Being the stronghold of democracy, the U.S. has been seen as the place where the rights of all vulnerable communities are sought to be protected. However, the current state of social and legal justice with comparatively impressive improvements has not always been the case. Quite the contrary, remarkable progress has been achieved over the decades, as the crucial legacy of American literature indicates. A comparison of the events that occurred in the 1920ies to some of the most recent ideas expressed with the help of new forms of art allows extrapolating the changes in perspective and understanding how the perception of equality and social justice has changed over the years. Analyzing the cultural artifacts that render the problem of inequality and segregation will help to delve into the history and nature of the problem.
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Cultural Artifacts: Description
The cultural artifacts under analysis are represented by the poem “Let America Be America Again” and the movie “Hidden Figures.” Contrary to the movie, the poem was published quite a while ago, namely, in 1935 (Pfister, 2015). Written by Langston Hughes, a renowned African American poet, “Let America Be America Again” and describes the crushed dreams of people that immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream. However, the poem shows that, for the members of the lower class, as well as for African Americans, equality and success remained unattainable.
A comparatively recent art piece, “Hidden Figures” renders a similar concept, yet it pays closer attention to the nature of discrimination, simultaneously addressing both racial and gender-related biases. The movie was directed by Theodore Melfi and released in 2016. “Hidden Figures” is a biographical drama that tells the story of three African American women, Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, working at NASA (Shetterly, 2016). Portraying racial and sex-based segregation that was rampant at the time, the film contributes to the discussion of the obstacles that minority groups faced on their way to success and recognition in the early 20th-century U.S., thus depicting the collapse of the American dream.
As emphasized in the introduction above, the plight for equality and the absence of social justice is the ideas that tie the poem and the movie together, creating a common theme. The loss of the American dream shines through the lines of both the poem and the film, creating a complex narrative with problematic issues such as racism and sexism interwoven into its structure. Each of the artifacts projects the interpretation of the loss of the American dream in a different way, “Hidden Figures” portraying racism and sexism, whereas “Let America Be America Again” points out racial segregation and class conflicts. However, both artifacts represent the decomposition of the American dream and the subsequent loss of faith experienced by the people that were subjected to the
In addition, minor similarities can be spotted in the topics tackled in the movie and the poem. For example, the theme of labor and economic inequality as one of the dividing issues in American society unites “Let America Be America Again” and “Hidden Figures.” In “Let American Be American Again,” Hughes laments the fates of those affected by inequality and the loss of the American dream, yet also implies that it unites its victims. The described attempt at drawing parallels between people of different backgrounds warrants the question of whether the common source of misery can become the power behind the unity within American society. Likewise, the idea of unity is addressed in “Hidden Figures,” yet the movie is more cautious in its analysis of cross-cultural relationships. Keeping the focus on the three leading characters, it rarely veers off into the portrayal of their communication with other communities. The outlined attempt at keeping the focus on the three leads also allows highlighting rampant racism that was persistent in the U.S. at the time. Thus, while both art pieces focus on the issue of racial discrimination and the need for unity, the poem remains hopeful, while the film shatters this hope and points to the injustice witnessed by Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy.
The sentiment described by Hughes and represented in Melfi’s movie is quite close to me since it echoes some of my personal experiences. Being the descendant of immigrants, I sometimes experience the slight signs of what used to be a harsh rejection of the people whom American society deemed as alien to its culture. The challenges in being seen, both in the workplace and in everyday encounters, are still quite evident to me. Although the situations in which my needs as a representative of a cultural minority were dismissed were not even close to those described by Hughes and portrayed in “Hidden Figures,” I still sometimes feel slightly left out of the social interactions.
However, the themes of unity and equality that both artifacts embrace as crucial cultural values are also very close to me personally. While I do realize that the process of creating the cross-cultural dialogue between the cultural majority and minority groups is very time-consuming, promoting unity still seems necessary. It is my strong personal belief that diversity and the sharing of cultural experiences will help to create stronger ties between different communities. Once having a better idea of the challenges that vulnerable groups experience, people are likely to become more tolerant and accepting of the idea of communicating with the representatives of minority groups (Owens & Swales, 2019). Therefore, experience sharing and active communication should be seen as one of the key solutions to the current instances of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.
