No silver platter: Hidden Figures in the struggle for equality

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In the real world, not everything is handed to us on a silver platter; we have to be flexible enough to learn on the job, says Turtle Shell, reflecting on an inspiring movie.

I have just watched the inspiring movie Hidden Figures.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s rhetoric about the political will to abolish vernacular schools, to me, is a metaphor for the flip side of Hidden Figures. This politician has put to question his supposedly good academic background by hiding figures from the audience that could have enabled thinking and rational Rakyat to make more informed decisions.

All our institutions of state are using hidden figures to hoodwink rural folks and the unthinking rakyat into thinking that all is rosy with the 1MDB issue. Just look south, Singapore has already sentenced a few individuals to jail for their roles in the money laundering of 1MDB funds.

Yet, here we are told not a sen of 1MDB funds has disappeared. The US Department of Justice has taken action to recover funds siphoned from 1MDB to acquire property and other assets in the United States, primarily.

Unless one chooses not to see, it is blatantly obvious our authorities are using hidden figures to escape a proper accounting of their misdeeds.

In the movie, African-American physicist and mathematician Katherine Johnson’s courage and belief in herself is outstanding. She did not shout or lead marches. But her quiet dignity and competency gained the respect of her boss in the all-white Langley’s Flight Research Division, where she plots the trajectories for John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

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No, please do not get me wrong – I admire our Ambiga Sreneevasan and Maria Chin and what they are doing for our country. My point is that in the white supremacy of her time, Katherine was able to stand her ground because her talent and ability was respected.

This is why the brain drain from our country will continue. The authorities, steeped in their ketuanan ideology, have ignored the talents and abilities of those rakyat who eventually gain recognition overseas.

African American mathematician Dorothy Vaughan’s ability to read the fast changing world of human computers (research mathematicians who calculated equations by hand for engineers) was impressive. When electronic machines from IBM entered Nasa’ service, she took it upon herself to learn computing language and undertake the necessary programming. She then went on to help train her black colleagues at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

So, no Big Brother’s helping hand, but initiative and hard work led her to be promoted as the first black supervisor at Langley in 1951. She moved on to work in electronic computing and programming.

There is the truth in the saying ‘where’s there’s a will, there’s a way’. Dorothy did not step back and allow herself to become a victim of the progress of technology at Nasa then. She not only took the bull by the horns but helped her fellow black colleagues keep pace with technology and got to keep their jobs.

In our country now, there is news of many unemployable graduates from our local public universities, Yes, there is that mismatch between the training programmes of our local public tertiary institutions and what local industry needs.

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Yet many of those graduates are also at fault – they had been spoon-fed throughout their time in the education system until they lost sight of the fact that in the real world, not everything is handed to us on a silver platter. They have to be flexible; they have to learn on the job.

Finally, Hidden Figures gives me hope that change might still materialise in the coming general election.

Turtle Shell is the pseudonym of a regular reader of Aliran.

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