Thursday, August 25, 2011

let 'the help' help you.

unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last year, chances are you've either read or seen the movie, the help by kathryn stockett. i, like all my white mommy friends have read the book and really enjoyed it. i've yet to see the movie, but there's no doubt i will cry at the beauty and injustice of it all. this book is so much the rage that at least once a week i'll see someone post on fb, 'looking for a great book, any suggestions?' and nine times out of ten, the first comment is 'the help, i loved it!'
the more i'd see these fb posts and hear everyone talk about how great the book was, something in me started to rumble. maybe its just my inclination toward anti-social behavior, or maybe i started to really examine why everyone loved this book so damn much. i remembered enjoying reading it, i thought it was really well written, but best book ever?-- not by a long shot. with that being said, i want to emphasize my hesitation to 'criticize' the book itself. as a wannabe novelist, i can appreciate how extremely difficult it would be to put a book of that level together. it was entertaining, heart wrenching and just plain well-written. a page turner in a john grisham meets secret life of bees sort of way-- simple enough to follow, yet rich and complex in that it was about a subject matter i knew very little about.

as i began to wade through what was troubling me about everyone's enthusiasm about the book, i realized a few things. first off, i realized that it was a veiled way for us white women to take a stand against racism. hindsight is 20/20 and since all of us should know that treating african americans the way we did was totally and completely wrong, this is our opportunity to make it known that we would have been different. perhaps we would have been the 'skeeter' of the group. we would have known better. which is totally crap, and anyone who thinks differently is lying to themselves. or better put, in the words of my wise husband, 'i think it is odd and largely irrelevant for us to create a sense of empowerment for ourselves as it were with regard to how we would have been different…the ‘would have/should have/could have’ thought process, and discussion for that matter means absolutely nothing…unless we are simply seeking to delude ourselves. what matters is now—if our sentiments about that time can impact us now, then that is progress…if all we want to do is feign superiority over a time and people portrayed in a book we are more lost than found.'

what it comes down to is that the help is a simplistic way for us to look at racism in the past tense.  it allows us to become infuriated with what once was, when the reality is, the once was is really the 'still is,' more often than not.   a super duper smart blogger put it this way by comparing the help to a controversial cake she saw where there were two unicorns--the white unicorn was all pretty with rainbows fighting a black unicorn with flames all over it, 'You know why everyone is up in arms about a unicorn cake? Because it’s safe and it doesn’t mean anything. Because you can feign indignation about something as trivial as sugar and fondant. Because you get to create a distraction with a big old mess of a cake that has some “racially problematic imagery” and that right there is where your concern for and discussion of race end.  Keep talking about cake in the vacuum of mostly white communities. You’ve proven the old proverb wrong. Eat your cake, people. Down it to the last crumb. Tomorrow, you can have it again. Trust me. It will still be there. The racism, that is.  We can talk about race in a real way or we can talk about cake. I’m choosing the former.'

let me reiterate, i am no expert on race. in fact my experience is so incredibly limited. i am white (except when i try and be latino and everyone laughs at me), my husband is super white (if such a thing exists) and i have blond children which really seals the deal. i grew up in SLO which is like 95% white and have lived in only a handful of places, all of which boast similar statistics. the only thing i really have is the 5 formative years i spent with jon carter as my mom and i's housemate. it was then that i realized how alive racism still was, yes even in sweet little SLO.  it wasn't easy for me to write this blog, i knew it would likely piss off frustrate a lot of people.   but b reminded me when he said, 'you should totally blog about it.  people read your blog, we are going to have an ethiopian son. racial issues will be part of our life forever.' so with that said, i want to emphasize that i'm not faulting anyone for liking the book, i'm just trying to help myself and hopefully some of you recognize that there is a bigger issue at stake.  racism is still a huge problem and i want to be held accountable for what i am doing to aid in it, not just sit around and talk about in the past tense in the 'vacuum of my white community.'



Anonymous said...

Loved this blog and agree with many of your points; I toohave little knowledge of racism, but know and believe that it totally still exists! Many of us who share your background cannot even recognize it with all of the privilege we've experienced because of our specific heritage. While in do not apologize for who I am, I think we all have a duty to open our eyes and recognize how pervasive racism really is. I loved the Help and encourage other lovers of it to read or reread Uncle Tom's cabin. It was shocking to me to realize how many offensive and outrageous ideas that were conveyed in that book have been accepted as truth or inherent traits of particular people group. Sorry for my ranting, butyou've hit a hot topic :) Megan

lynn said...

