Posts tagged the help
Posts tagged the help
As audiences continue to debate whether The Help is an inadequate racial drama or a crowd-pleasing discussion starter, Treme actor Wendell Pierce has joined the fray. “The movie The Help was painful to watch,” he tweeted last night. “This passive segregation lite was hurtful.” Pierce went to a screening with his mother, who told her son for the first time that she, too, had once been “the help”; she was angry that the movie was sentimentalized and didn’t touch on the curtailed education options for black children that often steered them toward a lifetime of maid service. “[I was] watching the film in UptownNewOrleans to the sniffles of elderly white people while my 80year old mother was seething,” wrote Pierce. “She told me how she wasn’t allowed in the kitchen. She couldn’t eat during a 12 hour shift. Only left overs if there was any. She couldn’t drink water from the kitchen but had to go to the faucet out doors.” Even more problematic for Pierce was the presence of Emma Stone’s lead character: “Hollywood loves the formula: the Great White Savior. I am tired of this cliche. These black women didn’t need a young white woman be empowered.”
“This isn’t the story of beleaguered domestics standing up for themselves during a time of American apartheid. It’s the story of a perky proto-feminist writer (Emma Stone’s “Skeeter” Phelan) cajoling black women into standing up for themselves by telling her their stories and letting her publish them in book form. It’s about what a good-hearted and tenacious person Skeeter is, and how lucky the maids are to have met her. When Skeeter’s insufferable childhood friend, a heartless, racist social climber, pushes her to publish an article in their Junior League group’s newsletter urging whites to build separate restrooms in their homes for black domestics, she resists for several weeks, then engineers a spectacular, lowbrow prank as a protest. When her book is finally published, we see a clerk displaying it prominently in a downtown bookstore window and old white ladies openly reading it in public, as if it were “Profiles in Courage” or “Calories Count.”
There was no real-life book similar to Skeeter’s magnum opus; it’s a fictional flourish that feels like a college-educated white liberal’s wish-fulfillment fantasy of how she would have conducted herself had she been time-warped back to the civil rights era. I wouldn’t have just stood by and let it happen. I would have done something! Something brave! This silliness reminded me, perversely enough, of an old Eddie Murphy routine tweaking macho black males’ fantasies of how they would have behaved if they’d lived in the pre-Civil War South: “Brothers act like they couldn’t have been slaves back 200 years ago … ‘I wish I was a slave! I would f—- somebody up!’”“
White people need to find ways to form relationships with people of color, based on what white people perceive as love, that are not also relationships where their own domination over the person of color is unacknowledged or taken for granted. That ain’t love! Is The Help a book and movie about real love, or is it about how wonderful white women are, to the point that being their nanny means being blessed, and how could anyone not love and covet white children?
The majority of my friendships with white people have been based not on real love, but on circumstance, and as such have been totally lopsided. You can ask those white people about our friendship, and they will have good things to say about me and how we got along, but I don’t have similar good things to say about them, if they never checked the dynamics in our friendship, they never checked what things they were saying to me that might be racist or erasing people of color and would make me less psyched about hanging out with them, if they acted like their presence was a blessing for me to bask in, if they never really listened to me (at least not when it was difficult), if there were always reminders that I was their “black friend.” If you never thought about these things and how they might play out in our friendship, we were not friends and there was no real friend-love.
None of what I’ve seen about The Help screams “friend-love story!” to me, having had white people think I was their “black friend.” If anything, it screams the awkward extent to which white people take their delusions of grandeur and the humiliation black women will suffer to feed their families. Again, doesn’t sound like love.
I am not convinced that a white person, most of the time, is going to actually love their first or only POC friend. I have been in the unfortunate situation of being white people’s first/only black friend way too many times, and I never felt loved. I felt like a testing ground.
True thoughts. The way I see it, it’s impossible to even consider cultivating love unless there’s a foundation of respect. On a foundation of respect, I think it’s possible to build trust and reciprocity. Once all of that is in place, we can begin to contemplate a deeper connection — but not before.