Oh. Hell. No. Not my mother, not my grandmother represented in The Help

Posted on June 20, 2011

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My mom probably wouldn’t have gotten hired in Kathryn Stockett’s fictional world of domestics, AKA “The blacker the better” maids.

All the "blacker the better" maids in one room, as the film attempts to duplicate Stockett's words with heavy handed film shots

The women are tall, short, black like asphalt or caramel brown. If your skin is too white, I’m told, you’ll never get hired. The blacker the better. (Skeeter, Pg 257)
 

The movie tries to stay true to Stockett’s rule, hence most of the maids in the film are on the dark side. To be sure, these are all lovely, brown complexioned women in the still from the film.
 

Only, what exactly did the producers of the movie think African Americans who happened to be a tad lighter do for work?
 

But the bigger question is, why didn’t anyone bother to verify what Stockett wrote?
 

Guess being considered light brown didn’t stop my mom from getting work. And take a look at the photo below of Demetrie, the maid Stockett says inspired her to write the novel. She’s not dark brown. Either way, whether light or dark, you were still a “Negro” or “Colored” during segregation.
 

Photo of Demetrie, Stockett's grandparents maid.

 

Another thing that’s been nagging at me. This whole weak PR spin that “The maids in The Help could be your mother or your grandmother.”
 

Uh-huh. Not my grandmother. And hell no with a can of “Are you crazy?” regarding  my mother.
 

My mom knew my dad wasn’t the easiest person to live with, but she didn’t demean him the way Stockett, in “blackface” does to the African American males in the The Help.
 

  

You see, when my parents left the south, they were together on this issue:
 

  

That they were equally discriminated against, unlike how the novel and probably how the movie makes it appear.
 

In the book, the black females are divided from the black males. Pitted against them.
It was a common tactic in many earlier best selling novels where blacks are secondary characters.
 

In Edna Ferber’s Showboat, Queenie calls her husband Jo “lazy” and a “no-account”
Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life Delilah labels her ex husband a “white nigger” and a “bigamist”
And in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Aibileen calls her ex husband “no-account” and “Crisco”. Minny calls her father a “no good drunk” and “no-count”.
 

In 2011 though, how freakin’ hard is it for people to understand, that reaching back in history as Kathryn Stockett attempted to do, and making grown black men into objects of ridicule, men who were already the prime targets of assaults, lynchings and god knows what else just because of the color of their skin . . . is just plain wrong.  Dignity for the black male in this novel is in short supply.  

Yet the men who practiced segregation, men that Stockett created like Carlton Phelan and Stuart Whitworth, Raleigh Leefolt and William Holbrook and Senator “Stoolie” Whitworth, well these men are all fine, upstanding citizens and behave almost like caring liberals.
 

It seems the worst they do in the novel is raise their voice. Thankfully, actual history shows differently:
 

 

Photo by Charles Moore. Two African American women being attacked. Note the bat in the man's hand while another man pummels a woman with his fists.

 

Yes, that’s a bat in the man in the foreground’s hand. Note the man in the background, beating a woman with his fists. His. Fists. Now look at the black man to the left. Check out his stance. Every muscle in his body is tense, and the look his face tells the story of a man who wants to intervene, like any man would.
 

And Dreamsworks wants to play this time period for laughs?
 

Celia Foote gets the squeals as the movie amps up the happiness factor during segregation

 

Are African Americans supposed to come away from The Help’s farcical version of the south as if some burden as been lifted? Are we supposed to be eternally grateful because three black maids get to roll their eyes, or grimace and grin? 

All this is possible because a bunch of people got together and realized there was money to be made, because really, that’s all this is about. Making money.
 

And just like during segregation, blacks are being used to entertain when there’s nothing “funny” about the situation.
 

 Isn’t  Dreamworks owned in part by Steven Speilberg? Then where’s our Schindler’s List? 

