“We love them and they love us,” Oh yeah? Sez who?

Posted on July 6, 2011

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“I’d like to write this showing the point of view of the help. The colored women down here. They raise a white child and then twenty years later the child becomes the employer. It’s that irony, that we love them and they love us,  yet. . . we don’t even allow them to use the toilet in the house.” – (Skeeter Pg 105-106)

We love them and they love us

I’m curious about this statement. Particularly how Skeeter, or rather Kathryn Stockett could make yet another all encompassing judgment call. Because much like Minny’s Plenty of black men leave their families behind like trash in a dump, but it’s just not something the colored woman do. We’ve got the kids to think about (Minny, Pg 311 ) exactly where did Stockett get her research that whites in the plural form loved their help, and that African Americans en mass reciprocated?

Maids and Nannies

I mean, if Skeeter had stated “I loved the woman who raised me, and I know she felt the same way, because she told me so” that would be one thing. But Stockett, by framing it as if this was a universal fact in all southern families, makes it appear as if she’s telling this NY editor something most in her community, or those in the south believed to be true.

Especially when the author stated this in an early 2009 audio interview:

“I think they were surprised that I was able, hopefully able to portray the love we felt for these woman and that you know, I assume that they felt for us . . .” (11:29 into the interview)

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/speakingvolumes/2009/05/26/interview-with-kathryn-stockett

So how did Stockett go from assuming that African Americans felt such deep love, to asserting that it was true. In addition, surely there are domestics who’d gone on record openly professing this “love” the author talks about. While many employers and their children have come forward to express their feelings about the former women who looked after them, all I’ve found so far in actual testimonies from real life African American domestics is the opposite. And they don’t mention the word “love” at all. In fact, in another early interview even Stockett doesn’t hear the word “love” used by the black help. Yet she mentions it often when speaking of the white employers and their children.

Here’s one example of a domestic going on record with her emotional attachment to the family she works for:

“Well, they tell you that (you’re part of the family). But of course you have the feeling, because you know that if something goes wrong, something they didn’t like, how fast they would let you go . . . But you know, I don’t feel that way because you work with a family, sometime they would come in and say, ‘Let’s sit down and have a cup of coffee together.’ They would lay in bed and call you and you stand by the door and talk to them until you almost drop. They never ask you to sit down on the bed or anything. Not only her, they all like that you know . . . But there is just a feeling between you that you know you can cover up for years and years, but that feeling in both parties is there.” – quote from Jewell Prieleau,  interviewed by Dr. Bonnie Thorton Dill, scholar, author and professor of women’s studies.

Returning to the novel, Stockett has Skeeter saying this:

“Everyone knows how we white people feel, the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family, Margaret Mitchell covered that. But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it.”

So what happens when Stockett does get her answer from African Americans? Well, note what she stated in this interview:

D.N.: When you interviewed people for the book, was there anything that stood out?

K.S.: What stood out was the emotion that white people had about the connection to their black maids. When I spoke to black people it was surprising to see how removed they were emotionally from those they worked for.

That was not always the case, but it was one of the dynamics that struck me. Sometimes it was a total disregard. It was just a job.

Link: http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2011/feb/11/q-help-author-work-book-no-2/

Yet Stockett continued to stick with the antebellum influenced, often repeated belief that our domestics love us, oh yes they do because we’re so close and good to them.

Here’s an excerpt from an actual letter from a slaveholder, once cared for by a black woman. Notice how the same theme pops up, of assuming blacks just loved their white charges as much as they would love their own child.

“MY DEAR MRS. DE SAUSSURE:

I will proceed to answer your inquiries. You know I am Southern born and raised. I am a Georgian, and although never a slaveholder I was nursed by a negro woman to whom I was most fondly attached, and who, I believe, loved me as she would her own son. I have had the opportunity to mingle freely with slaveholders of different characters and dispositions, and while I regard slavery as such an enormous evil and am heartily glad that it has been abolished in this country,I am bound in candor to say that my observation, during all these years of my residence in Georgia and South Carolina, thoroughly convinced me that in the majority of cases slaves were more kindly treated and brought into more intimate and kindly relations to white families than they are now . . .”

© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Link - http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/desaussure/desaussure.html

 

Now take a look at this reveting account from an actual domestic and nurse, which is long, but worth reading (this is not the entire text, a link is provided below of the full interview

A Negro Nurse
More Slavery at the South
From The Independent, 72 (Jan. 25, 1912): 196-200. New York: Published for the proprietors, 1912.

