Walk a Mile in My Shoes?

I just watched the movie “Hidden Figures.” It was about a group of talented African-American women working for NASA in the early 1960s who played key roles in America’s race to the moon — despite an oppressive Jim Crow system. It’s a good movie and a well-told story — and I’m glad it was made.

Upon reflection, it occurs to me that emotional reactions to it might vary substantially. I’m guessing that white audiences will “feel good” about the women’s determination and triumph over Jim Crow (yep, okay, that’s in the past). On the other hand, I’m guessing (but can never really know) that African-Americans’ reaction might be sadness and pain over yet another depiction of a horrible system that was only recently changed — within the lifetimes of many.

Hollywood is likely patting itself on the back for highlighting this story and the grit of the women involved. While admirable — why not use the opportunity to also see and feel the circumstances of another? In addition to appreciating the women’s resilience, perhaps we can all reflect on the plight of African-Americans — who still feel the pain of Jim Crow — and its many subtle (and not so subtle) manifestations today.

Learning to empathize with the experiences of those with a starkly different reality is an important task for mature, thinking, and feeling adults. The movie offers a chance to practice, and a good reminder in an increasingly separated, and polarized world.

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