‘Cause The Help is a poor excuse for a compelling drama concerning one of the greatest struggles for human rights.
 

But this is nothing new. I’ve got several posts up regarding earlier novels, excerpts from literary works that garnered acclaim and fans similar to Stockett’s, simply because they included a “Negro” character and the author spoke for that character in dated, thick dialect.
 

Because nothing says “authentic” black character like “I be, he be, she be, dese, dat . . .” 

Happy Days with Aunt Jemima

 

 

Strange thing though, In many of these now classic books, the black female demeans the black male.
 

Most times like its all a big joke.
 

And The Help does the same thing. Readers are supposed to chuckle at how stupid Leroy and Clyde, and Minny’s daddy are. Only I wasn’t laughing. Especially when I noticed none of the white males, the ones who practiced and benefitted from segregation in the novel were never called “no-account”  “no good” or ever deemed absentee fathers.
 

 Now why is that?
 

No, even though both my parents are from the south, the characters Stockett created are a world away from their reality as an African American during segregation.
 

LOL. And since my mom is so fiery and blunt, I know exactly what to title this next section:
 

 

 

Really Dumb shit black people say in The Help:

 

“Let’s see,  I put the green beans in first, then I go on and get the pork chops going cause , mmm-mmm, I like my chops hot out the pan, you know.” (Minny, Pg 166)

“I was in attic, looking down at the farm,” I tell her. “I could see the tops of the trees.”

“You gone be a brain surgeon! Top a the house mean the head.” (Pg 63) – Constantine’s reply to Skeeter

“Cat got on the porch this morning, bout gave me a cadillac arrest thinking it was Mister Johnny.” Minny (Pg 48)

 Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s not something the colored woman do. We’ve got kids to think about – Minny Jackson (Pg 311)

 “You see that?” Farina said to me. “That pink lady you work for, drunk as an Injun on payday.” (Pg 333)

“I say ‘ That good vanilla from Mexico’  and then I go head. I tell her what else I put in that pie for her.” Minny revealing the Terrible Awful secret to Miss Celia (Pg 339) 

“If I didn’t hit you Minny, who knows what you become.” (Leroy Pg 413)

 “Did you…ever have dreams of being something else?”“No,” she says. “No ma’m I didn’t.”    Aibileen’s reply to Skeeter (Pg 144)

How his foot fell asleep and he say it tickle. I told him that was just his foot snoring. And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup of coffee and he twenty-one years  old. It’s always nice to see the kids grown up fine. (Pg 91) Aibileen

“A course. Can’t have no proper sandwich on no raw bread. And this afternoon I’ll make one a Minny’s famous caramel cakes. And next week we gone do you a fried catfish…” Minny speaking to Mr. Johnny (Pg 140)

 Lord, I know what I have to do. I have to go out there. I have to get him first (Pg 306). - Minny

“You stand back, Miss Celia.” I say and my voice is shaking. I go get Mister Johnny’s hunting knife, still in the shealth, from the bear. But the blade’s so short, he’ll have to be awful close for me to cut him, so I get the broom too. (Pg 306)- Minny

“Just pour some pneumonia in that garbage”…I jot it down, amending it to ammonia (Pg 84) – Skeeter correcting what Aibileen has told her 

Minny’s husband comments on her pregnancy (this zinger comes after having five other children) “You don’t get tired. Not till the tenth month.” Leroy (Pg 406)

“How tall is you?” Constantine responds.

“Five-eleven.” Skeeter bemoans. “I’m already taller than the boys’ basketball coach.”

“Well, I’m five-thirteen, so quit feeling sorry for yourself.” (Pg 63) Skeeter and Constantine

So what’s the purpose of all this stupid dialogue? Well, to make the reader laugh AT THE CHARACTERS, not WITH THEM. It plays on old stereotypes of blacks and our “low mentality” sort of like Amos n Andy did. Only that was then. This is now.  

This post is in development. . .
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