Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Help, Considered

I bought the book, enjoyed it, saw the movie, enjoyed it, and still I missed the most obvious connection to myself.  I grew up in a family that embraced Christian moral values, but which was pervaded by what I call "atmospheric" racism.  We made contributions to organizations that benefited black people, while racist comments (and attitudes) wafted up to the ceiling, unregarded.
And of course, even unspoken attitudes affect the world around us.

This letter to the editor provoked my ah-ha moment.  I think the appropriate term is "white blindness."

New York Times

How 'The Help' Depicts Race Relations

To the Editor:
Prof. Patricia A. Turner makes an excellent point when she criticizes "The Help" for implying that good white people of the 1960s were by definition non-racist. But it does something even more insidious. It invites white audiences, as do most Hollywood movies about race, to identify with an enlightened white character - in this case, the stand-in for the author of the book, Kathryn Stockett.
In so doing, it validates our fantasy that we would have seen the truth and we would have risked our comfort for the sake of justice. It assures us that we would have been, and by extension we are now, on the side of right.
Funny how racism persists despite us white people being so darn virtuous!
New York, Aug. 29, 2011
The writer is a director and producer of documentary films.

Mary Brown's letter is in response to the essay by Patricia Turner.  


Catherine Stine said...

We had a cleaning lady once, for about two weeks. I felt so uncomfortable having this person working like a slave for us, that I was completely relieved when my parents let her go. I don't think they felt comfortable with it either.

HelenQP said...

It's uncomfortable territory, that's for sure. The movie raises really important questions, but people often stop with how entertained they feel and don't go deeper into what's behind the presentation. Thanks!

Torrey Shannon said...

I am a bit ashamed that I haven't read the book or seen the movie yet, as I hear it is worth the investment. However, your post conjures up memories of my own childhood and the "atmospheric" racism (great term!) found behind closed doors. My parents outwardly took pride in being so accepting of all races and made sure everyone understood their position; yet, the "n" word and disparaging remarks about different races were commonly heard beneath their breath or in coffee-table discussions. This created a significant level of confusion for me in my formative years. Later in life, the true test of their tolerance became clear...I dated outside my race.

I learned a lot about myself, my culture, and where I stand on my own beliefs. I pray I can pass this level of tolerance on to my children effectively.

Great editorial and commentary, even if I haven't seen or read The Help.

HelenQP said...

Torrey, thanks for your honesty. Sounds like you've really grappled with the important stuff. I think a lot of white kids are confused,actually. One 'solution' that I see here on the East Coast is to pretend race doesn't exist--that's taught by example, of course. But it only drives racism underground.