Longform Essay (Lucas B)

Lucas Baldridge

ENGL 129

Prof. Boyd

27 April 2018

The Displaying of 21stCentury Discrimination in Hidden Figures

Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures examines the ongoing effects of racial and gender discrimination by delving into the lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. By showing the conditions in which they lived and worked, Melfi offers social commentary on the sexism and racism that these women faced as employees of NASA in the 1960s. Throughout the film, Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary were not only facing racial prejudices, but also endured quite a bit of discrimination due to their gender. Hidden Figures displays the interconnection of these two types of discrimination, which happens to mirror the same prejudices in which women of color faced in America even as the Civil Rights Movement gained in prominence. But as a film created in 2017, Hidden Figures additionally explores the depths of gender and racial discrimination as an intersectional issue in the 21stcentury.

Although each of the main characters, Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary, have their own instances of discrimination, the film prefaces their collective discrimination at important moments in the film. The film opens with the three main characters encountering a racist cop on their way to work. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary were all on the side of the road trying to fix their broken down car. As minutes pass, a cop finally arrives to the scene to see what the trouble was about. Despite the fact that the women were clearly in need of assistance, the cop was quite aggressive towards them. He steps out of his car with baton in hand as if he is facing up against three criminals. Jokingly, Mary even remarks that it is “no crime being a negro,” which despite its obvious banter, was seemingly a truth for this police officer. To continue with his obvious prejudices, the police officer is incredulous that Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary all work for NASA. He asserts his confusion by saying “no clue they hired…,” leaving audiences wondering about the implications of his comment. It could easily be a comment made towards their race or gender, which was confirmed by the panning of the camera from the cop to the aggravated women. Even though the police officer ends up escorting them to their workplace, the ladies’ initial confrontation with the officer was shaped by harsh comments about their race and gender.

The discrimination put on by the police officer to Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary is remarkably relatable to police brutality in 21stcentury America. Especially in recent years, there have been many cases in which cops have taken unnecessary control of African-American citizens. It seems as if every few months, another innocent African-American civilian is shot and killed, for reasons unknown to the public eye. This has to be due to the racial prejudices surrounding African-Americans, as a large majority of such murders normally involve a young black male being shot and killed. To further the connection between such discrimination from the 1960s to the 21stcentury, we can delve into the case of Sandra Bland. The arrest of Sandra Bland was disturbing enough, as she faced horrific abuse from Texas state trooper Brian Encinia, but even more discrimination surfaced during her stay in prison. She was denied her free calls, which seemingly left her heartbroken and lonely (Nathan, 2016). The prison guard that did not allow her to exercise her basic rights as a prisoner was displaying upmost racial and/or gender discrimination. This specific instance could have been the breaking point for Bland’s mental health, which was deemed unstable by a psychiatrist. In the coming hours after being denied her phone calls, Bland hanged herself from the ceiling of her cell bathroom (Nathan, 2016). Her obvious mistreatment can be a direct link to her suicide, and it is clear that such mistreatment occurred because of her race and/or gender.

Despite the women facing discrimination collectively, they continued to face such discrimination separately, as they lived on different lives at NASA and at home. Mary was the first woman of the original group to face discrimination on her own. As Mary was assigned to the engineering team, she was asked why she does not become an engineer. Her response to such questioning was that she is “a negro woman,” and that she can’t waste her time thinking “of the impossible.” It is obvious, that despite her qualifications as an intellectual worker at NASA, Mary was still unable to achieve such a title due to her race. This was reiterated later in Melfi’s film as Mrs. Mitchell, one of the head employees of the NASA facility, told Mary that her application to earn the job title ‘Engineer’ was denied because she had not received certain classes from an all-white school, which was not possible for Mary for obvious reasons.

Even though Mary received much discrimination racially, she also underwent gender discrimination from her husband. While at a church luncheon, her husband could not fathom the idea of Mary becoming an engineer. He said that “women were not meant to be engineers” and continuously tried to deter her from such aspirations. Although he becomes more supportive of her decisions in the end, his initial reaction to her goals of becoming an engineer lays the framework for any gender discrimination that Mary faces throughout the entirety of the film.