I hesitate responding...but here are some of my thoughts. I too am white. And live in a town that claims diversity but racially is actually not very diverse at all. I did read The Help and also enjoyed it. I realize it's from a whites perspective. It's also how my mom was raised. In the south. In Louisiana. And yes, it's very sad. It's awful. Having spent enough time every summer from childhood through high school, and more, I've witnessed episodes between white and black that were captured in the book (and this was the 80s and 90s). I heard many white people talk about blacks in a horrific way. It's so hard to explain how deep the racism runs there. Stories I've brought home have been shocking to some California friends.
I would've loved an honest conversation with Idabelle, the wonderful woman who raised my mom and her brother in large part, before she passed. My grandfather was a farmer (having taken over his father's plantation), banker, and politician. And my grandmother was off playing tennis and bridge and hosting luncheons that Idabelle cooked. Idabelle was always around when my mom was growing up. She was one of my moms friends. And every home around had African American women who worked for them. Idabelle had a hand in raising my cousins too. Late 70s, 80s, 90s. I remember her so well. Her smile. The way she talked. She really was wonderful. And I remember feeling so confused that she lived the way she did. That all the blacks I saw in the community lived the way she did. In a teeny tiny looks like it might fall over any second 'home'. Right across from the 'Big House', as everyone called it. I'm not proud of this. It is a part of my family still, directly, though distantly too. And I never know what I'm called to do about it. I do know that I feel strongly that racial issues are so incredibly complex, not just between black and white. I will never, on this side of heaven make sense of how people, including myself, view and treat other human beings.

The Calamond Connection said...

Awesome blog, Holly. Very true how racism does still exist. I grew up in a community where racism was/is thick between white and hispanics. I was raised with racist tendencies and thoughts towards hispanics, unless they had money. i couldn't date hispanic or black or any other minority boys. very sad. and i never understood why there had to be a difference between "us" and "them". i didn't agree with what my folks said, but i did follow their rules. yet i thought i was different - i wasn't racist, no way. until college. i took a sociology class and my prof was hispanic and treated the white students differently. she discussed the hardships of being a double minority (female AND hispanic) during every class. if you were white and raised your hand to answer a question or add to a discussion, 9 times out of 10 she would disagree with you in some way or belittle you, if she chose to recognize you. and i hated it. i thought all sorts of horrible thoughts about her and called her all sorts of bad names. i thought her class was a waste of my time and she was the worst teacher i'd ever had. until it clicked that i had been treated, just a small tiny bit, like most minorities. but it completely rearranged my thoughts and feelings and perceptions. now i think she was one of the best teachers i've ever had. holly, thanks for keeping it real, as always.

zaiahbird said...

I'm not white. I'm Guatemalan married to an asian. Woot woot. But my dad is racist so go figure. My suggestion is never the Help but Twilight so what does that say about me?

MEGAN said...

I hesitate commenting too, because my head is swirling with thoughts. Holly, LOVE your blog, and I've commented before. Love your intelligent wit on a lot of topics.

I live in Denver, which is pretty diverse. I spent the morning touring/volunteering at a live in facility for women and children, either homeless, abused, addicted, etc. The families enter the extensive program and live there for 18 - 24 months! Anyways, it's all white women working there, but all kinds of races of women living there. There was 1 black baby in the nursery...that I RAN to. She was the prettiest, chubby little thing, and I LOVED her. Angeline is her name. Anywho, the other white women weren't holding her, but I held her for like 30-40 minutes. I was wondering if they gravitate toward the white kids, cuz they're white or what? I can't speak for them, but it's just a thought.

I am white and arabic (my grandfather was born in Iraq). After 9/11, hello, people make all kinds of racist comments about middle easterners. I don't advertise that I am arabic or anything, so I generally don't say anything. But, so MANY people are SO IGNORANT. It's 2011, and I think there's a lotta shit you just can't say anymore!

And I kind of think black people feel the same way about white people commenting on racism, etc.

christinehutch said...

holly, i felt the book was SO relevant for us in california...except that our "helpers" are often spanish speaking. to me, the "game changer" of a book wasn't about the black/white divide in the south 20 years was a reminder to me in my daily life. i honestly think of it every week in some capacity...whether it is the worker at the market or the cleaning is a big mindful presence to be respectful to everyone, smile with gratitude and above all, treat them like equals. so respectfully, i disagree with you. i think it is TOTALLY relevant for anyone that has "help".