        “I am a negro woman, and I was born and reared in the South. I am now past forty years of age and am the mother of three children. My husband died nearly fifteen years ago, after we had been married about five years. For more than thirty years–or since I was ten years old–I have been a servant in one capacity or another in white families in a thriving Southern city, which has at present a population of more than 50,000. In my early years I was at first what might be called a “house-girl,” or, better, a “house-boy.” I used to answer the doorbell, sweep the yard, go on errands and do odd jobs. Later on I became a chambermaid and performed the usual duties of such a servant in a home. Still later I was graduated into a cook, in which position I served at different times for nearly eight years in all. During the last ten years I have been a nurse. I have worked for only four different families during all these thirty years. But, belonging to the servant class, which is the majority class among my race at the South, and associating only with servants, I have been able to become intimately acquainted not only with the lives of hundreds of household servants, but also with the lives of their employers. I can, therefore, speak with authority on the so-called servant question; and what I say is said out of an experience which covers many years. . .

A maid at work

I frequently work from fourteen to sixteen hours a day. I am compelled to by my contract, which is oral only, to sleep in the house. I am allowed to go home to my own children, the oldest of whom is a girl of 18 years, only once in two weeks, every other Sunday afternoon–even then I’m not permitted to stay all night. I not only have to nurse a little white child, now eleven months old, but I have to act as playmate, or “handy-andy,” not to say governess, to three other children in the house, the oldest of whom is only nine years of age. I wash and dress the baby two or three times each day; I give it its meals, mainly from a bottle; I have to put it to bed each night; and, in addition, I have to get up and attend to its every call between midnight and morning. If the baby falls to sleep during the day, as it has been trained to do every day about eleven o’clock, I am not permitted to rest. It’s “Mammy, do this,” or “Mammy, do that,” or “Mammy, do the other,” from my mistress, all the time. So it is not strange to see “Mammy” watering the lawn with the garden hose, sweeping the sidewalk, mopping the porch and halls, mopping the porch and halls, helping the cook, or darning stockings. Not only so, but I have to put the other three children to bed each night as well as the baby, and I have to wash them and dress them each morning. I don’t know what it is to go to church; I don’t know what it is to go to a lecture or entertainment of anything of the kind; I live a treadmill life; and I see my own children only when they happen to see me on the streets when I am out with the children, or when my children come to the “yard” to see me, which isn’t often, because my white folks don’t like to see their servants’ children hanging around their premises.

Unidentified Maid feeding a child

You might as well say that I’m on duty all the time–from sunrise to sunrise, every day in the week. I am the slave, body and soul, of this family. And what do I get for this work–this lifetime bondage? The pitiful sum of ten dollars a month! And what am I expected to do with these ten dollars? With this money I’m expected to pay my house rent, which is four dollars per month, for a little house of two rooms, just big enough to turn around in; and I’m expected, also, to feed and clothe myself and three children. For two years my oldest child, it is true, has helped a little toward our support by taking in a little washing at home. She does the washing and ironing of two white families, with a total of five persons; one of these families pays her $1.00 per week, and the other 75 cents per week, and my daughter has to furnish her own soap and starch and wood. For six months my youngest child, a girl about thirteen years old, has been nursing, and she receives $1.50 per week but has no night work. When I think of the low rate of wages we poor colored people receive, and when I hear so much said about our unreliability, our untrustworthiness, and even our vices, I recall the story of the private soldier in a certain army who, once upon a time, being upbraided by the commanding officer because the heels of his shoes were not polished, is said to have replied: “Captain, do you expect all the virtues for $13 per month?”

. . . Another thing–it’s a small indignity, it may be, but an indignity just the same. No white person, not even the little children just learning to talk, no white person at the South ever thinks of addressing any negro man or woman as Mr., or Mrs., or Miss. The women are called, “Cook,” or “Nurse,” or “Mammy,” or “Mary Jane,” or “Lou,” or “Dilcey,” as the case might be, and the men are called “Bob,” or “Boy,” or “Old Man,” or “Uncle Bill,” or “Pate.” In many cases our white employers refer to us, and in our presence, too, as their “niggers.” No matter what they call us–no matter what we teach our children to call us–we must tamely submit, and answer when we are called; we must enter no protest; if we did object, we should be driven out without the least ceremony, and, in applying for work at other places, we should find it very hard to procure another situation. . .