This idea of interconnected discrimination is also noted in the depiction of Katherine’s life. Katherine experiences heaps of racial discrimination, but one of the most impacting features of her racial discrimination is outlined during her bathroom breaks. Every time Katherine was in need to use the restroom, she had to trek half a mile across the NASA plant in order to find a ‘Colored Restroom.’ Melfi directs these scenes perfectly by adjusting the camera in ‘long shot form’ to show how far of a travel it was for Katherine to get to the restroom each day. Mr. Harrison, who is the head of the launch programs at NASA, eventually questions her for why she is always “disappearing.” At this moment, Katherine breaks down and explains her situation to all of those in the Engineering Laboratory. Her anecdote to Mr. Harrison was so compelling that he eventually broke down all of the ‘Colored Restroom’ signs, but it still does not erase the fact that such restrooms existed, which is an obvious display of racial segregation.

Even though Katherine endured many other instances of racism, she was also a victim of gender discrimination. The first instance of such discrimination came from her future husband, Colonel James A. Johnson. During their first encounter, Colonel Johnson is confused at why NASA gives “such hard jobs” to women. Obviously, this is a form of gender discrimination, as Colonel Johnson did not see it being a responsible business decision to allow women to endure such hard tasks in the workplace setting. A second instance of such discrimination comes when Katherine is originally denied permission to sit in on the Pentagon Meetings, which discussed the launch in which she was working on. Mr. Stafford, the lead engineer of the group in which Katherine worked, denied her attendance to the meetings. Reluctantly, Mr. Harrison stood up for her once again and allowed her to attend the meeting. Katherine even ends up making a groundbreaking calculation during the meeting, impressing all of those in attendance. It is obvious that her attendance should not have been questioned from the start, but her gender was the reason for her original denial.

To explore the idea of individual discrimination further, it is also important to delve into the life of Dorothy Vaughan. Specifically, we must focus on Dorothy’s encounter with Mrs. Mitchell when asking for a supervisorial position at NASA. Mrs. Mitchell informed Dorothy that she was unable to pursue such a position because NASA “does not hire coloreds.” This is obvious racial discrimination, and truly unfair to Dorothy as she is presumably a supervisor to the ‘Colored Computers.’ Dorothy simply wanted the position title to acclaim the pay she deserves, but her race kept her from such aspirations. Dorothy also faces another instance of racial discrimination, but this time in a public setting. While visiting a public library with her children, Dorothy was harassed by a librarian to leave because it was not a library for “colored folk.” Dorothy and her children were eventually escorted out of the library with the guidance of a security guard, but such discrimination is quite stapling, as it was in a public setting this time.

Even though Dorothy faces quite a bit of racial discrimination, she was also discriminated against because of gender. Such an instance is found during her trialing with the IBM computer, which was seemingly broken until she fixed it. As Dorothy was fixing the computer on her own accord, she was yelled at for being in the room containing the IBM computer. Eventually, we discovered that this was because of her gender. The only workers in the IBM task group were white males. As the workers learned that Dorothy was the reason for the computer’s functionality, she was eventually hired to the task team, but she was asked to leave her ‘Colored Computers’ group behind. Such a request was unfathomable to Dorothy, and she insisted that her group of girls would be alongside her on the IBM task group. Luckily, her requests were met with acceptance, and she persevered through such a strata of gender discrimination, which was hindering her entry into the IBM computer task group.

To understand how Hidden Figures, a film portraying the era of the Civil Rights Movement, is relatable to 21stcentury intersectionality, it is important to reveal the unfair treatment to women of color in the 21stcentury. The three women discussed all faced workplace discrimination due to their race and gender. These same occurrences can easily be found in 21stcentury America. The Lily, a verified analytical/news website, provides statistical analysis to show such workplace discrimination. They showed that women, on average, are paid 20% less than men of the same job title (The Lily News, 2017). To then emphasize the effects of intersectional discrimination, they also state that black women are paid 63% of what men of the same job title are paid (The Lily News, 2017). This statistic highlights the interconnected discrimination endured by African-American women in the 21stcentury.

