THEY JUST DON’T GET IT

Posted on July 21, 2010

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“They” meaning the ones who’ve read the novel and love it far too much to dwell on the issues within the pages. Many problems in the book are dismissed, all because of the book’s “message.”

Hmm. But exactly what is the message of The Help?

That African American males, who were the main victims of lynchings, assaults and emasculation during segregation are depicted as “no-account” because they not only abandon their families, but also abuse their wives, something no southern gentleman would be caught doing, especially in The Help.

That African Americans really are “Black” as in “black as asphalt”, “black as night”, or so “black you can’t tell us apart”, which are actual sections in the novel.

That it’s okay to resurrect old stereotypes of the happy domestic (see Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben) which are what Aibileen, as the asexual, nurturing nanny and Minny, the bossy, quick with the tongue, overweight cook really are.


That the real “villains” of segregation were white women who liked to play bridge and plan how to antagonize their African American help, and their husbands were just innocent bystanders. No matter that the white male, specifically those who sided with Jim Crow laws and theories on racial superiority were the true villains of that era. No, the author has turned history on its ear. And all because it makes for entertaining women’s fiction.


For any new readers of this blog, I first have to give a shout out to a poster on Amazon.com, one who comments on the original thread I’d started called “A Dissenting View of The Help” frequently. This same poster contacted Huffington Post writer Jesse Kornbluth after I’d posted an excerpt and a link to his original review there on The Help.

The two of them corresponded, and another article is up. You can view it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-kornbluth/an-african-american-woman_b_653983.html

Right off, I noticed how Kornbluth set the terms of their chat (nothing wrong with that, but since the initial contact email was professional and friendly, I didn’t see the need for this:

happy to chat

you start —
l) What did NOT work for you?
2) What DO you like to read?

Sorry, but I fail to see why this was needed. Someone wants to discuss why the novel didn’t work for them, someone representing the race that the book claims it pays “homage” to. They’re not interviewing for a job. They’re asking to discuss it with you, and you turn it into a request. This was my first indication that the point wouldn’t get across because I sensed a power play. I also hate how, when African Americans complain, we must do it ever so humbly, lest we be considered “militant”.

At the end of all of this Kornbluth makes the concession that the language may now seem “mawkish” in the novel, instead of sometime in the future. That’s about all he concedes. See, this is one of the reasons why I try not to dwell on the vernacular of the novel. Far too many readers who love the book will tune a dissenting voice out if the language issue is front and center. No, I like to delve into the other issues with the book, like how Stockett has skillfully changed who the real villains of  segregation were. In The Help, white women are the ones the reader is supposed to hate, in particular, Hilly Holbrook. But as I’ve stated in other posts no white woman has ever lynched, assaulted, raped or physically intimidated innocent African Americans during the heyday of segregation. No…it was the husbands, the southern males in charge who took action to make certain blacks stayed in line.

Thus the title of this post speaks for itself  THEY JUST DON’T GET IT, and that includes Kornbluth, who identified himself as Jewish, and yet is still intent on praising a novel that denigrates the African American male, but elevates the white southern male at at time when black men heroically led the fight for equality. But you wouldn’t know it in The Help. I wonder, if a sympathetic writer who identified themselves as being the offspring of a Nazi guard wrote a book, taking on both the voice of the guard and the Jewish prisoners, but peppered the novel full of stereotypical depictions of the Jewish characters, would Kornbluth get it then?

What if that writer made most of the Jewish males into “no-accounts” who ran off and left Jewish women and their children to save themselves from going into a concentration camp?

I doubt if that type of scene will ever be written in a novel or be in a movie, and if it is, it’ll be balanced with another character, a positive image  of a Jewish male who stands by his family. It seems when African Americans are crafted by some white authors, they take it upon themselves to “scold” us for some perceived flaw in our makeup, which is what Stockett, who grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s does with the characters of Leroy and Clyde. If the reviewers who were so quick to crown this novel THE ONE, as in “see African Americans, behold the novel we’ve crowned as the one which will heal our racial rift, and truly shows how much affection we had for one another” if they’d only take a closer look at the characters many claim are the most admirable and intelligent, they’ll see where Kathryn Stockett included her own biases.

For as much as Aibileen utters affirmations of love and encouragement to Mae Mobley, she ignores the abuse happening to her own friend Minny, but more important,  she fails to offer a comfort to Minny’s children who witness their mother’s abuse (a true friend would never act this way). For all of Minny’s feelings of affectionate protection for Celia, she assaults her own child for laughing at a woman she herself ridicules constantly, and plans to attack someone with a knife in Celia’s defense, when the times warrant that a scenario of a black woman attacking a white man would have landed her in jail, or worse.

The bossy, fat maid of Hollywood movies

Stockett imbues the African American characters with negative traits such as violence prone (Minny and Leroy) thievery (college educated Yule May Crookle, living down to her last name)  impregnating and abandoning their families (Clyde and Connor) and a general lack of interest in current events (civil rights movement) or ability to show affection to those closest to them (Minny’s lack of affection for her own children, she never once tells them she loves them in novel. Mostly she hollers and even smacks one, and Aibileen sheds no tears for her dead son, but finally breaks down and cries out of “happiness” for Skeeter).

No, I don’t think I want to endorse Stockett’s “feel good” fiction based loosely on fact. I think I’ll stick to the history books and old news footage which tells a different story of black/white relations, and the African American writers who both lived and wrote during segregation.

You wanna know how ironic all of this is? Even now on YouTube, there are people leaving comments that the crows in Dumbo, and the faceless black workers (literally colored black with no face) who performed the rostabout song are not “racist” but are entertaining and admirable, which reminds me of the comments some readers state about The Help.

Rostabouts, the faceless "black" workers from DUMBO

The high steppin' black crow. Possibly the one named "Jim Crow" in the movie credits

If I could take the time to look at some of Stockett’s interviews in addition to the novel, what was stopping all those professional “reviewers?” The media dropped the ball on this one. Whether it was because the author hailed from the south, or she was blonde, or she was white, her word was bond. No major reviewer challenged her depictions of blacks or whites in the book, when they SHOULD HAVE. There’s always two sides to any story. And that also goes for those trying to hide under the guise of women’s fiction. I’ll leave readers with this nugget from a 2009 interview with Stockett:

Interview with Frank Reiss for Cover to Cover on GPB

“My greatest relief in this process is that Octavia Spencer, who is such an amazing actress and a comedian really, like wet yourself  funny is coming on tour with me. So, while people will be listening to me read these rather dramatic white voices, they’ll get to listen to Octavia. It’ll be so fun to hear her just roll.”

 http://covertocover.podbean.com/2009/04/26/kathryn-stockett-the-help/

Yep, I’m sure lines like these had them holding their stomachs in mirth:

That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch an a half. He black. Blacker than me. Aibileen’s  battle of wills with a cockroach (Pg 189)

 While visiting Constantine, this character talks about playing with two little girls  who were “so black I couldn’t tell them apart and called them both just Mary.” (Pg 62) – Skeeter

 And Miss Leefolt come home with her hair all teased up. She got a permanent and she smell like pneumonia (Pg 94 ) – Aibileen

 “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

The smile and scowl, the only expressions early Hollywood films allowed black actresses

  to be continued…

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