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Since the concept of the American dream embraces the entire society and concerns every possible niche of business, it would be fair to state that the theme discussed above will affect every profession that a person of ethnic or racial minority may have in the United States. Specifically, prospects for career development will be jeopardized heavily for people belonging to a cultural or racial minority in the U.S. For example, professions linked to management and leadership may become practically unattainable for the people that belong to a minority group. The
The exploration of the themes of the American dream and the lack of equality in American society I expected to be very exhausting and time-consuming due to the vast range of issues that it incorporates. Indeed, the problems under analysis have developed as a result of multiple social, political, and economic factors, which suggests that these influences will have to be revisited and reexamined. However, the process of search can be narrowed down to studying several key resources that will help to understand the downfall of the American dream and the struggles for equality better, Among the main readings, one will need to study the core texts that constitute the bulk of the American democratic principles, namely, the Constitution and the Amendments. In addition, to gain insight into the personal perspective added to each artifact by its corresponding author, their biographies will need to be studied along with their other works. For this purpose, biographical resources for each author will be used.
Diving deeper into the historical circumstances that defined the creation of the works under analysis, one will realize that one of the artifacts represents the rethinking of the events that were partially addressed in another. While Hughes was the live witness of the atrocities of racial segregation, the director of “Hidden Figures” attempted at recapturing the specified phenomenon, at the same time adding the problem of sex-based rights and the related discriminatory attitudes (Price-Dennis, Holmes, & Smith, 2016). Thus, “Hidden Figures” is defined by the historical context of the era that can be deemed as comparatively less unjust toward the members of minority communities and vulnerable groups. The specified difference works its way into the manner in which the artifacts were created. While “Let America Be America Again” represent a direct call for action and demands that inequality should be corrected, “Hidden Figures” reflects on the problems of the past and allows its viewers to learn an important lesson so that similar mistakes should not be carried into the future.
Similarities and Differences: Medium
The differences between the artifacts at hand can be categorized as either form- or function-related. Specifically, the former category includes the type of medium by which the artifacts are represented and the associated characteristics. For example, as a movie, “Hidden Figures” makes the experience of its audience more personal by engaging the viewers actively with the story and characters. As a visual medium, “Hidden Figures” makes it easier for its intended audience to relate to the protagonists and empathize with them. Thus, the process of multicultural communication can start.
In turn, the poem provides for a more personal experience that can be interpreted in a greater number of ways. Moreover, requiring a lesser amount of time to be revisited, the poem works its way into the mind of a reader much faster, creating vivid imagery and introducing new ideas in a more compelling and easily digestible form. The specified character is not intended to undermine the doubtless qualities of a poem as a crucial cultural artifact and an important means of expression. However, it is evident that a poem has a different way of appealing to its target audience, as the case of “Let America Be America Again” shows. Incorporating several crucial literary devices, such as rhyme, rhythm, tone, alliterations, repetitions, and other essential methods of keeping the readers’ attention peeled to the main message, a poem can become a critical tool in conveying the main message behind the author’s work.
While the poem ‘Let America Be America Again’ and the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ are quite different from each other due to the specifics of the medium representing each piece, the message of equality is equally strong in both.
Further exploration of the topic under analysis will cause improvements in the attitudes toward the very idea of equality. For this purpose, one will need to reinvent people’s perceptions of race, ethnicity, and gender roles. One could make an argument about the perceived complexity of the issue and the possible difficulties understanding some of the terminologies among the target audience. To address the specified concern, one may need several visuals and two or three major definitions for the most complicated concepts. However, since the idea of social justice can be understood on an intimate level by most people, it is believed that the dialogue can be started immediately after the introduction of the topic. Thus, the process of cultural sharing leading to better understanding will begin.
Owens, C., & Swales, S. (2019). Psychoanalysing ambivalence with Freud and Lacan: On and off the couch. New York, NY: Routledge.
Pfister, J. (2015). Surveyors of customs: American literature as cultural analysis. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Price-Dennis, D., Holmes, K., & Smith, E. E. (2016). “I thought we were over this problem”: Explorations of race in/through literature inquiry. Equity & Excellence in Education, 49(3), 314-335.
Shetterly, M. L. (2016). “Hidden Figures”: The American Dream and the untold story of the Black Women mathematicians who helped win the space race. New York, NY: HarperCollins.