By displaying the effects of workplace discrimination from the 1960s in a film made in 2017, Melfi is obviously proposing his own social commentary on the lasting effects of such intersectional discrimination. As previously discussed, workplace discrimination is a huge problem in 21stcentury America, which is why Hidden Figures is such a relevant film when discussing the effects of discrimination as interconnected between those of racial and gender minorities.


Melfi, Theodore, Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, Allison Schroeder, Mandy Walker, Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch, Peter Teschner, Wynn P. Thomas, Renée E. Kalfus, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, Kimberly Quinn, Olek Krupa, and Margot L. Shetterly. Hidden Figures., 2017.

Nathan, Debbie. What Happened to Sandra Bland? The Nation, 26 Apr. 2016,                                                www.thenation.com/article/what-happened-to-sandra-bland/.

“The Pay Gap Is Worse for Black Women. Here’s a Look at the Statistics.” The Lily News, 31 July 2017, www.thelily.com/the-pay-gap-is-worse-for-black-women-heres-a-look-at-the-statistics/.






Lucas B Short Reflection 3

ENGL 129 Reflection 3 FINAL


Lucas Baldridge
1 April 2018
ENGL 129
Professor Boyd

The Role of James in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

James’s role in Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is critical in the shaping of how Victor changes as a character. From the start of the novel, we see that Victor’s life is shaped by alcohol, drugs, divorce, and fighting. Sadly, this type of lifestyle is common for most who live on a Native American reservation. However, as soon as James is brought into Victor’s life, Victor’s morals and lifestyle begin to change in order to satisfy the needs of James, who becomes his child through Native American tradition. Victor’s life shifts from that of an alcoholic to a lifestyle shaped by fatherhood and responsibility.

The transitional period of Victor’s life can be outlined from the visit to the hospital after the fire to the time when he enters an AA group. Whenever Victor goes to visit James, Frank, and Rosemary at the reservation hospital, he admits that he “got drunk just before” his arrival in order to cope with his strange fear of hospitals. At this time period in the novel, it is more than obvious that Victor is struggling with alcoholism. It is running his life no matter the occasion. Despite the underlining of Victor’s alcoholism, this part of the novel becomes important because it is when Victor decides to take in James. Soon after Victor’s decision to take in James, the transition of Victor’s lifestyle becomes more clear to us. Victor begins to narrate his fatherly duties as he describes his daily devotion to change, wash, and feed James. Victor states that James has become “his religion.” This statement is largely important since he has been the caretaker of James for no more than a few months at this time in the novel.

Even though we can start to see Victor develop responsibility, the state of living that he has James in is still not suitable. Cockroaches continue to reside in Victor’s home and holes become the only source of decoration for the walls. With such imagery, it is apparent that Victor still does not have his life in order completely. However, despite the treacherous living conditions for a child, Victor does continuously take James to the doctor because he has yet to cry. Victor becomes worried that James is not fully developing and shows glimpses of responsibility as he continuously schedules check-ups for James. Although the doctors claim this to be normal for Native American children, Victor’s worry does not reside.

The next transitional stage of Victor’s lifestyle comes with the aid of Suzy Song, who becomes a mother figure for James as the novel progresses. Instead of putting James on the sideline as Victor plays basketball, Victor hands James over to Suzy. By doing so, James is kept in good hands and out of harms way, as we know basketball players spontaneously dive around the edges of the court where James was previously stationed.

Even though Victor is starting to detach from the traditional Native American lifestyle, he still can’t “remember nothing except the last drink” he had. He even gets so drunk that he leaves James at a random house party. Victor is still constrained by alcohol, but eventually the companionship of James overthrows such a lifestyle. As time progresses and Victor realizes the destruction of his alcoholism, he decides to join Alcoholics Anonymous, a group designed to stop those struggling with alcoholism. This was the final transition that Victor needed to complete in order to live out a better lifestyle.

