This singular moment in Hidden Figures sums up how the U.S. should interact with Black women.
During a highly classified government meeting, a group consisting solely of white men tries to figure out how to get astronaut John Glenn into space. Everything is figured out – except for the tricky math. They don’t just need a genius. They need the “genius of the geniuses” to figure it out.
When all eyes turn to the meeting’s leader for an answer, he is clueless.
It is in this moment that he passes a piece of chalk to mathematician Katherine G. Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson). She walks to the chalkboard and performs a math equation that shows the precise location on the map where John Glenn must re-enter earth’s atmosphere.
The room is in awe, and the rest, as they say, is history. It is a cinematic (and real-life) moment that America must never forget.
Although there have been legions of Black women who, when passed the chalk, have changed the course of American history, there are legions more who never got the chance to change more than their baby’s diapers… because those in power didn’t think that they could.
History reminds us that those who were passed the chalk didn’t disappoint.
When the Montgomery Bus Boycott needed someone whose character and commitment were exemplary, its leaders passed the chalk to Rosa Parks. When the music industry became boring and predictable, desperately in need of someone to sing us into afrofuturism, singer Janelle Monáe took the chalk and drew a world that no one else had the imagination to see, let alone create on-screen in that way.
When TV execs insisted that viewers didn’t want to see the intimate lives of African-American women portrayed on television, Mara Brock Akil took the chalk and wrote Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane.
When young senator Barack Hussein Obama had the audacity to hope that he could become President of the United States of America, he passed the chalk to Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama who proceeded to write, “Yes, we can!” on hearts and minds across the U.S.
Our chalk-writing has transformed boardrooms and labs, institutions and entire industries.
It has appeared in books and paintings and operas and every art form imaginable. It has ignited revolutions that now, thanks to technology, are being televised.
Today as our country stands on the precipice of an uncertain future, I hear chalk-writer Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost saying, “‘Merica, you in danger girl.” She is right. It is not just our leaders that present dangers known and unknown, but our institutions and the everyday people who support and sustain them.
Today more then ever, America must pass the chalk…
If America is to become all that it can be – all that it claims that it is – then it must pass us the chalk.
But to do this, first it must imagine us anew.
It must believe that scrawny 6 year old girls with tightly coiled hair have the solution to NASA’s biggest problems. That 18 year old activists who don afro puffs aren’t “disrupters-of-the-peace,” but rather peacemakers.
It must believe that the 48 year-old dark-skinned lady with the hips that barely fit into the Delta Airlines seat could have invented the touch-tone telephone, and that the sistah seated next to her is a medical doctor, even if she isn’t wearing her doctor’s coat to prove it.
America must relinquish its dehumanizing thinking if we are all to go high together. It must pass us the chalk.
If it doesn’t, we’ll grab it anyway.
RELATED ARTICLE: Sometimes Black Girl Magic is a Hidden Treasure
We’re looking for Guest Writers to join our contributor team! Do you have something to share? Click HERE to find out how.