In the distant future, it may be, centuries and centuries hence, a monument of brass or stone will be erected to the Old Black Mammies of the South, but what we need is present help, present sympathy, better wages, better hours, more protections, and a chance to breathe for once while alive as free women. If none others will help us, it would seem that the Southern white women themselves might do so in their own defense, because we are rearing their children–we feed them, we bathe them, we teach them to speak the English language, and in numberless instances we sleep with them–and it is inevitable that the lives of their children will in some measure be pure or impure according as they are affected by contact with their colored nurses.”

        © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Link: http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/negnurse/negnurse.html

Sheet music portraying Mammy and child

“. . . I knew a lot of Southerners in the city, and every now and then we’d talk about what we missed from the South. Inevitably, somebody would start talking about the maid they grew up with, some little thing that made us all remember—Alice’s good hamburgers or riding in the back seat to take Willy May home. Everybody had a story to tell.”

Kathryn Stockett’s quote, per the Penguin Publishing website:

http://us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/help.html

While Stockett and others who were practically raised by the black domestic looking after them recall only memories of how much “fun” they had, there still appears to be a detachment regarding what it may have been like for Demetrie to work long hours and under a household that practiced their own brand on segregation in the 70s and 80s, even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had prohibited the treatment of African Americans as second class citizens.  

Interview by Lonnae O’Neal Parker for the Washington Post.com

“ ‘People say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe she would try to represent black women that way.’ Demetrie didn’t go past sixth grade. She lived in a shack. I wasn’t trying to represent a whole race or people,’ she says.”

Link http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/12/AR2010081206721_2.html?sid=ST2010081302928

If Demetrie lived in a shack, even after cooking, cleaning and watching over Stockett and her siblings for hours at a time, the question is, just how much was she getting paid? And was her work history close to the account of the maid/nurse who likened her on the job conditions to a form of slavery?

 “If we are to reckon honestly with the history and continued legacies of slavery in the United States, we must confront the terrible depths of desire for the black mammy and the way it still drags at struggles for real democracy and social justice.”     —-    Micki McElya, scholar and author of  Clinging to Mammy; The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America

Going back to the first part of Skeeter’s statement “Everyone knows how we white people feel, the glorified Mammy figure who dedicated her whole life to a white family”

Plunging ahead anyway, Stockett creates three versions of Mammy. Glorifying her black maids with several scenarios crafted to prove  the theory that “they love us” is true. The maid who influenced the author to create The Help, according to her early interviews, is named Demetrie. But in this book within a book, which is basically Stockett’s journey to creating the novel, the real life author doesn’t consult with Demetrie’s still living relatives on what she may have told them about her time with the Stocketts. And when she mentions specifically talking to a maid who worked as a domestic during the civil rights era, Stockett can only expound on the events the woman recalled, like Medgar Evers death.

Constantine, Aibileen and Minny. Constantine dedicates her whole life to the Phelans, Aibileen mixes it up by working for several different families but still dedicates her life to their children, and Minny, while swearing it would never happen, finally “turns” and will probably be with the childlike bride Celia until the day that she dies (or passes the torch to her eldest daughter Sugar, as the novel has Minny training her daughter to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a babysitter I mean a maid for Miss Celia).

Yes, Stockett “glorifies” them by playing up several scenes that purport to show just how much her fictional black characters love the white children they’re assigned to. Stockett also decides it’s just fine and dandy to ressurect the Mammy myth, which by the way can only be accomplished by portraying the black men paired with these three women as highly undesireable.

The UK trailer alluding to Aibileen being the catalyst of it all, not Skeeter

Aibileen is saddled with not just one, but seventeen children that she pledges her allegiance to, deciding early on that Mammyhood is the career choice for her. Stockett has this character swearing off all men after a failed marriage, and while half the novel concerns Skeeter’s search for love, Aibileen is given one paragraph to explain why she’s a sexless hermit (items in bold are my doing):

Time to time, I think I might find myself another man, one from my church. Problem is, much as I love the Lord, church going man never do all that much for me. Kind a man I like ain’t the kind that stays around when he done spending all you money. I made that mistake twenty years ago. When my husband Clyde left me for that no-count hussy up on Farish street, one they call Cocoa. I figured I better shut the door on that kind a business. (Pg 22)

This is not a typo on my part (when he done spending all YOU money). That’s as it reads in the book.