The implication of Victor’s more humane lifestyle is linked to the bringing in of James. The presence of James motivated Victor to change from his stereotypical Native American lifestyle to that of a more suitable lifestyle for those with children. From this point in the novel and onward, Victor became more responsible and coherent to James’s needs. Also, this transformation led Victor to an alcohol-free life, which as we understand, plays a huge role in the Native American reservation community. Therefore, we can label James’s role in the novel as the force that drove Victor from a destructive lifestyle to one containing fatherhood and hope.


Alexie, Sherman.  The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.  Distributed by Grove Press New York, 1993.

Lucas B Short Reflection 2

ENGL 129 Reflection 2 FINAL

Lucas Baldridge

25 February 2018

ENGL 129

Professor Boyd

The Social Commentary Within Dave Chappelle’s Comedy

Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Equanimity and The Bird Revelation both implore Chappelle’s masterful use of social commentary. Although most of his comedic skits, including some in this Netflix special, are historically offensive, Chappelle reveals the interconnection between the ongoing Civil Rights issues surrounding race in America along with the current struggles within the transgender community. In Equanimity, Chappelle shows how Caitlin Jenner is only of topic because she was once a white male struggling to find a gender identity. In The Bird Revelation, Dave allegorically uses the narrative Pimp to describe his own experiences in Hollywood to that of the prostitute in the novel. Each of these skits shows Chappelle’s underlying social commentary on the interconnectedness of racial issues and the hardships faced by the transgender community.

One of the most profound skits within this Netflix special pertained to the transgender community, which was brought up during Chappelle’s Equanimity. During this skit, Chappelle mostly poked fun at those who transform from males to females. Caitlin Jenner, who is possibly one of the most noted transgender women of this era, was the main target for Chappelle’s comedic digs at the transgender community. However, despite the “hustler style” jokes, Dave was able to reveal quite a bit of social commentary throughout this skit’s entirety. To scratch the surface of such commentary, Dave empathized for those who struggle with their gender identity. He understood that “their life is hard” and explained how he did not agree that such feelings should “disqualify someone from dignity and safety” throughout their lives. Obviously, Chappelle shows empathy for those of such struggles and takes a step back from his skit to express this. However, this is not the only instance of social commentary. Later on in this same skit, another social issue around the transgender community was brought up. Dave brings up that his problem does not reside with transgender people, but the dialog around it. He explains that America has never cared for anybody unless white males are the subject of such scenarios. Chappelle is trying to expose one of the reasons why America is finally listening to those of a minority, and it is because that group is predominately represented by white American males. Dave says that if it was “women, black people, or Mexicans” who had the same issues, nobody would listen.

Dave Chappelle reveals his social commentary yet again in The Bird Revelation by explaining the importance of a “bottom bitch” to a pimp. Although Dave was identifying the issue of women being taken advantage of, he may have also been portraying himself as the “bottom bitch” of Hollywood. In the narrative Pimp, a woman is labeled by her “mileage” and used time and time again simply for Iceberg Slim’s want for money. Oddly enough, this same scenario can be related to how Dave was treated in Hollywood. Whenever Chappelle’s talent was brought onto the big stage, he instantly became a price tag for the big businesses of Hollywood. Labels were wanting to sign him in order to achieve economic well-being. Chappelle’s “mileage” was being used at such an alarming rate that he had to step away from the Hollywood scene for quite sometime. Dave truly was Hollywood’s “bottom bitch.” Sadly, his race was most likely the cause of such behavior. Chappelle noted previously in this Netflix special that being a black man in Hollywood is not easy, and that is why he was thinking about getting out while he can. However, even though this talk is quantified as speaking on racial issues, there is a connection to gender identity within this skit. Chappelle was relating himself to a female prostitute, which completely adheres to the notion of how his social commentary illustrates the idea of race and the transgender community together.

