When one person says I should blog about a particular topic, I nod my head politely and say, "Hmmm. That would be a good topic." When another person says I should blog about the same topic, I nod more affirmatively and seriously consider blogging on the topic. When a third person mentions that same topic to me, I sit my rear end down, open my laptop, and start blogging.
So here I am with my rear end planted to my padded dining room chair, beginning this blog that three people have told me I just have to write. So let us begin our discussion of The Help...
First of all, I have read the book and seen the movie. I loved them both. I laughed. I cried. Several emotions were evoked deep down within my soul. Some good. Some bad. I'll share some of them with you today, approaching this discussion as "Good News" and "Bad News."
The Good News
I could go on and on over the good news behind The Help. First of all, from an artistic perspective, the film adaptation of The Help far exceeded my expectations. I love books and movies, but I'm usually disappointed when a book is adapted to film. Of course, no one could possibly fit a 400-plus page book into a two-hour film, but director/screenwriter Tate Taylor did an amazing job. I'm sure author Kathryn Stockett was quite pleased.
I think it's amazing how this book, and especially the film, has people talking -- African Americans, Caucasians, men, women, people from all walks of life. And we're not just talking about the film either. We're talking about race. We're talking about race relations in the 1960's. We're talking about race relations today. And we're making comparisons and wondering how far we've really come.
Also, the actors did an amazing job portraying their various characters. Aibileen, while afraid to rock the boat in the fragile racial climate of Jackson, Mississippi, takes a bold stand when she agrees to assist Skeeter with her controversial book about the relationships between African American maids and their Caucasian employers. Instead of agreeing to interviews by Skeeter, Aibileen decides to write her own story, thus breaking even more rules. Although subtle in the movie, the book reveals Aibileen as a promising writer who actually co-writes The Help. And when Skeeter begins preparing to move to New York for her dream-job as an editor, Aibileen takes over her position as ghostwriter of the "domestic assistance" column at the local newspaper.
I love Minny, the spunky, no-nonsense maid whose sharp tongue leads to the termination of several jobs she needs to make ends meet for her large family. Minny provides the comic relief in this intense story, as she storms through life like a tornado, leaving others quaking in her wake. Yet Minny is a woman of great paradox. While she refuses to accept disrespect from her Caucasian employers, she remains in an abusive relationship with her husband. And while she clearly dislikes Caucasian women, she befriends her newest employer, Celia, a social outcast that the other society women view as "poor white trash."
Skeeter, a recent college graduate, holds her own in this unusual trio. Despising the maltreatment of African Americans in her town, she fulfills her longing to make a difference by writing The Help. Appalled over Mississippi's racial laws, she fights back with the only weapon she possesses -- her pen. As a writer, I admire that. One of my favorite quotes was written by the 16th Century Christian church reformer Martin Luther:
Skeeter -- and Kathryn Stockett, for that matter -- did just that.
Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter all fear the possible ramifications of writing The Help, but they're even more afraid of remaining silent. Their silence would have perpetuated the status quo. Their silence would have stunted growth and change in a community in desperate need of it.
Which brings me to...
The Bad News
Now I have to admit that a lot has changed since the 1960's. Our president is biracial, yet identified himself on the 2010 U.S Census as African American. Some of the wealthiest people in our county (Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Jay-Z) are African American. Many people of African descent have moved beyond our history as domestic help to now hire and manage their own domestic help.
And our laws have changed quite a bit. For the most part, our laws now protect African Americans from mistreatment and discrimination on the basis of race. Thanks to the Little Rock Nine and Brown v. Board of Education we can attend any school we choose. We can buy a house in any neighborhood we choose. We can utilize any form of public transportation we desire. The government has made great strides in protecting our rights as a minority race in this country. The laws have changed a lot about our country.
Yet, can the government change hearts? Can legislation affect the actions and thoughts of man?
I honestly don't think so. I'll list a few incidents from my personal life experiences to make my case:
- The law didn't change the heart of a little boy in a Chickfila play area when he said, with my children in earshot, "I'll be glad when all the Black people leave." I suspect that little boy was parroting the words of some adult in his life.
- The law didn't prevent someone from writing "KKK" and "Nig---" all over public utility boxes near our home in Tennessee.
- The law didn't keep someone from writing "KKK" on the bathroom wall of my sons' school in Tennessee and hanging a miniature imaginary noose from a stall. The law didn't prevent the school's principal from trying to cover-up the incident.
- The law hasn't erased the disparity in our son's Arkansas public high school that needs to make improvements because of the lack of scholastic achievement of African American students.
One more point before I wrap up. In The Help Skeeter writes the book that the African American maids cannot possibly write. In 1960's Mississippi, a Caucasian person had to write that book. Well, it's 2011, but as an African American I must assert that Caucasians still have to write our books.
Now hear me out. I have absolutely no problem with Stockett writing this story. I believe she wrote the story she was called to write. And I'm glad she did. But I've been wondering since I read the book if an African American woman had written the same exact book, would the world have taken notice? Would the book have risen so quickly to the New York Times bestseller list? Would it have transformed into a major box office smash so quickly? Would there be all the buzz surrounding it right now?
I think probably not. African Americans still have a hard time being heard (or read, for that matter). And when we are, we often get labeled as the "angry Black man" or "angry Black woman." So, we still often need our Caucasian friends to write our stories. That is, if we want the world to take notice.
So I leave you with an encore of the words of Martin Luther. "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write."
That's what I'm hoping to do here at "Sojourner of Truth."
Speaking the Truth in Love,