It appears that once segregation was officially over, the mindset among some was that African Americans should just move on, without regard to whether those who toiled under such an oppressive regime experienced post traumatic stress. It also seems that in 2010, far too many Americans don’t know anything about segregation.
Where’s my proof?
Well there are a number of websites where the novel The Help is being discussed, like Amazon.com, Calit review.com and Barnes and Noble.com, where reviewers leave a ranking and express their feelings over the book. Far too many state they know little, if nothing at all of segregation, thanking Stockett for broaching the subject.
How, in the name of all that’s holy, is that possible?
How can people know about the Holocaust or Apartheid and not know about the suffering, the domination and the de-humanizing of a race that occurred in their own country?
When people hear the word “Segregation” just what pray tell, did they think it was? Did they believe it was the idyllic fantasy world that Kathryn Stockett writes about, where blacks are relegated to the kitchen, and, as the author told one interviewer “You felt loved when you tasted Demetrie’s caramel cake.” http://www.kathrynstockett.com/book/qa/
That statement alone shows that Kathryn Stockett has absolutely no clue how segregation effected African Americans, or even how she grew up desensitized to the part her own family played in continuing to oppress her beloved maid Demetrie.
Stockett never wonders if Demetrie had any dreams or ambitions, much like she relegates Minny and Aibileen to the kitchens of Jackson Mississippi, unable to see Black females in any role except the ones she grew up with. As domestics that made her laugh and cooked mouth watering meals for her.
Yet Black females were doing more than frying chicken and preparing the tables for whites in the south, or for that matter across the US.
Info on the Little Rock Nine can be found here: http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=723
While the Mary Jean Price-Walls case occurred over 50 years ago, a recent controversy arose over a school in Mississippi limiting when black students could run for school office, and also the positions they could hold:
Miss. school reverses race-based rules for student elections
Under former policy, some class positions rotated by race each year
Under Segregation we’re (as in African Americans) reduced to how well we can cook, or make whites laugh, or any other number of things that blacks were required to do in order not to incur the ire of a white employer, or either a stranger who didn’t care for us being where we ought not to.
The idea that someone could reach out and assault you just because…
They hated the very idea of you being born
They’d been taught that African Americans were inferior and should be treated as such.
They believed the black culture was exotic, erotic and didn’t feel pain or have deep thoughts like whites did. That we were “such a happy people” either gifted athletes, musicians, and those who knew their place went further in society than those who didn’t, or acted “uppity”.
That the life of an African American, to this very day isn’t worth that of their white counterpart.
And so, the insidious mythology on how blacks are perceived as opposed to how we really are continues. We’re the People that Time Forgot.
A people resilient enough, even after having been beaten into submission, who still rose up and made allies of many of those who oppressed us, allies that stood side by side with us in the march toward freedom. And yet, a story of how a people rose up to proclaim they were equal to whites and wanted to be treated thusly, well those stories just aren’t as sexy or heartwarming, not when you have a novel like The Help that can resurrect the stereotypes that many people, if they were honest enough to admit it, wax nostalgic about.
The time period when Blacks were bound by servitude, helping to run white households and that many whites were saddened to see that period end. I mean, how else to explain how many readers just love the characters of Aibileen, Minny and Constantine, yet won’t give a real live African American the time of day?
And as Kathryn Stockett herself portrays the daily travel arrangements of the maids as one big ol’ jovial time (See Minny, the mouse that roared), take at look at the picture to the left. Does that man look like he’s having a grand old time to you? Segregation was a corrupt, highly controlled system that told blacks when to jump and how high.
In the guise of writing as a “black” woman, Stockett gets so into character she even feels free enough in one interview to explain just how black women behave:
Oprah Radio host Nate Berkus (no transcript available)
“Yes absolutely. And you learned, I think as an African American in Mississippi to be very careful with your words and then one of my favorite scenes from the book is when all the maids were on the bus and they get to talk about all their white employers and they get to make fun of them as openly as they can.”
Hmm…I guess that’s her perception vs. the every day reality of those who lived through segregation. I don’t see anybody laughing much or making fun of their employers on the back of this bus…do you? Because in Jackson, Mississippi during 1963 a white driver would have never allowed a black passenger to say the things Minny jokes about, since she’d still be stuck at the back of the bus. And yet, even living through a time where your skin color marked you as target, African Americans pressed on, with some prospering.These are a few images of other things blacks were doing, even while they were being held down:
Ads targeting African American consumers during the 1960s:
For more on African Americans and advertising during segregation, and also how The Help was marketed, see the posts below:
To Be continued…