Banneker High School students Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff, finalists in a national NASA competition, hug each other. (Courtesy of In3)
Banneker High School students Bria Snell, India Skinner and Mikayla Sharrieff, finalists in a national NASA competition, hug each other. (Courtesy of In3)

A group of racist internet trolls tried to hack a NASA competition to take votes away from the only group of all Black girls who were lead contenders in the race. But these “Hidden figures in the making,” as they call themselves, refuse to let the negativity tarnish their Black girl magic.

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, all juniors at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., entered NASA’s Optimus Prime Spinoff Promotion and Research Challenge. They developed a system to filter water contaminated with lead to make it drinkable.

There were eight finalists in the competition for grades 9-12. The prize? A two-day trip to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, as well as $4,000.

Voting took place online. The girls used social media to share their project and encourage others to vote for them. When the voting was still active, the girls at one point had 78 percent of the vote.

But a group of racists used the web to sabotage the young women. Users on 4chan, a frequent hub for racist and misogynist comments, attempted to take away from the girls’ accomplishments.

4chan was founded in 2003 by Christopher Poole. Twelve years later he sold the website to Hiroyuki Nishimura, who remains its present administrator. Poole currently works at Google — a company facing a slew of its own issues regarding misogyny.

4chan is an anonymous website. Users are not allowed to register a username. Administrators are able to view users’ IP addresses, according to the sites FAQs. On the boards, a person’s “ID” is often a seemingly random combination of letters and numbers.

“NASA getting forcibly redpilled about minority collective voting power,” one person posted, according to NBC. Another user reportedly suggested posting a link to the vote on a topic board dedicated to Donald Trump to garner more votes because “the Twitter liberals are voting for these girls just because they’re black.”

The 4chan users instead encouraged people to vote for a group of teenage boys, according to media outlets.

The negative attention and disruption of voting led NASA to close the polls. NASA judges will now determine the winner, to be announced later this month.

“Unfortunately, it was brought to NASA’s attention yesterday that some members of the public used social media, not to encourage students and support STEM, but to attack a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote,” NASA said, in part, in a statement.

But the three young women are taking the situation in stride. They appeared on NBC with smiles and positive words.

“It’s really exciting. It is kind of surreal,” Sharrieff said, glowing.

“Still feeling like it’s a dream. Like, someone pinch me,” said Skinner.

“We’ve just, throughout this whole thing, remained positive and just remained appreciative of the opportunity that we receive,” said Snell.

“We have so much support from people from all over, and it’s just kind of uplifting,” Sharrieff added.

And the girls are continuing to dream big. Sharrieff hopes to one day be an engineer. Skinner’s dream is to become a surgeon. And Snell wants to be an anesthesiologist.

Unfortunately, the racist posts didn’t stop after the news broke. One person posted a link to a CNN article covering the story and titled it “WE MADE CNN AGAIN.”

“Mission accomplished,” the user wrote, adding, “Get your popcorn. Crack open a cold one and enjoy the ride.”

People tore apart the girls’ invention, referred to them as racial slurs and insulted their intelligence.

“Here’s their genius n***er ‘invention.’ No joke.”

“LOL, they invented buying a pool filter. That’s N***erific!”

“NASA represents the very pinnacle of high technology, I see.”

“Why was this nominated for anything? Even by affirmative action standards this is a multi-layered atrocity.”

“That’s what n***ers get for asking other n***ers to vote for them just because they’re n***ers and not because they came up with a good idea like the rest of the contestants.”

According to the competition’s website, college mentors review each group’s initial submission.

Women in general — but particularly women of color — remain underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that for 2014-15, Black women received 8.8 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in STEM. And after college, the gap only widens. According to the National Science Foundation, Black women make up just 3 percent of scientists and engineers.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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