What utter bullshit that whole paragraph from the novel is, and certainly, no “homage” to Demetrie, since the woman was married up until her death (Demetrie was married to a man Stockett says was abusive, much like the character she created and paired with Minny, namely Leroy).

Constantine is also alone, but no explaination is given as to why. She just is. Aibileen decides to swear off men at age thirty-three, and she’s fifty-three when the novel begins. So for the past twenty years it’s been Children. Kitchen. Church.  A routine that white women rebelled against after World War II, yet Stockett somehow thinks African Americans are just fine with it.

While Constantine is handed a newborn Skeeter, watching over her like a surrogate mother, Aibileen talks proudly of her devotion to the seventeen children she’s raised, admonishing one with this Uncle Tomish, degrading joke; “don’t drink coffee or you’ll turn colored.” She then purrs in contentment that “it’s nice to see the kids grown up fine” after an insinuation that one of her now grown charges has taken her advice, not having touched a drop of coffee.

Both maids abstain from relations of any kind with a male or female, showing that Aibileen and Constantine are A-Okay to handle the kids they’re assigned. It’s like they needed a vow of chastity in order to be good enough to watch someone else’s kid. 

Minny posed a different sort of problem, but Stockett solves her “sassiness” by having her hitched  to another stereotype from early fiction, expecially during the antebellum period. The black male as a violent brute. Leroy Jackson torments and beats Minny almost daily, yet Minny behaves contrary to all known medical data on abused women by being jovial enough to do a stand-up comedy routine each time she appears in the novel. Minny finally leaves her angry beyond reason mate, running straight into the waiting arms of Celia and Johnny, individuals whose home contains reminders of the Confederacy, yet somehow they behave as transplanted Northern liberals.

The one maid who swore she wouldn’t be Mammy-fied becomes just that, “proving” her love to Celia by putting her life on the line as she makes the bone headed decision to confront a naked pervert.

Never mind if something happened to Minny during her assault on the man, that her children would be at the mercy of the brutish Leroy. Minny still goes out, telling Celia to lock the door behind her, arming herself with a broom and a knife. Yes, a knife, an item African Americans were linked to during segregation, as in our weapon of choice by bigots intent on spreading demeaning myths.

And what many readers fail to note, is that Minny is pregnant with her sixth child during this dangerous escapade.

But since Minny was supposed to be the most aggressive of the three maids, She is again enlisted to smack her own child into reality, when the teen makes a joke about Celia, thereby completing Minny’s ascent to Mammyhood.

In the book and the movie, Minny serves up jokes as well as food

Of the three, Constantine is the maid with even less of a backstory. The reader is “told” that her daddy loved her, though he fathers several bi-racial children without marrying her mother. Stockett again shows an unequal treatment of her own characters by labeling several black males “no account” but somehow Constantine’s father avoids this fate simply because he’s white, he cries, and expresses remorse for his daughter’s lot in life.

To review, the black characters must prove their devotion to the white children they’re watching over or that same child now fully grown, who still exhibits infantile qualities.

If they’re total strangers it matters not, because the black maid will form an attachment that is so strong she will be overprotective or want to risk her own live to prove her “love”. But notice that the playing field isn’t equal, as the maids never get the same level of committment from their charges.

Throughout The Help, crack investigative journalist that Skeeter is, she can’t bring herself to do anything more than nag Aibileen for the answers her own mother can readily provide regarding Constantine.

Even when her mother tells her early on that Constantine has gone to Chicago, Skeeter does nothing more than bitch and moan about Constantine, with overly possessive thoughts like these (items in bold are my doing):

That was the only part I didn’t like about having the top floor of the house, that it separated me from my Constantine. (Skeeter, Pg 58)

I had to accept that Constantine, my one true ally, had left me to fend for myself with these people. (Skeeter, Pg 69)

Not once in the book does Skeeter make mention of caring so deeply for Constantine that she loved the woman. What she does say is “We love them and they love us” to Miss Stein in order to catch the editor’s ear.

Mary Steenburgen plays Elaine Stein in the film

And flashbacks have her recalling the times Constantine either listened to her teen angst, as in this scene:

The first time I was ever called ugly, I was thirteen. It was a rich friend of my brother Carlton’s, over to shoot guns in the field.

“Why you crying girl?” Constantine asked me in the kitchen.

I told her what the boy had called me, tears streaming down my face.

“Well? Is you?”

