Fifty years is not a long time, not if the measure is, say, the history of the world. But, fifty years is a long time if the measure is, say, cultural change.
So it was that as I watched the movie Hidden Figures I began to wonder what my grandchildren will think of current society fifty years from now. I grew up in the 1960’s in the upper Midwest where discrimination based on race was tolerated. We didn’t have “separate but equal” drinking fountains or “colored women only” bathrooms. We didn’t need them because, frankly, the closest African-American people I knew of lived in Milwaukee and my awareness of African-Americans was limited to television news coverage of the ‘race riots’ and our annual trip to the Milwaukee Braves baseball games. So, when I watched the movie Hidden Figures I was seeing something I knew about but didn’t understand growing up: white people were afraid of black people.
I think that is what I saw, fear. The white men putting out a different coffee pot for the African-American woman because they were, at some level, afraid of drinking from the same pot. The white mother yanking her child from the “whites only” drinking fountain as the African-American family took a drink from the “coloreds only” drinking fountain. The white public librarian shooing away the African-American patron to the “colored” section of the library. What was white society so afraid of that it went to such lengths to be separated from black people?
Who are those we have separated from in our society? Who are the ‘different’ ones that the majority of us quietly, if not openly, hide from because we fear being near ‘them’? About whom have we created a cultural narrative that justifies the actions driven by our fear of ‘them’? Who are the ‘sinners and tax-collectors’ that Jesus would sit with while we stand at the door aghast?
I spent a lot of time shaking my head as I watched Hidden Figures because I was so disappointed that people could be so afraid of ‘others’ that they would think it was acceptable to hide those women. What ugly truths will cause the movie audiences of 2070 to sit there shaking their heads as they wonder, ‘What were those people of the 2010’s thinking?’
Who are we hiding?