Ignorance of Segregation is NO EXCUSE

Posted on December 4, 2010

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“Segregation is something that’s a foreign word to me, something I’ve never lived through or have any understanding of,” says the New Jersey native, who moved to the area about a decade ago.”

This is a quote from a recent article in the Washington Post titled Fear of `resegregation’ fuels unrest in NC

By ALLEN G. BREED 

Segregation should not be something “foreign” to any American. For it’s not just African American history, its AMERICAN HISTORY. I may not be Jewish, but I sure know what the Jews and others experienced before, during and after the Holocaust. And yet, the treatment of a people who contributed their blood, sweat, tears and the generation of their children, and even their children to the building of this nation are no more than footnotes.

People wrongly believe that we’re past all that, and somehow with the election of an African American president, equal rights have been achieved. This would be not only naive, but dangerous to assume. The contibutions of African Americans and other minority groups who helped forge this nation have not been fully recognized, to this day. In addition, in some parts of the country history is being “revised” . In Texas, revisionist history is occurring with textbooks, changing  the word “slavery” to a more ambiguous title. And when a book like The Help becomes a runaway best seller, skirting over the horrors of segregation in favor of revisionist history that would have readers believe that violent and repressive time was no more dangerous than lacking a good maid and emotional women running amuck, readers get a “feel good” version of how segregation was, with many wondering what all the fuss was about. Indeed, even the author is having a good time with it.

Here’s a quote from an audio interview:

“Oh Gosh, she was so nice, she went on tour with me. She read the African American parts and I read the white parts. And it was quite a show.”

http://media.barnesandnoble.com/?fr_story=59e76c8fa39941fb2ff1013f7928b8ed42d449c2&rf=rss

So, the actress Stockett chose to be the physical embodiment of Minny in not only the book but the movie, goes on a tour, reading the African American parts. And those parts consisted of dialogue like this:

 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)

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’s happiness over one of her white “children” now grown.

“That pink lady you work for, drunk as an Injun on payday.” (Pg 333) Spoken by another stereotypically named character called “Farina”, when there was no reason to skewer yet another culture.

“Just pour some pneumonia in that garbage”… (Pg 84) Aibileen’s “Kingfish” moment (one of several) where she uses the wrong word. It should have been “ammonia.”

And this offensive assessment on “many” black males, yet nothing of the sort is hinted regarding the “many” white males in the book:

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

When Kathryn Stockett decided the 60s were relatively no different than the 70s and 80s, the time period she actually grew up in, not only was she incorrect, but she never immersed herself in what in truly meant to be an African American during those turbulent times. Stockett resurrected the the ever smiling Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben characters still gracing products in American stores.

Aunt Jemima has her own button

Yet the reason behind their eternal grins is never fully realized. Certainly, Stockett has Aibileen cringing and bowing her head. But the snap to it when I say jump, you say how high demeanor African Americans were expected to feign, lest they incur the wrath of those who followed segregation to the letter is never present in the novel. Stockett fell back on the old stereotype of showing how “affectionate” the relationship between the maids and their employers, which mimics the novels that intended to show Americans the affection between the slave and his master.
More on this idealogy can be found in this post: https://acriticalreviewofthehelp.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/the-affection-myth/

It’s no wonder then, that one reviewer in praising the book stated this: “Smartest of all, Stockett has downplayed the horror that was Mississippi in 1962.”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-kornbluth/is-the-help-more-than-a-s_b_333448.html

The quote listed above could very well come from the author of The Help, for what  little additional info Stockett provided on those times, even after her research and questioning of her grandparents, Stockett is quoted as saying at “least people are talking about race”.

What she and many others fail to realize, is minorities never stopped talking about race.

“I think it is possible that a good many readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, maybe don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being ‘colorblind.’ Nobody else does.”
-Ursula Le Guin

http://slate.com/id/2111107/

I got a chance to watch a program called  Hitler’s Hidden Holocaust on the National Geographic channel. And it struck me by watching this, that there should be more programs educating Americans on what happened after slavery. Most know about Reconstruction. But Segregation doesn’t seem to resonate the same way. The Civil Rights Law was enacted in 1964. That’s not so long ago. Certainly not long enough for Americans to have forgotten how blacks and whites worked together to change the country, and influence the world.

But as I watched the Holocaust program, I realized there would be no depositions taken, no individuals brought up on human rights charges. I’m not saying there should be. However, there are still undocumented and unsolved murders from the civil rights era. Thankfully, one site that refuses to forget is http://coldcases.org/cases

Today in the American South, scores of civil rights murders remain unsolved, uninvestigated, unprosecuted, and untold.

Cold cases.org  is an excellent site that puts a face on the individuals who died for no other reason than the color of their skin.

Ironically, another resident of Mississippi, that being the state’s Governor Haley Barbour is probably wishing these words had not come out of his mouth:

“. . . ‘You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

In interviews Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.’ “

http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/boy-yazoo-city_523551.html?nopager=1

Ah well. Didn’t take long to research the Citizen Council and find out they weren’t as Barbour describes. Their original names in many southern states were  The White Citizen’s Council. More will be posted on them shortly.

And no, I don’t suppose Barbour would remember it being that bad. Considering that he already believes the (White) Citizen’s Council were somehow a cut above the Klan.

And that, is why not knowing the past can hurt America’s future. Barbour is learning that first hand by being a cheer leader for a group that vigorously promoted segregation.  But first, it’s important to come to grips with what really happened during that shameful period in America’s history.

Sections of this post are also listed in “How not knowing the past can hurt America’s future” on this blog

To be continued…

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