An Academy Award nominated film provides a springboard for this month’s Drinking the Cup.
REV. JOHN BOLEY
Clergy Assistant to the Bishop
Every year I usually catch only one or two of the movies nominated for the Academy Awards. This year, the movie that I have seen twice is “Hidden Figures.”
As you know, this is the story that features three African American women who were employed by NASA in the early 1960’s and how they fought the racism they encountered as they brought their brilliant mathematical talents to the young space program. The haunting scene that sticks with me is the one in which Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, informs the room of white male scientists and mathematicians why it is that she must be gone three times a day for extended periods of time – she must go half a mile away – to go to the bathroom – there are no “colored only” bathrooms in her place of work.
The old white men sit in stunned silence, both aghast at her audacious speech and uncomprehending of the problem. NASA chief, Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, has a bewildered look on his face – at first not even able to comprehend what she’s talking about. But comprehension comes, and after she finishes her emotional speech about using separate coffee pots and using separate bathrooms, Harrison takes the sign off of the “colored” coffeepot.
In the next scene, Harrison uses a crowbar to destroy the sign over the “coloreds only” bathroom. He declares, “From now on, there are no colored bathrooms, and no white bathrooms. At NASA, everyone pees the same color.” As everyone watches him destroy this sign, and listens to his pronouncement, one must admire his courage in bucking the system and righting this wrong in his particular sphere of influence.
Part of me wants to celebrate our progress in race relations and to pat myself on the back and claim that this segregation thing would have never happened if I were in charge. But there is a side of me that also wants to ignore my lifelong white privilege and not acknowledge how much racism still exists in our world or how I play a part in it.
But Al Harrison’s bravery and action in busting up the restroom sign is haunting. We have made so much progress in race relations since 1960. And yet we have always had a long way to go. And now, as a society, at many levels, we are regressing.
As Christians, we should always advocate for inclusive justice. It is a matter of faith. And while doing so, we should never advocate for violence against human beings or property (even though Jesus did turn over those tables). And yet, I am sitting here wondering if we are headed to a time when the crowbars are used again. For now, in my mind, at least they are figurative crowbars,