I blinked, paused my crying. “Is I what?”

“Now you look a here, Eugnenia”- because Constantine was the only one who’d occasionally follow Mama’s rule. “Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person. Is you one a them peoples?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” I sobbed.

Constantine sat down next to me, at the kitchen table. I heard the cracking of her swollen joints. She pressed her thumb hard in the palm of my hand, something we both knew meant Listen. Listen to me.

“Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision.” Constantine was so close I could see the blackness of her gums. “You gone have to ask yourself, Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?”

She kept her thumb pressed hard in my hand. I nodded that I understood. I was just smart enough to realize she meant white people. And even though I still felt miserable, and knew that I was, most likely, ugly, it was the first time she ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother’s white child. All my life I’d been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Costantine’s thumb pressed in my hand, I realized that I actually had a choice in what I could believe. (Pgs 62-63)

This overly sappy, dramatic scenario has repeated often in books with not only black female domestics, but also male.

And in 2011, it’s not only outdated but it’s offensive. In The Help, African Americans are limited to Uncle Remus type advice, instilling confidence in children when they don’t even follow their own recommendations.

Constantine thought so much about what other people said, Stockett has her giving up her only child simply because the girl is light. What’s even more absurd is that Lulabelle was able to come out so pale that she could pass for white, thus Stockett inserts the tragic mulatto trope into the novel. The thing is, very light African Americans were nothing new, even in the 1940s when Lulabelle was born. Here’s a photo of Fredi Washington, the black woman who played another tragic mulatto Peola in the 1934 film version of Imitation of Life.

Fredi Washington, African American actress

And of course Skeeter’s father knows nothing about the whole Constantine fiasco. For as Skeeter has to tell the reader “He’s too honest of a man” as if readers need to be reminded that although her father benefits from the cheap labor provided by Jim Crow laws that oppress his black workers, he’s too forthright a man not to tell her the truth concerning Constantine’s dismissal.

The employer who comes the closest to expressing some type of emotional attachment to their maid is Lou Anne. She says this to Skeeter about Louvenia, a woman who’s become more than just a worker in her home but a friend and a confidant. Lou Anne was the employer who paid Louvenia’s grandson Robert’s hospital bill.

“Lovenia is the only reason I can get out of bed sometimes.” (Pg 417)

“Skeeter, Louvenia is the bravest person I know. Even with all her own troubles, she sits down and talks to me. She helps me get through my days. When I read what she wrote about me, about helping her with her grandson, I’ve never been so grateful in my life. It was the best I’ve felt in months. . . if you did write it, if Hilly’s rumor is true, I just want you to know, I will never fire Louvenia. ” (Lou Ann Pg 418)

Though Jackson, Mississippi was known not only in the U.S. but worldwide as a hotbed in the fight for civil rights and domination by those in control who sought to crush this activity, Stockett includes mention of actual events as though all three maids are living outside of Mississippi. What’s even stranger is how the author puts the maids stories AHEAD of the marches and sit-ins, as if by telling their stories to Skeeter will be of greater importance than the actual historic march for equality.

While the book is primarily set between 1962-1964, it sometimes reads as though its in the 40s or 50s, with stiff dialogue and soap opera husbands, a testament to who this book is really dedicated to. The white southern male, because they’re the ones who make out the best in the novel.

History shows that many (though not all) southern males were either staunch segregationists, or at least followed the policies of segregation when dealing with African Americans, whether in their employ or in passing, Stockett would have readers believe that her fictional males had no problem with blacks, and in fact were more liberal than their wives.

The way the book reads it’s as if young white women with no experience in creating public policy or influence ran roughshod over their elders, intimidating other females within their social circle to do their will, and their husbands were browbeaten into meekly following.

So again I ask, who says? Could this be a bit like how it was during segregation, when those in power and the public eye decided they could speak not only about African Americans, but for us?

Much of the novel The Help is based around this concept, that through all the degredation, the oppression, and injury inflicted as one race was considered inferior, African Americans still “loved” their masters. Yes, I said “masters” because this belief originated during slavery, and will not die. It’s the antebellum rallying cry. An incendiary propaganda that has taken a life of its own, until the truth lies buried and must be researched to show just how it was.

Understand something. When I started this blog I wholeheartedly agreed with those who’d been children during this time period and expressed their love for those who’d cared and raised them.

But this is a separate issue. Because what a child comprehends and what adults participate in, are different things.