As shown throughout this Netflix special, Chappelle reveals the interconnection of Civil Rights issues and the struggles of the transgender community. His skits turned from comedy and became more confessional. Chappelle has been in Hollywood long enough to understand the true demise of the African American community within this setting. He relates such hardships to those faced by the transgender community in the modern day era. Dave is able to develop an understanding of what it is like to be of a minority group. In doing so, he is able to speak on such issues regarding race and the struggles of the transgender community.


Chappelle, Dave. Equanimity and The Bird Revelation. Distributed by Netflix, 2017. https://www.netflix.com/watch/80230404?trackId=14170032&tctx=3%2C3%2Cbdcb951a-b1fc-4a48-a444-fbefa19453bb-29491019

Lucas B Short Reflection 1

Lucas Baldridge

Professor Boyd

28 January 2018

ENGL 129

The Craft Narrative, although written to discuss the times of slavery, is still a good descriptor for the modern issue of racism and racial prejudice. Ongoing racism is a world-wide issue and is the most prominent social issue around the world. In an allegorical manner, William Craft, the narrator of this text, describes his interactions with racism as he and his wife, Ellen Craft, ventured their way to freedom. The main plot was of William and Ellen’s escape; however, William Craft made a point to also attract attention to the issues surrounding racism in a more indirect way.

There are two kinds of racial injustices that I would like to discuss. The first racial injustice shown in the text comes from the treatment of slaves. These slaves were denied all human rights, which is absolutely horrifying in itself, but were also attacked and punished for being of African decent. In some cases, such as the case involving Salomé Muller, whites were sold in to slavery solely because they appeared to be black (Craft, 4). People were being sold as slaves simply for racial appearance, which goes to show how intense slaveholders were about racial differences. If someone, who may even be white, had a darker complexion than white skin, they were instantly mistreated. However, do not let this occasional mistreatment of some white Americans hide the hardships faced by all African slaves. William Craft displays even more harassment on page 8, as Craft discusses how women were “severely flogged” as punishment. Slaves were not only denied civil and human rights, but additionally were punished for the complexion of their skin. Sadly, this social matter still is not solved in modern day America. African-American citizens are continuously harassed, both physically and socially, to this day. Racial difference should not be the targeting factor for one’s presumed character, as shown in multiple occasions throughout The Craft Narrative.

The second most prominent racial issue within The Craft Narrative is racial prejudice. William and Ellen Craft foresaw acceptance and pure freedom in their escape, but were continuously hazed by surrounding citizens just because of their skin color. One occurrence of this prejudice is shown in St. John’s, New Brunswick, as William and Ellen Craft try to stay the night in a hotel. Ellen was treated with utmost respect, as she was assumed to be white, while William Craft was instantly neglected stay at the hotel purely because he was of African decent. The butler of the St. John’s hotel denied William a room to stay in based off of wrongful opinions regarding African-Americans (Craft, 101). Since the South portrayed them with such negativity, much of the world assumed the Southern opinion was correct, even though supporters of slavery were the only problematic human beings in this narrative. The racial prejudice continued to live on even as William and Ellen made their way to Halifax. William sent his ‘white’ wife to find shelter because he knew they “were still under the influence of the low Yankee prejudice” (Craft, 105). Of course, Ellen was offered a room until the landlady discovered William would also be staying with her. William and Ellen craft did not fully feel free until they “stepped upon the shore at Liverpool” (Craft, 108).

William Craft’s Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery captivated the harsh livelihood of all African decedents during the times preluding the Civil War. This notion of chattel slavery denied Africans basic human rights everyone deserves, and it was all because of racial difference. Between the prejudice and harassment described by William Craft, black people were all in need of escape. Knowing that some of these prejudices live on today is quite daunting, and this issue needs to be addressed. Someone’s race should never be the deciding factor for any mistreatment or exclusion. William Craft’s response to these racial issues were constructed in a calmly manner, which goes to show the great character within himself. Hate was not the answer for William, despite the continuous hate he faced throughout his victorious escape with Ellen.



Craft, William. William Craft. Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. docsouth.unc.edu/neh/craft/craft.html.