, your nationality.
The world’s history is replete with examples of people, organisations and countries rising above discrimination and doing wonders and a recent example of this is the 2018 Football World Cup which France clinched. They gave priority to pure talent rather than being bogged down by trivial issues like race, nationality or religion.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. HarperCollins, 2016. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!
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