Kathryn Stockett wrote a novel that purported to show the affection between blacks and whites, even knowing the notion of blacks loving those who still thought of them as unequal was indeed a stretch. Yet her publisher eagerly gobbled this idea up, much like Missus Stein.

After the book became a hit with a majority of white reviewers and readers who expressed their own “love” for the novel, Stockett was continually asked what African Americans thought about the novel, as if she’d somehow morphed into the official representative of black people (I guess asking any African Americans was out of the question).

“How does the African American community feel about the fact that you’ve written in the voices of black women?

I can’t speak for the African American community as a whole.  I can only tell you what individuals have told me.  My close friend, Octavia Spencer, an African American actress originally from Montgomery, Alabama, liked the book so much that she toured with me!  I couldn’t believe it-Octavia called her agent, told her she wouldn’t be available for any jobs-and we hit the road.  We laughed our way across the South and then the West Coast, me reading the parts of Skeeter and Celia, Octavia reading Aibileen and Minny.  The African American book clubs that I’ve spoken to had only positive things to say, but keep in mind that I’m generally contacted only by people who like the book, and not those that don’t (thank goodness). That said, my own maid said she thought it was well-written, but didn’t enjoy reading it.   Her mother was a maid in Birmingham in the 1960’s and she said, “It just hit a little too close to home.”

Link: http://www.novelkicks.co.uk/advice/author-interviews-new/item/383-kathryn-stockett

Now, what maid could she have been talking about here? Is it possible that this is Abilene Cooper?

Photo of Demetrie, Stockett's grandparents maid. Funny, but she doesn't appear to be "dark"

Take a look at this photo of the real Demetrie. Does this woman appear to be “dark brown?” per Skeeter’s description of Aibileen (items in bold are my doing):

I walk into the kitchen, my notebook and papers under my arm. Aibileen smiles at me from the sink, her gold tooth shining. She’s a little plump in the middle, but it is a friendly softness. And she’s much shorter than me, because who isn’t? Her skin is dark brown and shiny against her starchy white uniform. Her eyebrows are gray though her hair is black (Skeeter, Pg 78)

 

 

 

 

 

Much like Margaret Mitchell’s novel struck a chord with readers, so has Kathryn Stockett’s. But once again, how African Americans are portrayed and how we really are is at issue. Yet the majority of those “authenticating” these novels don’t come from the culture being skewed in these books, which is unheard of. Wait, what am I saying? This practice of non -minorities creating a black character and then telling us that they’re valid has been happening for YEARS.

In this recent news article on Margaret Mitchell’s legacy with African Americans, a moviegoer recalls her mother’s advice (items in bold are my doing):

Mitchell’s Racial Legacy Is Two-Sided

by Orlando Montoya

“Racial stereotypes are as much a part of “Gone with the Wind” as its memorable lines and sweeping drama. As the book turns 75, GPB is airing a three-part series on its Atlanta author, Margaret Mitchell. In our final story we report on her relationship with African-Americans.

St. Simons Island author Tina McElroy Ansa remembers seeing the movie “Gone with the Wind” as a teenager.

Before going, her mother gave her a warning.

“She said, ‘It was about us and we look silly in it,'” Ansa says.

In the movie, actress Hattie McDaniel plays a domestic whose lines include, “Now you scrub yourself with that strong lye soap before I come in there and scrub you myself! I’m going to put these britches in the boiling pot!”

Modern critics generally give the book better marks for representing blacks than the movie. But Ansa says, both were deeply flawed.

“There were no ‘happy darkies’ taking care of white folks and ‘Everything was just fine’ and ‘It wasn’t really their story,'” Ansa says. “Always marginalized, always bringing in food and getting out.”

Mitchell was writing about the Civil War Era. And she wrote in the 1920’s and 1930’s at a time of lynchings and a rising KKK.”

See the full article here: http://www.gpb.org/news/2011/06/22/mitchells-racial-legacy-is-two-sided

Recall Minny’s Mammyish conversation with Johnny Foote over food no less. 

“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, Pg 140)

See the similarities?

Kathryn Stockett’s novel was published in 2009. Yet even with her demeaning dialogue and stereotypes, it appears  the man entrusted with writing the screenplay didn’t catch them. How is it possible that in 2011, stereotypes of a much maligned culture still abound, and our voices are authenticated only when whites write our story?

