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“The Help:” more reactions

“The Help:” more reactions

Yesterday, The Lead reported Elizabeth Geitz’ review of the movie and book, The Help. A scan of more reviews reveals mixed feelings and reactions from grandchildren and children of the “help” portrayed in the movie.

The blog Before Barack Obama discussed the film just before its release, A True Story form “the Help’s” Daughter.

“But that’s the way things were with everybody back then. That’s just the way it was. That reminds me of…”

She stops, catching herself, suddenly self-conscious. But I’m not having it.

“No, that’s the story I want to hear,” I goad her. “That one right there, the one you just stopped in mid-sentence. Tell me that story.” She complies.

Seems she and Grandmommy were standing on the screened sun porch one day, a space I instantly recall because it starred in my fantasies of curling up with a book among the wicker rockers and chaise lounges with plump pillows covered in a summery floral print.

The Wedding Princess continues: “I don’t know why, but I had a quarter and I put it in my mouth. And Grandmommy became so short with me. She said, ‘Take that nasty thing out of your mouth right this minute! You have no idea where it’s been. For all you know, it could’ve been in some Negra woman’s bosom!”

“And you’re sure she said Negra?”

“Oh, yes! We never said that other word.”

“Uh huh. So, don’t you think that’s fascinating that the worse thing Grandmommy could think to say about that quarter was that it might’ve been ‘in some Negra woman’s bosom’? I mean, not in the gutter, not in the street, not passing through a thousand filthy hands, but in some Negra woman’s bosom.

“Mind you, that same bosom would’ve been attached to other body parts that made up a Negra woman who was cleaning Grandmommy’s house; wiping her invalid father’s shitty ass; and even cooking and serving Grandmommy her food. A Negra woman who had fed, burped, bathed, changed, and comforted Grandmommy’s babies. Yet and still, the…absolutely… worst… place for your quarter to have been was in some Negra woman’s bosom.”

Leonard Pitts, has mixed feelings about the book and movie. He calls it an imperfect triumph:

So what, then explains my own irresolution? I suspect it traces to nothing more mysterious than the pain of revisiting a time and place of black subservience. And, perhaps, the sting of an inherited memory. That episode cost my mom something to tell — and even more to live.

As Americans, we lie about race. We lie profligately, obstinately and repeatedly. The first lie is of its existence as an immutable reality delivered unto us from the very hand of God.

That lie undergirds all the other lies, lies of Negro criminality, mendacity, ineducability. Lies of sexless mammies and oversexed wenches. Lies of docile child-men and brutal bucks. Lies that exonerate conscience and cover sin with sanctimony. Lies that pinched off avenues of aspiration till “the help” was all a Negro woman was left to be.

I think of those lies sometimes when aging white southerners contact me to share sepia-toned reminiscences about some beloved old nanny who raised them, taught them, loved them, and who was almost a member of the family. Almost.

Reading their emails, I wonder if those folks understand even now, a lifetime later, that that woman did not exist simply as a walk-on character in a white person’s life drama, that she was a fully formed human being with a life, and dreams and dreads of her own.

It is Kathryn Stockett’s imperfect triumph to have understood this and seek to make others understand it, too. I think mom would have appreciated the effort.

Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, professor at Tulane University and scholar of race in U.S. history live tweeted from the screening of the film and later commented:

“This is not a movie about the lives of black women,” she clarified, as their lives were not, she argued, “Real Housewives of Jackson, Mississippi… it was rape, it was lynching, it was the burning of communities.” She then explained that it was, to her, completing the work started by the Daughters of the American Confederacy when they “found money in the federal budget to erect a granite statue of Mammy in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial,” which happened while the same Senate contingency failed to pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. “It is the same notion that the fidelity of black women domestics is more important than the realities of the lives, the pain, the anguish, the rape that they experienced.”

“It’s ahistorical and deeply troubling,” she argued, to make the suffering of these laborers a backdrop for a happy story.

See below for the interview on MSNBC.

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John D. Andrews


You list pundits, not ordinary, everyday people. Sure, pundits deal with the concept, but I can assure you that ordinary, everyday people do not, as a rule, they are just trying to survive against a stacked deck.

Paige Baker

Apparently the link to the McIntosh article doesn’t work. Here is the URL:

African Americans and other non-whites don’t concern themselves with the concept of racism and power and dominance, they have to fight the reality that results from the concept.

A very brief search of the work of African American scholars/writers like Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Melissa Harris Perry, Patricia Hill Collins, Henry Louis Gates, and Cornel West (just to name a few) will demonstrate that this statement is false.

John D. Andrews

I saw the movie and I don’t think I have ever cried so much during a movie as I did this movie. Beginning in 1969 almost all of my friends were African Americans. I was told by people that it would be better if I had Anglo friends. I was regularly called a “nigger lover.” I was even sent to another high school with the belief that I would do better in school if I wasn’t being held down by my “negro” friends. I saw how the African Americans I was around were treated and how they put up with it, just like in the movie. Even in Lincoln, NE if you were African American you had to live in certain places, and yes, there were neighborhood covenants to restrict neighborhoods to “whites only.” An African American family moved onto my street. They finally moved out because of all of the harassment. Yes, racism is about power and dominance, and this movie shows the reality of it. It shows what life can be like with white supremacy which some on the political right are trying to bring back, even though they publicly say they are not. African Americans and other non-whites don’t concern themselves with the concept of racism and power and dominance, they have to fight the reality that results from the concept. To see the reality of Southern racism portrayed on the screen brings back the feelings I had as a teenager and also made me think more about what everyday people actually went through, having empathy for their struggles rather than just reading about it in a history book. Sure, the movie is fiction, but it is based on reality.

Paige Baker

I read the book and watched the movie. I was greatly troubled by both–mostly because I fear that the overwhelming nastiness of most of the white characters in the book allows white people reading/watching to tell themselves that racism is about segregation and ugly words, when it is really about systems of power and dominance.

As Americans, we lie about race. We lie profligately, obstinately and repeatedly.

The truth of the matter is that it is white people who lie about race. Profligately. Obstinately. Repeatedly.

We refuse even to recognize our white privilege–much less analyze it.

Peggy McIntosh wrote a defining piece about white privilege back in 1988. I always recommend that white people read this before they start talking about race. Unfortunately, it is as accurate now as it was then:

Whtie Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack [PDF]

Until whites lay down their defensiveness and begin actually listening to what people of color have to say about their own lives and their experience of our culture, we will never lance the festering boil of racism–and I fear we will continue to impede the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

carol gardner

It is a novel, a work of fiction. Ms. Stockett is not an historian, she tells stories.

She is white. If she were black, maybe she would have written a different story from a different perspective. But this is what she wrote, a fictional depiction of Jackson, MS in the 1960s.

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