Because to follow Kathryn Stockett’s rise to the top of the publishing world is to see just how divided not only publishing, but opinions are on what constitutes a black person of “worth” and one subject to derision.

For more on Minny as well as Aibileen’s corny as hell, throwback to the past caricatured dialogue, see this post:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/the-help-is-a-parody/

DreamWorks Pictures The Help Now Opening August 10th

July 1, 2011 by Mike Gencarelli

“As Taylor recalls, ‘I started reading the manuscript and was blown away. I was moved by the truth of the story, about these unlikely women coming together to create change in Mississippiin 1963.
I called Kathryn and just said, ‘This is fantastic. You cannot give up . . .this will be published. If it doesn’t, I’ll make it into a movie.’

The authenticity of the story of “The Help” resonated with Taylor from the moment he opened the book. “This was our childhood. Kathryn and I weren’t quite raised like the characters in the book because we were raised in the ’70s. But our mothers were single moms who had to work. And they, like the women in the story, needed to get help with the children. Kathryn and I like to refer to the women who raised us as our co-mothers. Mine was Carol Lee and hers was Demitri.”

http://moviemikes.com/2011/07/dreamworks-pictures-the-help-now-opening-august-10th/

Note what Taylor doesn’t, or can’t say.

That the demeaning of the African American male in the novel was wrong (not that I expected him to.  After all, Stockett is his good friend).

That Aibileen, Minny and Constantine being given dialogue that’s at times embaressing, and particularly in Aibileen’s case, shows a serious boatload of self loathing of not only her skin color, but her black culture was contrary to how the woman who raised him thought.

It’s important to understand that if there had been love expressed between black workers and the children they watched over, why would those now grown children believe that these women hated being what they were, that they felt distain for the males they were attracted/married to, and most important, that they deserved to be rewarded for all their years of service with a book that portrays them and their culture in a less than flattering light?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the history of the south, and how African Americans were viewed:

Conditions of Antebellum Slavery

“Enslaved African Americans could never forget their status as property, no matter how well their owners treated them. But it would be too simplistic to say that all masters and slaves hated each other. Human beings who live and work together are bound to form relationships of some kind, and some masters and slaves genuinely cared for each other. But the caring was tempered and limited by the power imbalance under which it grew. Within the narrow confines of slavery, human relationships ran the gamut from compassionate to contemptuous. But the masters and slaves never approached equality.”

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2956.html

“I am almost ready to acknowledge that the African is happier in bondage than free. At least one thing is certain: nearly all of the free negroes I have seen in the North were miserable creatures–poor, ragged, and often criminal. Here [in the South] they are well-clad, moral, nearly all religious, and the temptations that demoralize the free blacks in our Northern cities are unknown to, and cannot, approach them”.

CLEMENT EATON, A HISTORY OF THE OLD SOUTH (MACMILLIAN, 1966)

http://www.coloradocollege.edu/dept/hy/hy243ruiz/research/antebellum.html

So where did the “affection” terminology and ideology possibly originate?

An excerpt from Encyclopedia Virginia may hold a clue (Items in bold are my doing):

“Following the war, white Southerners told stories of the happy slave, the “Mammy” or “Uncle Tom” who appeared as part of the family. “Generally speaking, the negroes proved a harmless and affectionate race, easily governed, and happy in their condition,” according to the 1908 edition of the textbook History of Virginia by Mary Tucker Magill. The 1964 edition of Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis Butler Simkins, Spotswood Hunnicutt Jones, and Sidman P. Poole was not much different. “A feeling of strong affection existed between masters and slaves in a majority of Virginia homes,” the authors wrote. Such statements are not supported by modern scholarship, which suggests that many slaves were desperate to escape their often harsh conditions both before and during the war, when they became refugees. In fact, escaped slaves helped to precipitate national political crises such as the one surrounding the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

The image of African Americans who had been happy under slavery but were overwhelmed by the responsibilities of freedom became widespread and could be found in the fiction of  Thomas Nelson Page and Margaret Mitchell, whose novel Gone with the Wind won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The image also proved particularly useful to white supremacists. In the 1880s and 1890s, white Southerners, decrying “Yankee aggression” and black “betrayal,” embarked on an effort to reverse the policies of Reconstruction (1865–1877). They sought to remove black office holders, disenfranchise African American men, forestall black economic advancement, and institute state-sanctioned segregation.”

For more on the affection myth, see this post:

http://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/the-affection-myth/

This post is still in development

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